SoundTreks: Axé, Brazilian Soul Pop
by Rachel Devitt | May 10, 2013
Genres like samba, bossa nova and baile funk might get the lion's share of the world's attention when it comes to Brazilian music. But within the South American country's borders, one of the most prominent and prolific genres is one much of the rest of the world never hears about: axé, a blend of pop, soul, funk, samba, Afro-Brazilian music and a hodgepodge of other sounds that's infinitely danceable and nearly inescapable. Axé (pronounced ah-shay) was born in Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia. This area of Brazil is home to a large segment of the country's Afro-Brazilian population, and it's in that community and cultural history that the foundation for axé was laid. Its roots lie in the mid-twentieth century, when Afro-Brazilian groups began developing a Bahian brand of samba much more heavily influenced by the rhythms of candomblé music and other African-derived traditions than Rio-style samba. Groups like Ilê Aiyê began playing this style and demanding space for it (and for Afro-Brazilian culture in general) in Carnaval parades as part of the larger civil rights movement.
By the 1980s, Salvadoran musicians had begun pairing the style with electronic beats, pop hooks and bits of reggae, calypso, American R&B and just about anything else they felt like throwing into the mix. People started calling it axé, a Yoruba word that means "soul" or "spirit" and thus perfectly encapsulates both the genre's sociocultural history and its role as Brazil's own brand of soul pop. Axé has gone on to generate some of Brazil's biggest pop stars, including Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo, as well as some of the nation's most impressive innovators, like Carlinhos Brown. On this introductory playlist guide you'll find axé's major players, as well as representatives of its forefathers and the fans it has made in other genres.