When Ile Aiye, Brazil's first Afro Carnival ensemble, came to Howard University's Crampton Auditorium Monday night, its infectious samba and Batucada rhythms exuded the kind of communal spirit one might expect from a sacred ceremony. That's not to say that the enthusiastic crowd didn't party hard. The rhythmic-intense evening focused almost solely on the ritualistic functions of the drums in African, Brazilian and North American life. The evening also paid respects to the recently departed Jimmy "Black Fire" Gray, who brought many pan-African rhythms to the area as a jazz radio host on WPFW-FM.
Inspired by the Black Power movement in the United States and also by musicians ranging from James Brown to Bob Marley, Ile Aiye began in 1974 and soon became the first black percussion troupe to participate in Brazil's Carnival. The ensemble is now 3,000 members strong. Only 17 members, however, performed at Crampton Auditorium, but their relatively small number didn't lessen their enormous impact. Draped in brilliantly colored costumes, Ile Aiye's percolating cross-rhythms, call-and-response vocal chants and loose choreography inspired many audience members to join in the dancing.
But many were already prancing wildly to the libidinous rhythms of the opening acts--African drumming ensemble Axe, the International Capoeira Angola Foundation and go-go band Optimystic Tribe. Because of the late start, lengthy intermissions and heavy lineup, many in the audience didn't last until the end of the show.