ILÉ AIYÉ (THE HOUSE OF LIFE) (1989) is David Byrne's breathtakingly impressionistic documentary on Candomblé, the Brazilian spirit cult of the Bahia region. This "docu-poem" eschews all traditional documentary techniques and evokes the mood of the beautiful expressive religion of Candomblé: its life affirming rituals, rhythms, music, dress and entire culture.
Originally broadcast for the PBS show ALIVE FROM OFF CENTER, ILÉ AIYÉ which translates into THE HOUSE OF LIFE, garnered much critical acclaim: the WALL STREET JOURNAL called it "One of the very best things you'll see on television this year" and it also led writer Luc Sante to pen a feature in INTERVIEW magazine -- included in the liner notes of the DVD.
A visual complement to Byrne's BRAZIL CLASSICS compilations of which the first, BELEZA TROPICAL had recently been released, ILÉ AIYÉ was broadcast a few months before the release of Byrne's first proper solo album, REI MOMO. (The soundtrack to ILÉ AIYÉ has music which would turn up in finished form on the debut.) The DVD includes revealing and incisive commentary by Byrne himself and a booklet with the Sante essay and photos by Phyllis Galembo.
A religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa, Candomblé was brought to the New World during the Atlantic slave trades of the 16th century. Although forbidden to practice their native religion by the colonists, the Yoruba were able to conceal their rituals with Catholic icons, and thereby preserve their practices.
ILÉ AIYÉ explores the ways in which Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion, has influenced the daily life and culture of the people of Brazil. Part art film, part documentary ILÉ AIYÉ uses experimental techniques and features images of a trance-like state in which practitioners of Candomblé evoke the Orixas, deities who serve as intermediaries between mortals and the supreme forces of nature. ILÉ AIYÉ shows the symbolic manifestation of the Orixas in daily life -- in dance, food, costume and song and juxtaposes images from the worship and rituals of Candomblé with elements of Brazilian life not directly connected to religion.
The rhythms of the sacred drums and bells, a dance of spiritual ecstasy, offering and sacrifices, divination and the visitation of Orishas through trance are all part of the color and life of Candomblé. If Candomblé can be considered a kind of inner spiritual analysis to which one can sing and dance, where a place among the forces of nature are accepted, then there might be something yet for the "modern" world to learn from the "gods."
The rhythms and music of the Yoruba people have influenced all popular music as we know it today. The music in ILÉ AIYÉ is partly ritual music recorded during filming of the ceremonial dances as well as popular songs influenced by Candomblé and the personalities of the Orixas and original score music by David Byrne linking images and sections. This "soundtrack" music lies aurally between field recordings of Candomblé roots music and Brazilian pop music and was recorded by Mr. Byrne and done with Brazilian musicians in Bahia and New York.
Known as the force behind the Talking Heads and later as creator of the highly-regarded record label Luaka Bop, David Byrne also works as a photographer, film director, author, and solo artist; he has been publishing and exhibiting visual art for more than a decade. Recent works include the release of EEEI-ENVISIONING EMOTIONAL EPISTEMOLOGICAL INFORMATION (Steidl Publishing & Pace/McGill Gallery), the LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION soundtrack from the film YOUNG ADAM, and the Talking Heads box set. His latest record, GROWN BACKWARDS, was released in March 2004 by Nonesuch Records.
"What Mr. Byrne has done is to create an impressionistic portrait of this Candomblé culture. His distinctly personal vision offers none of the traditional documentary standbys. ...With ILÉ AIYÉ, David Byrne has done justice to a wonderful culture. He's thrown such a fine party, there's no telling who might show up." - Robert Goldberg, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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UK DVD Release date: September, 2004
Catalog No. PLX-016
Specs: 51 minutes, color/b&w, 16mm/video, 1.33:1 (original ratio), English and Portuguese with subtitles
Special Features: Director commentary by David Byrne, deluxe booklet with essay by Luc Sante and photos by Phyllis Galembo.