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
Did you know that Brazil has gods (football aside)? In the sense that the Greeks and the Romans did? The Greek and Roman gods were done in by Constantine (first blow) and Theodosius (final blow). The gods of Brazil were born in Africa and arrived in Brazil within the negreiros making the Middle Passage, a voyage which transported not only people, but a culture. There was a great attempt by the Brazilian poobahs to exterminate the gods of Africa in Brazil, but it didn't work.
And as the Roman emperors moved to extinguish the very real belief in Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Minerva and the rest, banning the ceremonies to these deities, the Brazilian "authorities" banned the ceremonies devoted to Oxalá, Oxossi, Iansã, Yemanjá and the rest. But like the ultimate futility of the communist stomping-on of Christianity in Russia, Poland, et al, the piety of the Brazilian ruling class was to no avail (can't you people ever mind your own business!???).
Now, the Greeks and Romans had statues; magnificent, wondrously conceived, wrought and elaborated statues. The Africans had rhythms, and melodies...magnificent, wondrously conceived, wrought and elaborated rhythms, over which are floated (they aren't attached, per Western music) melodies ranging from inspired to sublime. Some of these rhythms (one in particular) are the basis of Brazilian popular music.
So as marble adorns Rome, rhythm adorns Brazil...but to carry the analogy further, as the statues have with the passage of time become fewer and farther between, the modernization of Brazilian popular music has left the rhythms fewer and farther between (excepting those in Bahia's houses of candomblé, these houses multiplying greatly in number over the past few decades)...
But this is Brazil, isn't it? With music everywhere?
Paulinho da Viola - Looks pretty cool to me!
Yes, and yes, but. Samba and its vertentes are based in polyrhythms. And while one may say that Brazilian music was enriched by the confluence of African rhythm-and-melodies and European melodies-and-harmonies, the rhythmic component was, with the Americanization of the 1950s, and then under the effects of the British invasion of the '60s and the astounding market success of first-world music, impoverished. Speaking frankly, it was dumbed down. Detexturized. Anesthetized. Edge and angle taken out. Soothed and smoothed... Witness the birth of bossa nova and MPB (música popular brasileira)! Yes, there was genius there, but not in the strictly African-derived part of the music...that was old-fashioned, not hip.
Thank god for unhip people like Paulinho da Viola! Paulinho came of age in the 60s, when Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil went hippie, they celebrating the we-can-do-anything culture with their invention of tropicália, one ear to the sidewalks of San Francisco and the intersection of Haight-Ashbury...
Paulinho played samba then. He plays samba now. Music. Where somebody sings. And people play instruments. No BS. Paulinho's music was never modern, but it is timeless.
The great Bobby Sanabria quoted the great Art Blakey as saying that a place where jazz is played is a holy place, Bobby following this up with (addressing his audience from the stage) "So thanks for coming to church!"
In the spirit of Art Blakey, a place where samba is played is a holy place...and we ain't talkin' 'bout The Girl from Ipanema. Samba, with all the assaults upon its integrity, never left Brazil. To quote again, now the words of the great Nelson Sargento, it agonizes, but it doesn't die. It's even cool now.
Samba is the local equivalent of those Roman statues.
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