Bira Santos grew up in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil in the religious tradition of candomblé. His mother was a high priestess (Mãe de Santo) in the religion and he himself was initiated into the religion more than 20 years ago. He is currently the head musician, or Alabé, at his candomblé house, Ilê Axé Omim J’Oba. The term “alabé” means that he has achieved the highest level in drumming and leading of rituals in the candomblé religion and signifies deep experience and authority.
Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion that originated in Salvador that is closely related to the west african Yoruba tradition, but a tradition of its own. The ritualistic ceremonies contain highly percussive drumming, songs, and dance that have shaped the musical soundscape of Brazil, influencing many contemporary styles such as samba and bossa nova. The music, dances, and deity (Orixá) names have become woven into the very fabric of Bahian and Brazilian culture and have become a part of the mainstream culture there.
In addition to being recognized as an expert within the Candomblé community, Bira is also recognized both regionally and internationally, frequently being called upon to for print and television interviews, as well as to assist in documentaries on the subject. He will often not only play for the documentaries, but also assist with production for domestic and international film crews. Many professional international musicians list Bira as their instructor on their bios.
In addition to his many duties as an alabé, Bira is the Director of Music at the Diaspora Art Center and has a regular teaching schedule as a percussion instructor, teaching both private and group classes and workshops. He also a composing and performing musician — having composed the music for a number of documentaries and CDs and regularly plays shows with his band, Afro Mestiço, and other bands.