Surf Music, Yemanja, and Mother Ocean

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I’m a water person and have always had a relationship with the sea.  I swam competitively,  was on a surf team, and rode the scary waves Banzai Pipeline while still in high school.  I love being in water.

Usually when you think of music that goes with this love of the water you think of either the Southern California experience or Hawaii:  The Beach Boys,  The Surfaris, Dick Dale, or maybe Hawaiian music.  Bruce Brown used Dave Brubeck’s classic song “Take Five” in his wonderful surf movies.    But there is another dimension as well.  Tahitian and other Hawaiian groups pay homage to the sea that sustains them and forms their identity as islanders.  There was recently a ceremony and concerts at Dorothy Green Park at Santa Monica Beach to honor the sea and the deities associated with it (Green founded Heal the Bay).  Brazil has thousands of miles of coastline and surfers that win world-class contests.  And thousands of rituals to honor the goddess yemanja, goddess of the seas.  On New Year’s Eve a million devotees hit Copacabana Beach in Rio, a sea of white–the color they wear for the ritual–and they put offerings of flowers, float small boats with other gifts proffered to this most important deity.   There are many Brazilian songs devoted to yemanja–Canto de Yemanja by Vinicius de Moraes is just one famous example.  The great composer Dorival Caymmi wrote many songs about the ocean, fisherman, and the pleasures of being near the sea.  There are also two now-hard-to-get compilations of Brazilian songs celebrating the ocean:  Nos e O Mar / We And The Sea:  Brazilian Music Inspired by the Sea.

The same thing happens in Pacific Oceania:  Fiji, Kiritabati, Tuvalu, Tahiti, and of course Hawaii.  It’s considerably richer than The Ventures doing “Walk Don’t Run”  or The Chantals singing “Pipeline”.    That was the stuff I heard during my surfing days.  I didn’t know about yemanja then.