São Paulo's First All-Girl Percussion Band Continues to Make Carnival History

Members of Ilu Oba De Min Group participate Wash staircase Bixiga and Thirteen May Street, downtown Sao Paulo
Members of Ilu Oba De Min Group participate Wash staircase Bixiga and Thirteen May Street, downtown Sao Paulo | © Alf Ribeiro/Shutterstock
Lise Alves

Every year Brazil’s celebration of Carnival brings a festive variety of musical performers and dancers to the streets for an exciting, all-inclusive party. One group in particular captures a strong female spirit – Ilú Obá de Min. In the African language Yoruba, spoken in parts of Nigeria and Benin, the name means ‘female hands playing the drums for Xango’, the God of Thunder. In São Paulo, that is exactly what 350 women do during the four days of Carnival. The Ilú Obá de Min is the only Carnival bloc in the city whose music section is composed solely of women.

‘Our goal is to empower women, especially black women,’ says Girlei Miranda, one of the founders of the group, although she explains that women of all colors, creeds and ages are welcomed. The Ilú Oba de Min Carnival group is part of a bigger non-governmental organisation that seeks the individual and collective empowerment of women in society. Even within the Candomblé, a Brazilian religion with African roots, women are not allowed to play the drums in festivities. Created twelve years ago, the group has given women a chance to take over traditional male roles in the festivities.

This year the group dressed in green, with leaf-like ornaments in their hair to honor Oxóssi, the God of hunting and the forests. ‘The culture of the black Brazilian woman with African roots is transmitted through music, just like in Africa,’ says anthropologist Daniela Nunes, 41, who has been with the group for the past two years. ‘Orally, through the songs, we describe the struggles and resistance of black women in Brazil.’

Girlei Miranda, in red, one of the founders of Ilu Oba de Min group
Ilu Oba de Min Carnival Bloc

Sixty-year old Alzira de Jesus Freire has been in the band for the past two years. ‘It is the only way I can spend Carnival with my daughters, since they are always here,’ she says. As for playing an instrument while dancing, walking and singing, all at the same time, she says it was very difficult at first, but with practice she is able to ‘hold her own’.

Alzira Freire (far right) and her two daughters (far left, second from right) in Ilu Oba de Min Carnival
Vitoria Fernandes, 6, and mother Marli Fernandes

The men participate as dancers and on stilts. ‘What they are doing is breaking barriers, because these instruments are usually reserved for the men in Carnival,’ says José Silveira, who came to watch his wife perform. ‘This is the day when the “minority” becomes a strong “majority”, ‘ he adds.

Men participate in stilts in the Ilu Oba de Min Carnival group

To be able to participate in the annual festivity these women have practiced for the past six months, eight hours per week playing the wooden drum, the agogo (a small bell made of two metal cones) or the xequere (African gourd rattle). They come from different parts of the city, different backgrounds, different social classes, but all are interested in disseminating the struggles faced by women of African descent in Brazil.

Claudia Guerreiro with xequere
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article