|Salvador da Bahia, Brazil:|
Saints, Magic & the Drum...
SALVADOR BAHIA CENTRAL
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Carnival in Bahia is it, baby! That is, of course,
if parties and crowds are
your thing. Nowhere else comes close. Carnival
Bahia is not nubile women in feathers high up on floaters à la Carnival
Rio. It's YOU out there on the streets doing it 'til you drop.
Carnaval (as it's spelled in Portuguese) 2014 starts Thursday, February 27th, and it runs through Tuesday, March 4th -- officially. Unofficially (and actually) it runs to the morning of Ash Wednesday, March 5th, and then continues in the arrastão (roundup) of Timbalada, which starts Wednesday morning at the Farol da Barra and winds its way along Avenida Oceanica to Ondina. The arrastão, which started over a decade ago and was only Timbalada for the first couple of years, has now seen other people and blocos jump on the the bandwagon (quite literally). It's grown to include at least three trios and blocos, winding up early Wednesday afternoon, and then there you are at Ondina's lovely beach, where the party continues...
The three Carnival Circuits are:
The Campo Grande - Praça Castro Alves Circuit, also called the “Osmar” Circuit, or simply the “Avenidas”.
The Barra - Ondina Circuit, also called the “Dodô” Circuit.
The Pelourinho Circuit, also called the “Batatinha” Circuit.
Salvador Carnival Modus Operandi
Carnival in Salvador, put simply, is a parade -- or two parades actually -- of trio elétricos. A trio elétrico is a done-up semitrailer, loaded with thousands of watts of sound equipment and with a band playing on top. They parade very slowly along one of two Carnival circuits, one closer to the city center, running from Campo Grande (literally Big Field, Salvador's central park) to Praça Castro Alves (named for Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves, the Bahian poet who, among other things, wielded his mighty pen against the injustices of slavery and political oppression), and the other running from Barra to Ondina, along the Atlantic Ocean. The first trio to exist was an old car ('29 Ford) with a driver (Muriçoca, a nickname meaning "mosquito"), and two musicians (Dodô and Osmar) in the back (the car can be seen in the museum at the Lagoa da Abaeté in Itapoan; it debuted in 1951). The following year Dodô and Osmar, who played electrified string instruments of their own devising and called themselves a dupla elétrica, added friends, Reginaldo Silva and Themístocles Aragão (who took turns playing, only one at a time) on the triolim (tenor guitar), thus becoming a trio elétrico (having abandoned the jalopy for a Chrysler Fargo pickup truck).
That first time the fobica (jalopy) hit the avenidas (avenues) there came a point where Osmar yelled to the driver Muriçoca (Mosquito) to stop for a bit...but the car kept moving...Osmar yelling several more times...Muriçoca finally realizing what Osmar was saying and turning around to explain that the clutch and brakes had long gone out and he'd switched off the motor...the crowd was pushing them forward!
This first trio (okay, dupla) introduced frevo -- an energetic style of music native to the Brazilian state of Pernambuco to the north (frevo comes from ferver, "to boil") -- into Salvador's Carnival for the first time. Osmar's son illustrious Armandinho Macedo is the local Jimi Hendrix of this style (among others), wailing away on his guitarra baiana (Bahian guitar, an updated version of the instrument invented by his father back in the '40s).
The trios form the nucleus of the major blocos. One pays to join a bloco and is given an abadá (a getup consisting of a done-up t-shirt -- in this sense -- although an abadá in reality is a long, flowing, sleeveless robe of West African origin), allowing one to parade with the bloco inside the cordão (rope carried by security personnel).
An exception to the ubiquitous abadás can be found in Margareth Menezes' bloco, Os Mascarados (“The Masked Ones”). In a not-so-reverent nod to another time, members of this bloco dress in their own costumes.
The trios are to a great extent the face and fame of Carnival in Salvador, but as always, reality is more complex than the way it is usually presented...
Carnival blocos (blocks, as in groups of people) have marched for a long time in Salvador, and Salvador at one time had Carnival schools as well (there are several different names for Carnival agglomerations: blocos, schools, cordões (ropes), afoxés and ranchos...sometimes the names are used loosely, overlapping, definitions varying from person to person... another time...). They were usually groups of friends, or people who worked together or lived in the same neighborhood. After the idea of the trio elétrico caught on, with its musical firepower, another idea caught on...money! It turned out that a lot of people were willing to pay a lot of it, usually making monthly payments throughout the year, to accompany their favorite artists on top of a moving soundstage. And as tends to happen when money rules music, the lowest common denominator wins out. Ironically a part of this process was the success in 1986 of a dumb song written and performed by two excellent musicians, Luiz Caldas and Paulinho Camafeu, Nega de Cabelo Duro (Fricote). Axé music was on! The trios with their frevo had already made Salvador's samba schools obsolete in the mid-1970s and now, in terms of popularity, the Carnival revolution was complete.
One casualty was Salvador's Carnival champion over a number of years in the early '70s -- repeat composer of winning Carnival songs -- a young man who wrote beautiful Bahian sambas tinged with candomblé, samba-de-roda, and capoeira. Ederaldo Gentil was a soul so sensitive that the sidelining of samba pushed him over the edge into madness. He lives today in Salvador's neighborhood of Vila Lauro, cared for by his sister and never leaving the apartment.
Axé music continues to dominate Carnival, together with samba-de-roda's greatly coarsified bastard offshoot, Bahian pagode, axé (ah-SHEY) music being a commercial pop grab bag hybrid of whatever, including American/European danceclub styles (named for the West African life force axé, combined with the English-language music, in a derogatory dig at its pretensions, the name catching on nevertheless). Television coverage of Carnival in Salvador is likewise dominated by the big commercial blocos, DVDs available after any Carnival in question undoubtedly (up to now, anyway) featuring the money bands. And in at least one respect a general good does come out of this: The commercial blocos provide work for any number of top-flight musicians who find such work in too-short supply during much of the rest of the year.
But there is more to Carnival than this! Thank god for the afoxés, and the blocos afros! Thank god the samba -- with its Bantu-based swing -- has come roaring back! The candle was reignited in 1975 with the creation of Bloco Alvorada (alvorada is the breaking of dawn) by a group of students (who have since of course matured into éminences grises, but without letting the samba die), and then oxygenated and brightened further in 1983 when Nelson Rufino organized Bloco Alerta Geral ("General Alert", as in "All Points Bulletin").
Nelson Rufino came to national attention in Brazil with the success of Tempo Ê, sung by the great Roberto Ribeiro in 1976 (man did that guy encapsulate samba!). Another wonderful pairing of songwriter and singer was with Todo Menino é Rei (Every Boy is a King), Roberto's version below (filmed for a Brazilian television show) sung to the Afro-Brazilian martial art/dance capoeira, born in the Bahian Recôncavo. One more piece of evidence as to Brazil's legendary pairing of samba and football is that Nelson Rufino went to Rio in order to attempt a career in football, failing and initiating instead what would become a stellar career in songwriting in an attempt to purge his homesickness.
Nelson went on to found yet another Carnival samba bloco in 2004, Amor e Paixão (Love and Passion)...three thousand Panama-hatted members marching and dancing in African-born homage to Dionysian ideals.
Trio elétricos have grown like it's the Triassic Period, but one, and only one, was conceived counter to the prevailing evolutionary trend, and that was, and is, the Micro Trio. The Micro Trio is like a magic trick, or like one of those little circus cars that opens up and twenty clowns pile out. It's one of those scarily unroadworthy-appearing little vans with undersized wheels, and fourteen speakers on top...it looks top heavy, like it'll fall over on its side if the wind blows too hard. And there are musicians inside -- GREAT musicians -- with chops, and instruments and a drum kit, and they play the great traditional Carnival music of the twentieth century, marchinhas and frevos, expertly and passionately. This is one of the best things about Carnival in Salvador.
The "inventor" of the Micro Trio is drummer/percussionist Ivan Huol (that's his hand to the left, below) who is also one of the organizers behind Jam no MAM (the MAM is the Museu de Arte Moderna), the Saturday evening jazz jam sessions held bayside (from 6 p.m.) and attracting well over a thousand people per event. They have a website with groovy music here: http://www.jamnomam.com.br
And speaking of evolutionary trends and Carnival, the samba schools of Salvador were an imitation of those in Rio de Janeiro, but those in Rio de Janeiro were an outgrowth of Rio's ranchos. And where did those ranchos originate? Right! In Bahia! The ranchos had a queen and a king, and music, song, and choreography masters. They themselves were a carnivalesque metamorphosis of the folias, or ternos, de reis, which would march on the sixth of January, the day when the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus is celebrated (the Feast of the Epiphany), and they arrived in Rio with the flux of Bahians freed from slavery and in search of work. In Salvador the folias de reis celebrate the Epiphany in the Largo (square) da Lapinha, in front of the Igreja (church) da Lapinha, these folias being Anunciação (from the bairro of Lapinha), Rosa Menina (from the bairro of Pernambués), Estrela do Oriente (from the bairro of Liberdade), Terno da Terra (from the bairro of Cosme de Farias), Terno dos Astros (from the neighborhood of Mussurunga), Terno da Ciganinha (from the bairro of Alto de Coutos), and the Terno da Lua (from the bairro of Santa Rita).
Arriving from afar, celebrities are invariably a part of Carnival these days, riding the trios and hanging out in the camarotes of Bahia's consecrated: Fatboy Slim (I've never heard his music, but he sounds like a great and fun guy), Quincy Jones, Boner... er...Bono, Naomi Campbell, David Byrne (well, at least he was here around Carnival time, came wandering into Cana Brava Records...I love his blog), Sting (who I saw leaning on a wall as I was getting my Filhos de Gandhy turban sewed on), Camille Paglia... If you're a celebrity who's done Carnival in Salvador and I haven't listed you here (or even kind of a celebrity, like Camille Paglia), please don't feel bad; drop me an email and I'll mention you right away!
One last trio-related note: There's another entity out there, one which has gone so far as to do away with the trio completely, leaving only the tires. This would be Peu Meurray (pronounced peh-oo meh-oo-HAI) e os Pneumáticos, Peu one day coming to the realization that it was possible to recycle a big ol' tire into a cool rolling drum...and so he has, teaching a group of young acolytes to accompany him, drumming while in motion on the avenidas.
Peu has a performance space, the Galpão Cheio de Assuntos, with high-calibre live music throughout the year.
Another part of Carnaval is the barracas. They are everywhere, turning Salvador into a city of ten thousand parties. A lot of them have their own sound systems. And where there isn't a barraca, there'll be somebody with an isopor (styrofoam cooler) selling beer or batidas (cachaça/fruit mixtures; killer strength).
On the Thursday evening which is the beginning of Carnaval, the city's mayor turns the key to the city over to Rei Momo at Campo Grande (an ancient tradition dating back to 1959 and inspired in the Greek god Momus, deity of mockery; rei is "king", and although Rei Momo is a different person every year -- or has been since 1988 when Ferreirinha, the original, retired for health reasons -- "he" always looks like an overweight Nero*). Thursday is generally kind of a slow Carnaval night ("slow" is a very relative term here, I must warn you), a lot of people still have to get up and go to work on Friday. Friday night picks up, and then on Saturday (Sábado do Carnaval) all hell breaks loose. Watch out for crushes of people, especially on closed-in areas when trios pass, because it can get truly scary.
*With the exception of 2008 when, to howls of protest, the extremely trim Clarindo Silva, owner of Cantina da Lua in the Cidade Antiga (Old City) assumed the role. Thank goodness that stout Gerônimo came to the rescue the following year, and then portly Pepeu Gomes (of Os Novos Baianos, now not so novos anymore).
So, What's Up With All These Carnival Circuits?!
The three Carnival Circuits are:
The Campo Grande - Praça Castro Alves Circuit, also called the “Osmar” Circuit, or simply the “Avenidas”.
The Barra - Ondina Circuit, also called the “Dodô” Circuit.
The Pelourinho Circuit, also called the “Batatinha” Circuit.
1. The Osmar, or Campo Grande - Praça Castro Alves Circuit, is the original Salvador Carnival Circuit (going as far back as the 50's anyway; the where and what of Carnival is actually something of a complicated story depending on when). Carnival's official opening is at Campo Grande, and this is where the political bigshots sit and where the Carnival blocos are judged. The trios move away from Campo Grande and down Avenida Sete de Setembro (usually called “Avenida Sete” by the locals) to Praça Castro Alves. From there they swing around the corner and make their way back to Campo Grande by Rua Carlos Gomes, which runs parallel to Avenida Sete. The course takes six hours or so to run (“crawl” might be a better word!).
The denomination “Osmar” is in homage to one of the two creators of the trio elétrico.
2. The Dodô, or Barra - Ondina Circuit, was added in '92 (when it was very much secondary to the Campo Grande - Castro Alves circuit). The trios start at the Farol ( Lighthouse ) da Barra and wend their way up along the ocean to Ondina. The course takes some four hours or so.
Nowadays there is a tendency for the bigger names to play this circuit, as it is seen as more desirable (a view I don't necessarily share) by a lot of Salvador's middle-class youth, the ones with the money to join the bigger blocos.
The denomination “Dodô” is in homage to the other creator of the trio elétrico.
3. The Batatinha Circuit runs through Pelourinho, the Old City.
The denomination “Batatinha” is in homage to Batatinha (Oscar da Penha), a resident of Pelourinho during his lifetime, sambista and composer of wonderful music. Batatinha died in 1997 at 72 years of age, and if you're close to Campo Grande you can stop in at Bar Toalha de Saudade -- owned and run by Batatinha's son Vavá -- on the Ladeira dos Aflitos (not too far from the top of the street, on the right-hand side as one descends). As a matter of fact, the bar was named for a song of Batatinha's wherein he recounts the true story of a chance meeting during a Carnival years ago...a lovely young woman emerging from nowhere, asking Batatinha if she might borrow the towel he was carrying (which was a part of his samba-school kit) to dry her face. She thanked him for his kindness and melded back into the crowds, leaving Batatinha filled with nothing but longing, her sweet fragrance, and thoughts of what might have been...
During Carnival Pelourinho's praças (public squares) are replete with music in a multitude of Brazilian styles...it's especially gratifying to hear the big horn bands of Fred Dantas and Maestro Reginaldo playing the carnival sambas and marchinhas from Brazil's golden age of music (which corresponded with the age of the Great American Songbook). It's like stepping into a past even more vibrantly alive than the present.
Salvador da Bahia
Fierce Musical Wilderness
Salvador & Environs
A Short History of
Hottest Rhythms, Coolest Tunes
Workshops & Tours
Lessons & Classes
Robbed & Cheated
Buses, Taxis, & Cars
More Notes on Blocos, Afoxés, and Trios
One bloco which has for years now been a Carnival staple (formed in 1980) and which offers a good example of the typical big, synthy, commercial bloco sound all too prevalent during Carnival is Cheiro de Amor (Smell of Love; they started life as the more innocently entitled Pimenta de Cheiro, a kind of hot pepper).
Below is an example of this sound, although I've chosen, in order to attenuate the fluff, a rendition of a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l song from the Bahian interior, really a combination of three songs, two in the public domain plus one which was thought to have been in the public domain but which actually turned out to have been composed in 1964 by Manoel de Isaías. The song is entitled "Quixabeira" and if I may digress a bit there is an interesting history behind it...
Os Mascarados, as has been stated, is Margareth Menezes' bloco. The quality of the music is, generally speaking, excellent. This bloco has a substantial GLBT following.
Timbalada is another generally good-enough bloco (although Timbalada has fallen into the common Carnival custom of playing over and over other blocos' popular songs irregardless of those songs' intrinsic quality).
Ara Ketu began as an afoxé in the Salvador suburb of Periperi, but the musical element was popularized and grew in popularity until Araketu (featuring lead singer Tatau) became one of Salvador's biggest acts. Ara Ketu's Carnival bloco is puxado ("pulled", as they say here) by a really top-flight band.
Ilê Aiyê is a bloco afro that is very roots oriented (as a matter of fact, if you don't have the right roots, you won't get in), their heralded passing being one of the highlights of (a lot of people's) Carnival. The song below asks "What bloco is this?" It was written by Paulinho Camafeu.
Chiclete Com Banana is a huge Carnival favorite, a band which generally goes out with bloco Nana Banana. Just because they're popular doesn't mean their music would hold up to any scrutiny though, and the bloco is unfailingly accompanied by a flurry of petty thieves, pickpockets, and trouble-makers (outside the cordão ). If you get caught in that crowd with anything in your pockets you'll get cleaned out and fast!
Olodum is another bloco which unfortunately attracts (outside of the cordão ) many the same ilk. That is no reason not to see Olodum “go out” (as they say here) though because the music and drumming are excellent and the float (with African-attired dancers) is beautiful. Just be careful if you get caught up in the crowd.
As Muquiranas (a pretty good translation of "muquirana" would be "bar slut") look like the ugliest group of women you've ever seen! Big, strong, hairy men in miniskirts and lipstick, parading together or hanging around in small groups blowing kisses at other men. It's all in fun though, and these guys aren't gay nor would they be caught dead like this any other time of the year. The inspiration for their dress and behavior originally came from the houses of ill-repute in an area (Gameleira) adjacent to their neighborhood (Preguiça, from the Ladeira de Preguiça; preguiça is "lazy", and a ladeira is a sloping street) just off of Praça Castro Alves.
* In 2007 the "Muquis" paraded as...Cat Women!
Filhos de Gandhy, the “Sons of Gandhy” (as in Mahatma; the "i" on the end somewhere along the line was replaced with a "y", some say to differentiate the bloco from the Indian, although I personally suspect it's simply a misspelling that caught on) are an afoxé group and one of the pillars of Carnival in Bahia. Many of the members join this group less out of reverence for the great Indian leader than because the group's attire is considered very attractive to women here in Salvador. The participants play a rhythm called ijexá -- beautiful and calming -- and they spray spectators along the parade route with alfazema (lavender) perfume.
They have a guy who plays the role of Gandhi and really looks the part. This results in the occasional extremely odd appearance of Matahma Gandhi hanging out in Pelourinho having a smoke and a drink!
(Raimundo Queiroz Lima -- the Brazilian "Gandhy" mentioned above -- passed away on March 17th, 2006. He was a good man and a beautiful symbol, and is sorely missed in both capacities.)
Expresso 2222 isn't a bloco, it's a trio. And it's not just any trio, it's Brazil's ex-Minister of Culture's (Gilberto Gil) trio .
Alerta Geral ("General Alert", kind of like "All Points Bulletin") is a bloco devoted to samba (in contrast to the majority of the axé music blocos). They parade to really top-notch music (Fundo do Quintal, Jorge Aragão, etc.) and wear malandro-type straw fedoras. They are muito, muito legal (very, very cool). Founder (and Salvador bamba) Nelson Rufino has since gone on to found another samba bloco -- Amor e Paixão.
Carnival is heavily policed. Stands with five or six seated police officers are erected everywhere and the streets are constantly patrolled by police groups moving in single file.
These patrols cut through Carnival crowds like Moses through the Red Sea, and this is good. The downside is that if a patrol approaches you from behind and you are not aware of it you may find yourself shoved out of the way, or worse yet, poked in the back with a nightstick. That'll get you out of the way fast!
The upside to all this is that the police cut down on a lot of violence, usually arriving quickly to break up the fights which are not so infrequent during Carnival.
In one way things are better than they used to be: It used to be that when the police broke up a fight, or caught a thief, a bloody beating was in order. This seldom happens nowadays, and it is our suspicion that part of this change in behavior is due to the fact that most of the patols include one woman in their number. This seems to inhibit the more violent tendencies of the men.
How to Avoid Being Robbed During Carnival
The words “ Land of Happiness ” are often used to describe Bahia. While there is a strong element of truth in this, the reality (as in the cast of most things we learn) is a little more complicated. The larger truth of the matter is that you are in a poor city with plenty of inhabitants who would happily finance their own Carnival happiness at your expense.
This means pickpocketing in an often grossly unsubtle manner, i.e. hands jammed into your pockets with no pretense at all made to disguise the fact that somebody is trying to relieve you of your money (and/or your keys or anything else you may have in there).
How to avoid this? One way is to stay out of and away from the pipoca ( the Carnival crowds; the name comes from people jumping up and down -- like popcorn popping -- to the music). But who wants to come all the way to Bahia and do this?!
Tie your key or keys into your shoelaces and keep your money stuffed into your sock.
Better yet: keep your money either in an inside pocket or in a change purse attached by a strong safety pin (or somesuch arrangement) to the inside of your Carnival shorts.
Better yet: do the former using gym pants with no outside pockets at all.
The last is by far the best arrangement, eliminating (for the most part) worries about pocket picking along with the bad feelings engendered by even unsuccessful pickpocketing attempts!
Other Things to Watch Out For!
Common Carnival behavior also includes the stroking of women's hair by passing men. Blonde hair is an extra attraction.
As boorish and irritating as this may be, it's best not to see it as any big deal, because it isn't. It may be especially galling to boyfriends or husbands but it's better to just move on and forget about it…until it happens the next time. Then keep calm and keep on movin'! The guys who do this usually don't mean anything by it and probably would never be so bold if it weren't Carnival and they didn't have a number of beers under the belt.
Carnivals to Come
If you can't get here for Carnival 2014, Carnival 2015 begins February 12th, Carnival 2016 begins February 4th, Carnival 2017 begins February 23rd, Carnival 2018 begins February 8th, and Carnival 2019 begins February 28th!
Camille Paglia Gets Her Wish!
Here's Vai Chover (It's Gonna Rain), written by Boghan Costa (seated next to his also-musician brother Leo in the photo below, Boghan in white) and sung by Daniela Mercury.
Just about every time it starts to rain and I'm with my (poor, long suffering) children, I'll start in with an off-key version of the refrain of the same. So one not-so-fine day I happened to be having a beer outside with Boghan after a rehearsal when, as fate would have it, it began to rain and (forgetting my children weren't around) I began to sing...and Boghan winced, asking me "Do you by any chance know who wrote that song?"
* * *
Mudança do Garcia
The Mudança do Garcia (mudança is "change") is a Carnival march from the neighborhood of Fazenda Garcia to Carnival at Campo Grande. It began as a protest by vereador (city councilman) Herbert de Castro against the lack at that time (the fifties) of paved streets, public illumination, and constant fresh water in the area, the marchers carrying potties in protest, along with placards satirizing the politicians and their perfidious policies. The prefeito (mayor) of the time, Hélio Machado, because of the protest, actually saw to it that improvements were made in the area, but the cat was out of the bag and the mudança continues to this day, every Carnival Monday.