This year the Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the creative spirit of Brazil’s northeast and explores how its communities shape and respond to the environments surrounding them. For ten days, the Brasil: Nações do Nordeste program will present over sixty cultural practitioners, culinary specialists, artisans, musicians, and dancers from the states of Bahia, Maranhão, and Pernambuco.
Complementing and extending from these Festival presentations, the program also includes a robust community engagement and educational enrichment project, Brazil in D.C.; an international cultural summit to take place in March 2020 in Recife, Brazil; and a spectacular series of concerts featuring artists from across Brazil.
More than twice the size of Texas, O Nordeste consists of nine Brazilian states: Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, and Sergipe. The region boasts almost 2,000 miles of Atlantic coastline and extends inward toward the vast Amazon River Basin. Its geography transitions from tropical rain forests to plains and arid scrublands.
Its cultural knowledge systems are made up of an intricate matrix of nations: of persecuted Indigenous peoples with profound knowledge of the land; of Africans brutally transported from the Angola-Congo region, whose religious ancestral lineages have had a lasting impact; and competing European colonial powers—mainly the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Spanish—whose settlers imposed their languages, religion, and governance.
In O Nordeste, these knowledge systems merged, combined, and diverted, creating a dazzling array of expressive traditions, whose influence can be felt across the rest of the country and around the world. Each of these expressions use cultural improvisation as a form of resistance and adaptation.