Now Playing! MoAD Lays Down the Carnaval Beat

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Still from 'Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê' (Courtesy of MoAD)

Going back to the Gold Rush days, our little burg was a freewheeling town with an undercurrent of debauchery. San Franciscans’ long tradition of personal freedom and communal celebration manifests itself nowadays in the annual Carnaval parade, as well as various Mardi Gras bashes and the Folsom Street Fair.

The new MOAD exhibition, En Mas’, expands our understanding of Caribbean Carnival events -- typically presented in the media as hot-weather, half-naked, let-loose blowouts -- to performances filtered through the experiences of colonialism and independence, slavery and civil rights. The accompanying six-week film series, Jump Up, serves up music-infused dramas and documentaries that transport viewers from Trinidad to New Orleans to New York.

Jump Up begins this Thursday, Sept. 28 with an immersive trip to Salvador, Bahia. The 2010 short documentary Ebony Goddess: Queen of Ilê Aiyê lays down the beat with a portrait of three young women vying for the carnaval crown of the stalwart titular Afro-Brazilian group. Aurelina, Talita and Joseanne proudly display their stunning African-style costumes and traditional dance moves in a setting that prizes black consciousness, and provokes the ire of Bahia’s Eurocentric minority.

Monique Gardenberg’s 2007 narrative feature, Ó Pai, Ó! (Look at This), throws a half-dozen disparate neighborhood characters into a first-day-of-carnaval stew that encompasses broad comedy and social commentary. The movie spawned a Brazilian TV series that lasted one season and 10 episodes, which might be as much carnaval as the average human body can stand.