One of the finest contemporary Brazilian singers will be in Nairobi next week for a performance that will highlight the strong bonds that her country’s music shares with African rhythms.
Luedji Luna a sultry singer and composer from the city of Salvador, Bahia State, will be performing at a single concert in Nairobi on December 16. The performance will be a showcase of African influence on Brazilian culture with a style that is a fusion of Brazilian popular music, jazz and Afro rhythms. The links to Africa are very deliberate; close to 90 per cent of the population in Salvador identifies itself as Afro-Brazilian (black and mixed race).
Almost 500 years ago, Salvador was the first slave port in the Americas, the destination for most Africans taken from what is now Ghana, Benin and Nigeria. That African imprint is till stamped on the music of Salvador particularly Axé the popular music genre that is rooted in West African percussions and influenced by the rhythms of Caribbean, like calypso and reggae.
Brazilian musicians draw inspiration and utilise themes from African culture, religion and symbols.
The music of Bahia received international attention in 1996 when Michael Jackson filmed the video for the song “They Don’t Really Care About Us” in a historic neighbourhood of Salvador in collaboration with the Afro-Brazilian percussion group, Olodum.
Luedji was born in 1987, in a quilombo (a community founded by people of African origin, mostly runaway slaves). She started her career as a member of the Bando Cumate, a collective that promotes the traditional manifestations of Brazilian culture.
Luedji is the co-founder of Palavra Preta, a musical and art show that gathers black female composers from all over Brazil. The event started in her home region before she took the successful show to the capital, Brasilia.
One of the shows in the Brazilian capital was held during the Latinidades festival, the biggest black woman festival in Latin America.
Since 2015, Luedji has been performing in Sao Paulo and her work has won a host of awards in Brazil, including Most Promising Artist at the Bravo Awards, WME Award in the Best Album and Best Singer categories this year.
She won the fourth edition of the Premio Afro Award (National Afro-Brazilian Expression Awards) for her album “Um corpo no mundo” and was nominated for three awards at the Cayami Music Awards.
Luedji will be playing in Nairobi alongside Kenyan guitarist Kato Change who was among the musicians who played on her album “Um Corpo no Mundo” (A Body in the Word) released in October 2017. The two musicians met during an Artist residency in Sacatar, Brazil in 2017 and she has invited Kato back to Brazil twice, for the recording of her album and the promotional tour across several states in Brazil two months ago.
“My collaboration with Luedji has introduced me to Brazilian rhythms and helped me gain an understanding of how they relate to African music,” says Kato.
The 10-track album produced by Sebastian Notini, a Swedish musician based in Bahia, features songs that are mostly autobiographical.
“I think my people really enjoy my music because the things I am saying are those that they also know,” she says.
“I am not just talking about myself. I am talking about our history.”
She says the songs are an expression of the feelings of displacement felt by black people in the diaspora.
According to Luedji the songs on the album deal with the theme of identity, particularly Afro-Brazilian identity.
“It is a look at myself based on my contact with the African immigrants in Sao Paulo (the largest city in Brazil)”
The diversity in the sound is also evident in the choice of four musicians of different nationalities, including Kato, who play in Luedji Luna’s band.
The Brazilian Embassy in Nairobi, which has supported the Nairobi concert, says this partnership between Luedji and Kato highlights the multiple links that exist between Brazilian and African music and can open up other collaborations between artists in the two countries, which though separated by geographical space enjoy a similar mode of cultural expression.
“This project is such an enriching cultural exchange,” says Kato. “It shows that musicians from diverse backgrounds and traditions can find common ground and create a sound that is unique.” He is especially looking forward to playing two songs that are on Luedji’s album, “Banho de Folhas” and “Dentro Ali.”
The concert by Luedji Luna and her band will take place at the J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen, Westlands on Sunday, December 16.