Catalina Maria Johnson

International radio broadcaster, bilingual cultural journalist, music curator


“We have a mission in this world to develop what God gives us, and he gave me music”, says Dendê, speaking from his New York home. The talented Brazilian singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist is describing a musical career that took off when he was recruited by Carlinhos Brown’s world-renowned percussion group Timbalada at fourteen years of age.

It began with a family immersed in Candomblé,  the African-rooted Brazilian religion which developed in his native Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. The term “candomblé” itself means ‘dance in honor of the gods’, and music and dance are fundamental elements of the ceremonies. As a young person, says Dendê, although he didn’t have drums, he would invoke the Gods any way he could: “I used to play on cans, pots any object to make the sound happen so the Orishas would to come to that place.”

Dendê also learned from his brother-in-law who played samba de roda, an art considered by UNESCO an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, brought by Africans from Angola and Congo to Brazil and developed in Bahia. However, without any formal training, he clarifies: “My school was most of the times the streets, and I learned to make my own instruments”.

The drumming celebrates the Orishas, as Dendê describes: “To invoke the Orishas you have to sing the right song, play the right rhythms and play the right instrument. For example, today is Wednesday. We dress in red and white. Some people go to ocean and some people go to church to pray. The big drum speaks the language to invoke Orishas, and we play the drums to celebrate the Gods of wind and fire.

Dendê continues to comment on the relationship between music and spirit, transmitting in the joyful tones of his voice a warm vitality: “For me, it is always part of energy and respect. You are from Mexico, but there is still what is spiritual, and I respect everything!

He concludes by making an invitation to experience the beats at the concert he his band will play at Old Town School, which mix in afrobeat, reggae and even merengue: “Everywhere in the world we have religion and we have music. It is all a part of being human and we all cooperate with the spirits in different ways!”

Dendê & Band will perform as part of Old Town School of Folk Music’s Global Dance Party on June 8 at 8:30PM.

Check Catalina’s blog and the archives of Beat Latino  (like Beat Latino on FB  too!) to explore the roots as well as trends in Latin musical arts.

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