On the corner of Gregório de Matos and Alaíde do Feijão streets, an exu, orixá of paths and communication, is fed in Pelourinho, in Salvador. At this same intersection, Negra Jhô opens up to Afro aesthetics in her beauty salon and in the places she visits.
In the coming days she will be seen in several Afro groups performing Afro-Brazilian dance, which she learned self-taught, like everything she does: braids, turbans and food. “I had no masters. My master was Ogum, the time, the paths”, she states.
Since 2003, Negra Jhô has been the “mother, woman, Maria-Olodum”, and dances in front of the Afro block, which leaves this Carnival Friday (9) through the streets of Pelourinho. She also parades with Bloco da Capoeira, Didá, Cortejo Afro and Ilê Aiyê, which turns 50 in 2024. “These are decades of resistance, royalty and joy”, she defines.
In Olodum alone, it has been on the avenue for 30 years, first as a reveler and then as an “opener”. It was featured for 10 years on the Filhas de Oxum block. “Carnival is a party where we see each other, meet each other. We shout and jump with joy, in an outburst”, he defines.
Since the 1980s, she has been braiding hair in the historic center. Always wearing a turban and clothes with African prints, she uses long eyelashes and nails to complete an always imposing look.
The hair artisan was born Valdemira Telma de Jesus Sacramento, in 1960, in Quilombo da Muribeca, in the Recôncavo region of Bahia. “I was born big,” she says, stating that she has always been racially conscious. Her father worked at Petrobras and her mother was a housewife and activist. Both were from Candomblé, which helped shape their life teachings. “I still learn a lot today from the women who made history in religion, such as Mãe Carmem, Mãe Menininha, Mãe Ziza, Ebomi Nice, among others.”
Jhô lived in Madre de Deus and Feira de Santana until arriving in Salvador in the 1980s. “The first place I visited was Pelourinho. I came for the Conceição festival. They said it was a place of prostitution, but I was obsessed with the culture “, account. He opened his first salon on Rua Frei Vicente, where he stayed for 20 years, and today he also lives in the historic center. “Pelourinho is a magical place, which welcomes, provides survival for many people and has many riches”, he says.
When I ask about problems such as lack of security and drug consumption, Jhô states that there is a lot of exaggeration, but recognizes that “despite Salvador being the Afro capital, there is still a lack of respect for its black children”. She says that the only thing that takes her away from her grandeur is when she loses loved ones or someone messes with hers. “I was born to fight. Without a fight there is no victory,” she says, citing her life motto that was tattooed by her eldest son, Afro Jhow, who is a singer and composer.
In the hall, there are decorations and protections, such as Saint George’s sword, smoker, orixás, African masks and a graffiti with the face of its owner. There, two hairstyles are being made (a braid and a dread), a turban is being tied, a seamstress is darning and Kayodê, Jhô’s youngest son, is applying beads to a brooch.
Negra Jhô is a strong presence and brings laughter, tears, sparkle in the eyes and goosebumps from anyone who enters her space. She never goes unnoticed. There are those who enter your salon just to ask for a blessing and follow. She plans to visit Nigeria and Angola, but says her biggest dream is to have a welcoming space for people who have nowhere to live.
Do not mess with me
Since 2010, she has organized Feijhoada, a cultural event with feijoada and an African court that usually takes place in September. In 2018, a group of around 300 people gathered on one of the hills of Pelourinho to watch the court, when a police car decided to come the wrong way, swearing at the public. To prevent the car from passing, Jhô threw himself on the ground. “What they want, we also want: respect. They need to know how far to go and so do we”, she says, which stopped the public from booing the police, who would have recognized the mistake after the shocking scene.
Between 1998 and 2002 and in 2014, Negra Jhô prepared candidates for the Goddess of Ebony, from the Afro bloc Ilê Aiyê. “They are strong women who can be whatever they want. I helped elect six queens and six princesses”, she says.
The performer has already participated in several clips by Olodum, the city hall and state government, the singer Saulo, the group Àttooxxá, among others. When I ask where her artistic name comes from, she tells how she got her name: “I always knew I was a black woman. As I didn’t have hair, they called me João. One day they called me ‘black, Jô,’ I thought that It’s interesting. I’m an ancient queen.”
Service: Negra Jhô’s space is located at Rua Alaíde do Feijão, 10, Pelourinho, Salvador, and is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9am to 7pm.