Batala is an international music group that plays a style of samba, called samba reggae drummusic which originates in Salvador de Bahia in northeastern Brazil. It is perhaps surprising (or not) that Salvador, despite having the largest black population outside of Africa, it was not until 1974 that a black group was allowed to play at the Salvador Carnaval. The seminal Afro-Bloco Ilê Aiyê gatecrashed the Salvador Carnaval, they were not invited, they just joined in. Unlike previous attempts they were not savagely beaten by the police and Salvador carnaval would never be the same again.

Soon after reggae with its message of black redemption and solidarity became popular in Bahia and in 1981, Neguinho do Samba Ilê Aiyê's musical director left to work the offbeat rhythms of reggae in to samba with his new group Olodum. This and the presence of Jimmy Cliff who was living and working in Salvador for several years in the early 80s were the catalyst for the samba reggae sound. [1]

Batala was started in Paris in 1997 by Giba Goncalves, a Bahian percussionist (Ilê Aiyê, Olodum, Muzenza, Male Debale, Jimmy Cliff, Tupi Nago and Kaoma) studying , Composition and Bass Guitar, at the Paris Conservatoire and resident in Paris. At the same time his long time friend Alberto Pitta (ex artistic director of Olodum) started his own educational project Instituto Oya de Arte e Educacao with activities including Afro Bloco Cortejo Afro , a dance school, printing, textile design, fashion design and capoeira. Cortejo Afro are now one of the rising stars of the Bahian scene. Cortejo Afro and Batala are symbiotic sharing much of the same repertoire and members of Batala, have since 1999, performed every year at the Salvador Carnaval as part of Cortejo Afro. By 2001 there was a band in La Rochelle and also one in Portsmouth, the first outside of France and the following year Batala performed at Notting Hill Carnival (with 35 drummers) for the first time. From the Portsmouth band, people left and formed new Batalas in Brasil (Brasilia), France (Massif) Spain (Badajoz) and Wales (Bangor and Bermo) with the Bangor band spawning further groups in Liverpool and Lancaster. In addition to a new band in Nantes there were also bands set up in Portugal, Belgium,(Brussels) Austria (Vienna), USA (Washington DC) Angola , South Africa (Johannesburg) and Guadeloupe (Batala Gwada), Netherlands (Batala Netherlands) for a grand total of 18 bands in 12 countries and on 3 continents. [2]

As well as bringing authentic Bahian music and culture to a wider populace, Grupo Batala with a worldwide membership of over 800 drummers and growing have a constant need for new drums, beaters, belts, T-shirts and every year a new costume All of these are made in Salvador at Instituto Oya and Fabrica Batala under a fair trade agreement. In addition the members of Batala who attend the Salvador Carnaval pump over £15,000 into the Instituto and Fabrica and the local economy to pay for board, costumes, workshops and carnival rehearsals and transport over their three-week stay. As well as rehearsing and performing, members of Batala are involved in many social & educational activities with local children that are organised by Instituto Oya and Grupo Batala. Because of the link with Cortejo Afro and Gibas, often long friendship, with just about anyone who is anyone on the Bahian scene, Batala get to work with artists such as Ilê Aiyê , Oldum, Daniella Mercury, Magaret Menezes and workshops with Neguinho do Samba (Ilê Aiyê's first musical director, founder of Olodum and Banda Dida Femina), the Godfather of the Afro Bloco who as a metal worker came up with the idea of the shallow drum so typical of Bahian Samba.

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