Peter Culshaw has a full-on carnival experience in São Paulo, courtesy of the all-female drumming ensemble, Ilu Obá De Min
There’s the sexy glamour of the Rio carnival, the more funky Salvador de Bahia one, and others like the older style frevo version in the colonial town of Olinda. Less well-known, though, is the carnival in the biggest, most futuristic city in South America – São Paulo. While they also have their glitzy floats in their Sambódrome, which only opened in 1991, as a cheaper version of Rio’s, the real action is the more ragged neighbourhood bloco parties in the streets.The most impressive one I found was the Ilu Obá De Min, a women-only dance and drumming group, which specialises in African traditions.
In downtown Barra Funda, around 200 women drummers in distinctive red and white striped dresses gathered (the only men being some characters on stilts, dressed as the Afro-Brazilian orishas or deities). Even the random warming-up was a tidal wave of sound, but once all 200 women hit their stride in sync with some funky samba beats, it was a brilliant, at times alarming, mix of an apocalyptic and joyful racket.
Like a turbo-charged version of the Burundi drummers. I missed them earlier in the week singing with Elza Soares, a wonderful samba-soul singer once married to the legendary footballer Garrincha. She may be one of the few singers powerful enough to rise above the percussive thunder. If you are in town, do join the bloco for rehearsals. They also run courses in various types of Afro-Brazilian dance and music.