SALVADOR BAHIA CENTRAL
are certain places...
...the names of which fire the popular imagination. Brazil is one of them; an amalgam of primitive and sophisticated, jungle
and elegance, beating drums and luscious jazz harmonics, there's no
other place like it on earth. And while Rio, or its fame anyway,
tends toward the elegant and "sophisticated" end of the spectrum, Salvador -- Brazil's first capital -- tends
toward the other. This is the land of saints, magic, and the drum.
What is Salvador Central? And Why Are We So On About Music?! Anyway!
It's Brazil's National Art! And the Bahian Recôncavo
(area around the bay) is Brazil's Mississippi Delta!
Salvador Central (which was, for years, Bahia-Online) is an ode (in the loosest sense) to Bahia and to its capital, Salvador. Not especially as geographic or even political entities (although the geography is magnificent and the less said about the latter the better), but in terms of culture, rather. Plenty of people come here for relaxation on the beaches, and Bahia's coast and coastal islands are lined with hundreds of kilometers of positively stunning sand-meets-water backed by coconut palms, but this isn't the only place in the world where such can be found. It is however the only place in the world where a particular flavor of culture may be found, a culture which has to a great degree spread thoughout the rest of Brazil, imbuing this vast nation with a spirit -- a national spirit -- by which it is characterized everywhere else in the groove-sentient universe...
Is this DeGaulle's "not a serious" country? Represented by fast and furious bumbums shaken at breakneck speed and covered (if at all) by a smattering of brightly died feathers? As much as there is to recommend these talented derrières, is that it? Was DeGaulle right?
What??? Samba without feathered bumbums???!
The philosopher Bertrand Russell said -- citing Mozart -- that serious need not necessarily be solemn. And if ever there were a country where that would be true, that country is Brazil.
Brazil without samba would be like New Orleans without jazz, like the United States without the blues and everything which has descended from it (think George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, you name it...). Samba in Brazil is a national pastime, a national resource, a national heritage, and if Bahia-Online is to consider Brazilian culture -- particularly from Bahia -- it must consider samba.
When we visit Italy, do we not seek out its jewels of renaissance art and architecture? When we consider Russia, and Ireland, are not Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Joyce and Yeats brought to mind?
Poor misconceived and maligned Brazil. Its music -- like jazz in the early days, back when it was danced to -- is denigrated, relegated to a lower order. The cacophonous pastime of a poor but happy people.
The bossa nova boom raised the bar harmonically...but it's interesting to consider that bossa nova's rhythms were derived from samba (more correctly, they are samba). Going back, they are descendents of the cabila played by runaway slaves in Salvador's houses of candomblé angola, rhythms vastly more subtle and sophisticated than those ever played by the most sophisticated bossa nova slicksters of Rio de Janeiro (as much as we love good bossa nova!).
Strange to think that people ironically show their own lack of sophistication and judgement while erroneously assigning a lack of such to others...
Samba is The National Art of Brazil. Samba was born in Bahia. Samba is almost completely misunderstood outside of Brazil. For these it forms such an important part of Bahia-Online.
P.S. We include choro, jongo, côco, et al, keeping in mind that choro was born in Rio, and jongo in the Vale de Paraíba, etc....we love them all! And our "Hottest Rhythms, Coolest Tunes" meme should be taken with a grain of salt (well, maybe not the rhythms part... ; ).
P.P.S. We instituted the MusiCodex in order to provide a means for great but largely unknown Brazilian musicians to reach a wider audience. But there is great music all over the world, and even famous people aren't known to everybody, hence the network is wide open to both musicians and to listeners who want to support and point the way to the musicians they think are great.
P.P.P.S. Brazil GPS (Great Places to Stay) is our friends of decades (two decades!) who rent apartments or have pousadas (guesthouses) here. This is how Bahia-Online funds its passeios through the Recôncavo, pays for the maintenance of Bahia-Online and The MusiCodex, pays the rent, keeps the kids in school, and manages to fit in the occasional beer and cachaça at the sambas.
This is our version of Jorge Luis Borges' Aleph
If you are a musician, when was the last time you used Myspace Music? And how is Facebook supposed to go beyond your "friends" to divulge your existence and activities? Well there's a new network, launched from Brazil, born in music and doing it in a much more intriguing way!
Salvador da Bahia: Apartments & Houses
Coming to Salvador? Need a Great Place to Stay? Vivaaa!!!
Brazil GPS (Great Places to Stay!) is Bahia-Online and two Americans in Salvador, with a roster of fully-set up apartments maintained solely for short-term rentals. This means you get experienced, top-flight service, references from previous guests, constant attention (when necessary), and the only surprises are pleasant ones.
Want to see what your place here can (or will) be like? Click on the photos below! And when you get here be prepared for all the orientation you need (or want)!
Our Mission: To rescue lost samba and choro from oblivion, providing an environment where it can be discovered, explored, and carried away as recordings.
The Divine Cartola
About our record shop:
We are located in Pelourinho, on Rua João de Deus (no. 22). We sell vinyl and CDs, but our "specialty" has come to be the artesinal printing of CDs with out-of-print-out-of-the-catalogue music.
The CD business being what it is, there is more great Brazilian music unavailable than available. Especially when real (not slick-and-commercial) samba is involved. And choro? It's making a brilliant comeback in Brazil (people really do hunger for real music), but recordings tend to be independent and hard to come by.
Who's the man serving coffee above? Why, that's none other than Cartola, in a sense a symbol of the re-valorization of samba in Brazil. He wrote for everybody, disappeared in the '40s, was found in a bar in Ipanema in the '50s, missing teeth and dressed as a bum. His discoverer, the Jimmy Breslin of Brazil, took Cartola under his wing and tried to get him a record contract. But the doors were closed. "Nobody's interested in Cartola anymore!" they said. So Cartola married his childhood sweetheart Zica and opened (bankrolled by friends and supporters) Zicartola in Rio, the modern-era landmark in bringing the great sambistas of Brazil together under one roof (the other landmark was Tia Ciata's house decades earlier).
He was finally recorded in 1974, at 65 years of age, by a small label run by the Alan Lomax of Brazil, Marcus Pereira, and the record was -- in terms of press, buzz and talk-of-the-town anyway -- a huge success. Cartola was back!
The photo above? After having been "rediscovered" but before opening Zicartola, Cartola needed some way to survive other than washing cars (which is what he was doing the fateful night he walked into that bar). A supporter got him a job serving coffee in a government minstry. Even at that time, among the cognoscenti, Cartola was a god.
Imagine having your coffee served by the number one musical icon in your country! Where else other than Brazil?
Your Friendly Attendant
Chances are, should you stop by the shop, you'll be attended by our Mrs. Her name is Rute Neyde and she's from a small town in the interior of Bahia, a place named for the sugarcane plantation which gave rise to the town -- Cana Brava. To be more accurate, she's from a small distrito (settlement) just outside of that town (the town now renamed Miguel Calmon), a place called Mocambo (mocambo is an African word for a hut) -- a place where, as she was was growing up, there was no electricity, no running water, and transportation was by donkey cart. Now we have all except for the last.
The Heart of the Matter
Brazil is The Musical Country...and Bahia is Where It All Began!
There's a lot of spectacle in Bahian music...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 and money...
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.
*Below find Alumínio Saturno, resident of Pitinga, Bahia, chuleiro and subsistence farmer.
To Old to Party? (and dance on the spur of the moment?)
Dude! This is Brazil!
Argemiro Patrocínio (the great sambista of Portela, now with God) and amigo(a)s partying at a boteco, when a dama passes by and decides to join them for a few exquisite moments...
3 Beers, 5 Reais
That's what the sign at the bottom of the photo says...the beer being Skol and the can in question being a piriguete (slang for a woman of easy virtue; the cans are small, holding 250 ml, but that's good in a hot climate).
Looking to the Largo do Pelourinho, with the Igreja do Paço looming...
Santiago do Iguape, Bahia
Santiago do Iguape, on the Iguape bay, is a small fishing village almost as old as Salvador, having been founded in 1561 by Jesuits. The communities in the surrounding areas were founded as quilombos, villages of runaway slaves.
The preferred musical style here and in the once-hidden satellite communities is, of course, samba-de-roda. Viva!
The Convento de Santo Antônio
in the village of São Francisco do Paraguaçu, Bahia
Set in seemingly the most unlikely of places*, on the margin of the bay of Iguape, itself set in the course of the Paraguaçu river, which debouches into the Baía de Todos os Santos -- Bay of All Saints -- this is São Francisco do Iguape's Convento Santo Antônio.
Work was begun on the convent in 1649; by 1653 the convent was ready for occupancy. The first stone for the church itself was laid between 1651 and 1658 (historical sources vary).
Decline began to set in in 1825 when Santo Antônio's House of Novitiates was transferred to the convent of São Francisco in Salvador (in the old city, the area nowadays referred to as "Pelourinho"). In 1888 an article in the Gazeta da Bahia said that the convent "is nowadays abandoned, serving only as a lair for nocturnal birds."
* The peninsula of Iguape was arguably the richest sugarcane producing area in Brazil, home to fourteen plantations and numerous quilombos (refuges/villages founded by runaway slaves).
Book ANYWHERE in Salvador through Trusted Booking.com! (or anywhere else as well...)
A Sign in the Neighborhood
of Santo Antônio além do Carmo
The Evil Eye
A Seaside Musical Guesthouse!
Encanto de Itapoan (Enchantment in Itapoan)
Pousada (guesthouse) Encanto de Itapoan is owned and run by the Brazilian/English Rocha family, of whom the Brazilian part (Octacílio; guitar in hand in the top photo) and a Brazilian/English part (daughter Bia) are musicians. As such, the pervading ethos of Encanto is the music of Brazil, which day and evening (per above) drifts over pool and grounds. www.encantodeitapoan.com.br
November 20th, Dia de Consciência Negra!
(Black Consciousness Day)
The Dia de Consciência Negra, November 20th, coincides (quite purposefully) with the date that Zumbi (last king of Brazil's greatest quilombo, village -- or in this case, villages -- of runaway slaves, Palmares) was killed in 1695.
The traditional celebration in Salvador is bloco afro Ilê Aiye's march up the Ladeira de Curuzu, through Liberdade, to Pelourinho, the march getting started sometime in the afternoon. It's a blast!
There's something about calling a person a "slave"...maybe it's the use of the indefinite article. The human mind tends to categorize, and this use of language seems to help the mind assign whoever's being described to a prescribed set, with prescribed qualities.
A slave is a slave, and should do whatever a slave does. From Aristotle on (and certainly before) the idea that some men were naturally born to slavery was used to justify it. "An enslaved man, or woman" however, suggests that there is a person there apart from the slave aspect...which there of course is, and it also suggests the fact that the enslavement was effected by somebody not the enslaved, further suggesting that that person had his/her own motives...which one might suspect were self-serving...
So even though I use the term for the sake of convenience, I feel it's potentially misleading to those of less philosophic tempers (like Aristotle).
The Jewish Soul of Brazilian Music
Jews and Brazil? An oxymoron? Not by a long shot! The first synagogue in the western hemisphere was located in Recife...as a matter of fact it's still there. Clarice Lispector, Brazilian literary giant, was born in a shtetl in the Ukraine (from there her family emigrated to Brazil's nordeste (northeast), and from there to Rio). And then there is the sublime Jacob do Bandolim (Jacob of the Mandolin).
Jacob was the son of a Jewish woman from Lodz, Poland, who fled the First World War to Brazil, and a Brazilian pharmacist from Espirto Santo. He worked in musical style called "choro", a style gloriously replete with brilliant melodies, harmony, and counterpoint, over sly, subtle and evershifting Afro-Brazilian swing (in Brazil the music can swing in 10 different directions at once!)...and amazingly a style almost unheard of outside of Brazil.
The composition below is Jacob's Bole Bole.
The dance style here is called gafieira, taken from name (identical) for Rio's samba dancehalls of the 1930s, a style which has seen a big resurgence centered around Rio's Lapa district over the past few years. Interestingly, these people aren't emulating the past (like at a 50s party, for example), and they aren't living in it...it's that Brazil, unlike the United States and Europe, where musical styles get tossed out as fashion changes, doesn't move on...it accretes, and almost every kind of music which was once played here is still being played here somewhere or other, right now.
This clip is from Finnish filmmaker (and Salvador resident!) Mika Kaurismäki's documentary Brasileirinho. Also, we'd like to mention that although choro is usually associated with Rio, it was not only influenced by samba (from Bahia), it was imbued with it, and for the past century choro wouldn't be choro if it didn't include a pandeiro...and it wouldn't include a pandeiro were such not introduced into choro by the essential João da Baiana, youngest son of a Bahian family which, like so many others, emigrated to Rio de Janeiro.
Simon Brook: A Man of Many Times & Places
Salvador Connection: Simon wrote a screenplay based in Salvador, this screenplay currently in development with Chic Films, producer of the 2009
Grand Prix winner at Cannes
When addressing the artistic life of a peripatetically prolific man, is it unreasonable to address also the artistic life of that man's emphatically prolific father*? Simon Brook thankfully allows this question to answer itself, having addressed his father's artistic life in two exquisite documentaries: Brook by Brook (2002), and The Tightrope; the latter co-written with his father and recently shown at the 69th (2012) Venice Film Festival.
*We are speaking of course of British theatrical director Peter Brook, who among much else directed Gielgud and Olivier for the Royal Shakespeare Company...whose foray into film directing yielded Lord of the Flies in 1963.
But what a tortuous path this prodigal son (his prodigality expressed in art) took to get back there...
Simon was born in London, educated in London and Paris, and now makes his home in Paris. At twelve years of age he began as a runner at Pinewood Studios. He spent a year in training at The Drama Center, and then moved to Paris where he became company manager for the European tours of Dave Brubeck, Pina Bausch, and the Murray Louis Dance Company. Moving into film, and among other projects, he was assistant director on The Unbearable Lightness of Being (with Philip Kaufman) and worked as production consultant for In the Soup, with Steve Buscemi and Jennifer Beals (1st Prize, Sundance Festival, 1991; Prix du Public, Deauville, 1992). During this period he also helped to develop and finance the political thriller Primary Motive, starring Judd Nelson and released through Twentieth Century Fox.
In 1992 Simon directed the documentary on French theater director Jean Mercure for the series Parisian Mémoires.
He directed, in 2000, Karos D'Ethiope: Les Amoureux du Fleuve, treating love stretched to the breaking point between modernity and tradition in the Valley of Omo, in the south of Ethiopa.
Mirage in Yemen (2002) was a making-of following location scouting in the Yemen desert for The Naval Battle.
Amazone, an intellectual adventure as broad and extensive as its subject, utilizing the notes of novelist Paule Constant and broadcast on France 2 (French public television), followed the world's greatest river from Peru and Columbia through Brazil.
Simon directed Cleopatra's Lost City for Discovery Channel (2003), and The True Legend of the Eiffel Tower (2005), for Canal+/Discovery (a record 5.6 million viewers watched its first primetime France 3 television broadcast). Between these projects he spent weeks back in the Amazon directing Jungle Magic (2004), a documentary on the world's largest folk festival, Boi Bumba, which takes place on an island in the world's largest river (the Amazon, naturally) in a specially constructed stadium for 35,000 people, in the town of Parintins.
Skipping an ocean and decades, Simon moved to Generations 68 (2008), documenting, forty years after the facts, the arts and zeitgeist of Europe at a time when bombs and napalm exploded over Vietnam and people blew their own minds. With Milos Forman, Vaclav Havel, Mary Quant, Dennis Hopper, Annie Nightingale, William Klein, Ed Ruschka, Peter Brook and others.
Simon's 2011 documentary for the BBC, Annie Nightingale: Bird on the Wireless, included Mick Jones, Paul McCartney and Fatboy Slim.
When he's in Venice, Simon's been known to have the occasional drink at Harry's. When in Salvador, his place of choice is O Cravinho, on the Terreiro de Jesus (where the price of one drink at Harry's will get you thirty!).