‘On my mind’s world map, I see an Africa’: Bando de Teatro Olodum’s re-routing of Afro-Brazilian identity

Michelle Nicholson-Sanz

A group of black children in the city of Salvador da Bahia, intrigued by their teacher’s explanation that black Brazilians are descendants of Africans, embark on a quest to search for Africa. This is the central plot of Áfricas – Bando de Teatro Olodum’s theatre production for young people that premiered in 2007 (Teatro Vila Velha, Salvador da Bahia). In this critical reflection I focus on the productive intersections between diaspora and race, and consider the ways in which Áfricas claims a diaspora sensibility for Afro-Brazilians by enacting, both for the performers and for the audience, an awareness of themselves as an ethnic group with transnational roots. Drawing on understandings of diaspora as a contingent process rather than a way to reify certain communities, I argue that Áfricas’ staging of the connections between Brazil and Africa opens up a space in which young audiences can engage in what Chantal Mouffe calls ‘agonistic pluralism’ (2007), a debate in which passions and affects critically inform ‘the creation of collective political identities’. I assert that the show’s exploration of new formulations of Afro-Brazilian identity serves a therapeutic function for the black community in Salvador, who are often excluded in a country where the whiter one looks ensures greater access to social and economic privileges.

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