Welcome to beautiful, benighted Brazil! The site you're on began as, and still is, a Guide to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil & Environs. "Bahia" is the old spelling for "bay", and the great bay which gave (the Brazilian state of) Bahia its name has a couple of unique distinctions:
1) More slaves entered this bay than were taken to any other place on the planet.
2) These slaves (or enslaved people rather), in vast testament to the human spirit, created arguably the most soulfully and physically uplifting music ever sung and danced to.
This music in Brazil is analogous to the delta blues and early jazz in the United States in that it is the deep source of so much which would develop out of it. But unlike the blues, known worldwide and played from Tokyo to Timbuktu, this primordial Brazilian music — still played by the descendents of the people brought to work the sugarcane plantations here — is virtually unknown, even in Brazil. Disparagement yields untold lost riches. So...
In order to alert the world to this music's existence, and that of the splendid people who make it, we've borrowed from pre-Civil War African Americans' "grapevine telegraph" (you know, origin of the expression "I heard it through the grapevine"?), allowing anybody to participate in recommending these people to anybody who might land on the recommender's page. But now the magic manifests itself:
For this to work for Raimundo Sodré and João do Boi and Bule Bule, it has to work for Herbie Hancock and Tommy Peoples and Quincy Jones. Because we're not talking about recommendations which reach to the next page and stop. We're talking about internet vectors, long series of recommendations, forming a vast interlinked grapevine capable of taking people from one person to any number of people in any number of places, playing any number of styles and variations of styles of music. Thus one might start with someone one knows personally, a friend maybe, or with somebody one knows of, a highly talented and respected musician, and wind up...God knows only where...there are pathways to (among so many other, better known, places) even the little villages on the far side of the Bay of All Saints, where so much inhumanity was unable to kill perhaps the noblest human virtue of all: the desire not merely to survive, but against all odds, somehow prevail. Music and the arts are powerful stuff. -- Sparrow Roberts
Capoeira in Salvador & Bahia
Dance Like a Baryshnikov
Hit Like a Kalashnikov
Capoeira. You, dear reader, may have never heard of it, or maybe you're one of the legion who can pick up a berimbau and play the toques, handle the pandeiro (a tambourine, kind of) and atabaque (a conga, kind of), sing the ladainhas and chulas, enter the roda... expertly perhaps, but more likely with more enthusiasm than expertise. It's no different here in Bahia, where capoeira was born.
This Bahian capoeira has made it from the sugarcane plantations of the Recôncavo to college campuses worldwide, from Santo Amaro to San Francisco...Europe, Asia...it's everywhere. Or is it? I'm not so sure.
Capoeira's origins are obscure and almost everything about it is polemical. For some it's quasi-religious and like religion there are those who claim the Truth unto themselves, this born less of respect than of self-aggrandizement. How many little dictators are out there right now scattered across the towns of Europe and the U.S., playing the role of capoeira prophets to earnest and well-meaning students, taking their money (and more) while beating their (own) chests and crowing "Eu sou da Bahia! (I'm from Bahia!)", as if that were enough to make them special. Bahia, like everywhere else in the world, has its ample share of deadbeats and dissimulators, and capoeira more than its share. Most of the real masters here have stories of being invited to workshops outside of Brazil and meeting "masters" who were nothing more than students here and whose mastery was acquired (via closer proximity to the orixás?) during the plane trip to wherever it was they were going. They call them mestres de aeroporto...airport masters...
This is the theme of a screenplay currently in development -- Malandro -- with Seu Jorge slated for the title role as a Pelourinho good-for-nothing who has gone to Europe to set himself up as The Master, only not to have things work out as he expected.
Would you take capoeira lessons from THIS guy?
Capoeira made it to Rio by the turn of the twentieth century, taken by the same Bahian exodus which took samba to Rio. It became a vicious street fight where straightrazors were sometimes wielded between toes to add slash-and-gash to capoeira's great roundhouse kicks. Capoeira was the fighting-style of choice of Madame Satã (Madam Satan), Lapa's most feared thug, probably the world's toughest ever transvestite.
Street Fightin' "Madam"
But capoeira is like jazz...hard to define, different people having different ideas of what it really is, or if something really is it or not (what Nicholas Payton of New Orleans plays would be jazz to most people, but to him it's simply New Orleans music, jazz having become so wide a term that it's almost meaningless nowadays).
For me, as with samba, if you take the Recôncavo out, it's not "it" anymore. The overriding ethos of the Recôncavo in terms of its people's arts (and by people I mean the majority of its population...slaves) was an aspiration to life and living, a moving away from the hopelessness and depression which would be natural to people forced into their position...the essential key to Brazilian music, the pervasive joy -- almost a meta-joy -- beneath it. This isn't the joy of somebody who's gotten a raise...this is the joy of somebody from whom everything has been taken but life itself, and who is determined to nevertheless live that life.
The music of capoeira, traditionally, was the folk songs -- the chulas -- sung by people in the rodas de samba. Capoeira, like samba, was a collective endeavor of friends and neighbors. Like samba, it was done in a circle. Even now, to hear capoeira played to these songs heartfully rendered is something powerfully moving, an affirmation...it's emotion felt in common.
So in my book razor-swinging feet is not capoeira. Nor are athletic gyres and somersaults by well-muscled "capoeiristas". There's plenty of "capoeira" right here in Bahia which as far as I'm concerned is not capoeira at all. And with the right people, there can be capoeira as real-deal as it gets anywhere there are people to play it. In capoeira, it's not whether you win or lose, and it's not even how you play the game...it's why you do it.
Our dear friend Simon Brook's capoeira screenplay (referred to several paragraphs above) for Chic Films (they co-produced the Grand Prix winner A Prophet -- Un Prophete -- at Cannes several years ago) is tied up in development, so for anybody accustomed to reading screenplays, we give you our own story of Harlem homeboy Zoom, ashamed of his real name "Zumbi", ashamed of the music in his father's 125th St. record shop (his father is an immigrant from Bahia, Brazil), ashamed of his heritage but forced by circumstances to journey straight to its heartland and convince his father's father (an old guard capoeira master beholden to Xangô, Ogun, Oxossi, et al) to make the journey of his lifetime, to New York City. And how's this for a switch? Our real record shop -- Cana Brava -- is based on our fictional record shop in the "movie"!
If you get into that roda camará, you better watch out...you better be careful camará, because you're in a dangerous place and...
Table of Contents
An Introduction to Salvador da Bahia
A Brief History of Salvador da Bahia
Pelourinho: The Centro Histórico
Our Cana Brava Record Shop in Pelourinho, specializing in samba and related styles
Important Salvador Sites
Festas: The Sacred & the Profana
Carnival in Salvador, Bahia
Candomblé: Ubiquitous Deities
Capoeira: Dance Like a Baryshnikov; Hit like a Kalashnikov
Salvador's Afoxés & Blocos Afros
Fiction from Bahia
The Music of Bahia
› Currently working musicians from Bahia are here!
A Short History of the Music of Brazil
› Currently working musicians from Brazil are here!
A Tour Guide to Salvador & Environs
The Beaches of Bahia
Fab Apartments to Stay in While You're Here!
Salvador Central Members/Nodes
There's a lot of spectacle in Bahia...
Carnival with its trio elétricos -- sound-trucks with musicians on top -- looking like interstellar semi-trailers back from the future...shows of MPB (música popular brasileira) in Salvador's Teatro Castro Alves (biggest stage in South America!) with full production value, the audience seated (as always in modern theaters) like Easter Island statues...
Carlinhos Brown's Museu do Ritmo (Rhythm Museum; an entertainment venue) all done up Bahian faux tribal showbiz style...glamour and glitz and press agents...
Carlinhos Brown: Man with a Shtick...er...Stick
And then there's where it all came from...the far side of the Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints), a land of subsistence farmers and fishermen, many of the older people unable to read or write...their sambas the precursor to all this, without which none of the above would exist, their melodies -- when not created by themselves -- the inventions of people like them but now forgotten (as most of these people will be within a couple of generations or so of their passing), their rhythms a constant state of inconstancy and flux, played in a manner unlike (most) any group of musicians north of the Tropic of Cancer...making the metronome-like sledgehammering of the Hit Parade of the past several decades almost wincefully painful to listen to after one's ears have become accustomed to evershifting rhythms played like the aurora borealis looks...
So there's the spectacle, and there's the spectacular, and more often than not the latter is found far afield from the former, among the poor folk in the villages and the backlands, the humble and the honest, people who can say more (like an old delta bluesman playing a beat-up guitar on a sagging back porch) with a pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) and a chula (a shouted/sung "folksong") than most with whatever technology and support money can buy. The heart of this matter, is out there. If you ask me anyway.
Alumínio Saturno, resident of Pitinga, Bahia, chuleiro and subsistence farmer; now with God