Roots | São Luís, Maranhão – A History of Reggae

Irie™ Magazine | Roots - São Luís, Maranhão

Adapted & Revised by: Fabiana Rasta

São Luís, Maranhão

A History of Reggae

It is difficult to define exactly which elements determined the adoption of reggae by the Maranhense population, making it widespread, especially among the suburbs of São Luís. According to DJ Ademar Danilo, in the region involving the states of Pará and Maranhão, where São Luís is the capital, there was always a music predominance of Caribbean rhythms, especially Merengue. So, he concludes that the fact that Maranhão and Jamaica have populations that are predominantly black creates a very strong identity between these people. Yet, the taste of the black population of São Luís reggae, has to do with an emotional appeal. The reggae singers sing with a spirituality that strikes within the heart of the people, causing great identity between São Luís and Jamaica. Most importantly, they do not need to understand the language to feel this emotional appeal.

For journalist Octavio Rodrigues, there is an identification between reggae and Bumba-meu-boi of Maranhão, for the marking of Bumba-meu-boi leathers is focused on setbacks as in reggae.

Mundinha Araújo, a researcher of the history of black culture in Maranhão, said to be the merengue, a very common dance party of the black villages in the state, therefore, considering that the population living in the outskirts of São Luís capital is formed in general by groups that migrated from rural areas, there is a predisposition among them, for the acceptance of Caribbean rhythms.

Fauzi Beydoun, lead singer of reggae band Tribo de Jah, whose components are visually impaired, believes that there is a direct line that identifies the Maranhão and Jamaica. In his words, there is a great similarity between the way the reggae settled in Jamaica and Maranhão, signaling a cultural identity among maranhenses blacks and Jamaicans, although here they do not understand the lyrics.

These statements are important as they contribute to the reflection on what would be the connecting elements between reggae appreciators of São Luís with Jamaicans. Precipitated, doubtful or legitimate, indicate, without doubt, the like of Maranhão people by Caribbean rhythms as determining factors for the adoption of reggae on the island since the late 1970’s spreading the pace among the black population of the periphery of city.Even they don´t understand the language, reggae is translated as a very strong and legitimate vehicle to mobilize and identify with the low-income black population that inhabits the stilt city.

A striking difference between Jamaica, and certainly other places where the reggae rhythm is known is that in São Luís reggae is danced in pairs instead of individually. In the capital of Maranhão, reggae dance acquired peculiar characteristic mixing steps forró , merengue and bolero. There is also those who prefer to create collective choreography, in which three, five or more people dance together with coordinated steps.

In São Luís, one of the important factors for the dissemination of reggae is the existence of so-called ‘Radiolas’. They are sophisticated systems, with up to forty speakers that often contrast with the
poverty of festas. As Radiola salons are operated by a disc jockey (who is not always the owner), and are hired by the owners of the salons, to enliven the festivities in various parts of the city at the weekends. The same way as sound systems Jamaicans, the maranhenses Radiola not born with the reggae, some of them already existed previously, promoting parties with other rhythms (forró, merengue, lambada and even discoteque). From the mid 1980 decade, there was a Radiola proliferation, directed almost exclusively to the promotion of reggae parties.

*Taken from the book Da Terra das Primaveras á Ilha do Amor:Reggae, Lazer e Identidade Cultural of the writer Carlos Benedito Rodrigues da Silva.