Connections Between the Shona Bira and the Afro-Brazilian Candomble Festa

Although taking place on separate continents, the Shona Bira of Zimbabwe and the Candomble ritual of Brazil share elements of performance and meaning. It is not surprising that the Candomble festa shares common characteristics with the Bira, because the Candomble is a West African tradition within the Afro-Brazilian religion of Brazil. The music performed in the rituals is very authentic to West African tradition with barely any European influence. Although the Shona Bira is from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, we can easily trace connections between the two traditions. The Bira is a ritual performed by Shona people to honor, consult, or right the deceased. Shona tradition stresses the importance of ancestors. The term “musha” means both home and where ancestors are buried, highlighting the importance of the dead and community. Similarly, the Candomble festa is a community-wide, religious event that celebrates ritual activities like births. The Afro-Brazilian people celebrate these community events by worshipping Orixas, or powerful, African Gods. Both of these participatory traditions are meant to bring the respective communities together through spiritual connection. The main difference is that the Bira focuses on the dead whereas the Candomble often focuses on the living. Both rituals are what we consider to be participatory events. What this means is that all community-members are encouraged to participate and the line is blurred or nonexistent between participants and performers. In the Bira, all people are allowed to play mbiras and drums, regardless of experience, skill, age, and gender. In their view, less talent brings a greater variety in musical performance and can be a positive asset to the group. Sometimes, people are taken off of instruments and replaced when they are not performing well with the other participants, but the culture overall is extremely inclusive. The Candomble is also a participatory event, but slightly less so. The community comes together to sing and dance regardless of skill. The drumming, though, is always performed by a group of male musical specialists. A main component of the ritual is the possession of community members by the Orixas. These possessions regularly happen to dancing and singing participants, but never to the drummers, who need to keep up the 12-beat toque cycle. In this regard, the event is not completely participatory, with certain exclusive and specialized roles. Additionally, although both traditions feature different instruments, they both rely on percussion as a backbone.


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