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


This is your world too. Please spread the word about the ultimate means in spreading the word about the creative people who live in it (are you one of them?)!

Salvador Sites

  • Salvador Sites
    Blood & Sugar, Places & History

    Blood, Sweat, and Prayers

    A Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) is located in and dominates the Largo do Pelourinho. The church was built over a period of a hundred years or so beginning in 1704 (the towers and facade were begun in 1780) by the enslaved members of O Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos do Pelourinho (The Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men of Pelourinho) for their own use (they weren't allowed inside the other churches, you see). One probably would be hard-pressed to find many other churches with statues of black saints so prominently and forthrightly displayed. Work on the church was always done at night so that the slaves' normal daytime work would carry on uninterrupted. There's a slave cemetery out back.

    Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary) was the name given to the Virgin Mary by Saint Dominic (São Domingos de Gusmão, in Portuguese), founder of the Dominicans, who "received" a rosary from Mary in a church in southern France around the year 1200. The Dominicans founded the lay brotherhood of the Rosary in Cologne, Germany, in 1408...the brotherhood arriving in Brazil in 1685 and eventually becoming a society of black men. Before they built their own church the brothers met in one of the side altars of the Igreja da Sé (which was located in today's Praça da Sé and destroyed in 1933 in order to provide a convenient turn-around for Salvador's street cars) before a statue of Nossa Senhora do Rosário. The statue was eventually transferred to their new church and remains there to this day.

    The Tuesday evening Mass (6 p.m.) is accompanied by (in part) Afro-Bahian drumming.

    Plunder and Splendor

    A Igreja de São Francisco (The Church of Saint Francis) and its attached convent are up the cobbled streets and to the left at the far side of the Terreio de Jesus, standing at the end of an adjacent square (Praça Anchieta), beyond a large stone cross. This is where sweat was turned into splendor, and where the descendents of those not allowed to enter in centuries past now gather en masse for Tuesday evening masses (held at 6:00 p.m.). The place is awash in gold leaf, and it hosts a rococo gallery of saints and angels which, again, one would be hard-pressed to find in any other church -- lasciviously voluptuous cherubim (putti), others cockily propped, one arm raised, one hand resting on thrusting hips, protuberant manhoods now chastely and crudely excised -- all carved, of course, by slaves.

    The keystone for the present church was laid in 1686.

    Masses on Tuesdays at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:15 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Fridays at 7:15 a.m.; Saturday at 7:30 a.m.; and Sundays at 8 a.m.

    Inspired in a house other than that of The Lord?

    Unkindest Cut(s)

    Interior of the Igreja de São Francisco; construction of the principal altar began in 1708

    Away from the main altar, towards the entrance...

    The paintings adorning the ceiling are the work of Frei (Brother) Jerônimo de Graça and were begun in 1733.

    Natura Moderatrix Optima, according to Horatio. Azulejos dating from 1743-46, in the cloisters.

    Thijs Weststeijn has a beautifully conceived and written monograph on the cloister azulejos here...

    Catedral Basílica on the Terreiro de Jesus

    Naves of the Catedral Basílica


    The sacristy; no bones in the drawers, just priestly vestments.


    Igreja do Paço, on the Rua do Paço

    Igreja do Paço from the Escadaria (Stairway)

    Valeu Teimosia!

    Above is a scene from the film O Pagador de Promessas (The Payer - or Keeper - of Promises, which won the 1962 Palm d'Or at Cannes), set on the steps leading up to the Igreja do Passo.

    It features capoeira by Mestre Canjiquinha (1925 - 1994) and several of his students, one of whom went by two apelidos (nicknames)...Gigante (because of his small stature), and Bigodinho (because of his little moustache). Irony lost out, and nowadays he is known as Mestre Bigodinho (since this was written Mestre Bigodinho has passed).

    The putative day is December 4th, date of the Festa de Santa Bárbara, which to this day remains the area's biggest festival).

    Jazigos in the Igreja da Ordem Terceira (Church of the Third Order) de São Francisco

    Snow, Sugar, Tides, and a place to run away from...

    As for Bahia's oldest church (or more accurately, oldest still existent church), that would be A Igreja da Nossa Senhora das Neves (The Church of Our Lady of the Snows) -- built in 1552 and situated on the Ilha de Maré (Tide Island, itself set in the northern end of the Baia de Todos os Santos). Construction was mandated by Bartolomeu Pires, a catholic priest and owner of one of the island's sugarcane plantations, and, not surprisingly, on the far side of the island a Nagô quilombo was founded (still existent today as the fishing village of Praia Grande -- "Big Beach").

    The Mercado Modelo is, in my estimation, and in spite of being a tourist trap, pretty cool. It is located in the lower city across the street from the Elevador Lacerda, and is the old Customs House now transformed into a warehouse of handicrafts stalls. The rear part of the structure is given over to bars (very local) and restaurants (on the street level, and upstairs on a huge balcony). If you want to buy in the Mercado Modelo be prepared to haggle, and be prepared to shake off vendors insistent on selling something to you whether you want to buy or not. I like the (again, very local) scene behind the Mercado Modelo on the lower level, though I could do without the noise level produced by the capoeira there; the drumming reflects from the overhanging roof and can make conversation difficult.

    In case you're interested, Salvador's first customs house was built in the upper city by governor Tomé de Souza in 1550. Eventually somebody figured out that it would be easier to have one down by the water, within easy access of incoming ships, and a new customs house was built on the current site in 1861. It functioned there until 1914, when new harbor warehouses were constructed and customs tasks transferred to them. The abandoned and unused customs house (the third actually, the second having been demolished to create a public square) was taken over by handicrafts sellers who moved over after the original Mercado Modelo (which was built in 1912) burned down (in 1969). There was a two-year wait while the customs house was refurbished, and it (or the new Mercado Modelo rather) has been operating since 1971.

    The original Mercado Modelo

    The site of the old Mercado Modelo is now occupied by a statue by Mário Cravo, the statue officially entitled "Fonte da Rampa do Mercado" ("Fountain of the Market Ramp") but more commonly referred to by locals as "A Bunda" ("The Butt").

    Fonte da Rampa do Mercado

    Rampa to the left, dugout canoes for fishing center

    And a couple of hundred yards beyond this aptly nicknamed construction, out in the bay, there lies another christened comparison to a human part -- Jorge Amado's "belly button of Bahia" (o umbigo da Bahia) -- the Forte São Marcelo.

    The "Belly Button" of Brazil...Forte São Marcelo

    In 1912 the fort was used by the federal government to bombard the Palácio Rio Branco during a sailors' revolt!

    Igreja do Bonfim

    The Igreja do Bonfim commands a high position on the peninsula of Itapagipe (an area of land which spreads out from the cidade baixa into the bay) and is notable for being a place of veneration not only for Catholics but for Candomblistas. It is the endpoint of a yearly procession called the Lavagem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim), which is more accurately a reference to the washing of the church's steps by mães de santo (candomblé priestesses) who lead the procession from the Mercado Modelo to the igreja. This happens in mid-January, and the procession following the mães de santo is actually an enormous party, with drumming and dancing and eating and drinking slowly spreading from the area around the Mercado Modelo to the area around Bonfim. The church houses a curious room called Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) where people leave votive offerings in thanks for cures, the votives forming a rather bizarre collection of hanging plastic replicas of multitudinous problematic body parts.


    The Igreja do Bonfim is closely associated with fitas do Senhor do Bonfim ("fita" is "ribbon", and the Senhor do Bonfim is both Jesus Christ and his syncretized counterpart Oxalá), which are sold by wandering vendors both in Pelourinho and in front of the Igreja do Bonfim itself (unhappily, "sold" isn't really a very good way to put it, "pushed" and "foisted" being more like it). The idea behind the fitas is that they are tied around one's wrist with three knots, the knots corresponding to three wishes made as the knots are tied, and when the fabric wears out and the fita drops off...the wishes will be granted.

    The length of the ribbons was originally determined by the length of the right arm of the statue of Jesus at the top.

    The length of the fitas (47 centimeters) corresponds to the length of the right arm of a statue of Jesus positioned on the church altar, the statue having been carved in Setúbal, Portugal during the 18th century. The original fitas do bonfim were first produced in 1809, in accordance with common Portuguese custom. They were made from silk, worn around the neck, and were hung with small medallions bearing saints' images. And they were used after a cure via miraculous intervention, after the placing of an image or wax representation of the affected body part within the church (per above).


    You see them all over nowadays, one very common place to hang them being the rear view mirror of Salvador's taxi cabs (quite often together with a figa, a good luck charm used to ward off the evil eye).

    Faculdade de Medicina (The Old Medical School, on the Terreiro de Jesus

    The Faculdade de Medicina, located on the Terreiro de Jesus in Pelourinho, was the first medical school in Brazil (founded in 1808; prior to this classes were taught in the Santa Casa da Misericórdia a couple of blocks away). It's a beautiful structure (originally the Colégio dos Jesuitas and currently in the process of being renovated), and it houses a couple of museums, the most interesting being the Museu Afro-Brasileiro (to the left as one enters the building).

    Some of Carybé's orixás

    The museum's collection deals principally with artifacts and explanations (in Portuguese) having to do with the arrival of Africans in Bahia and the resulting cultural links between Bahia and Africa. Of particular interest are the enormous and awe-inspiring wood carvings of orixás by Carybé in a back room (you may have to ask how to get there).


    Beneath the Museu Afro-Brasileiro is the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, worth a stroll (no extra charge) displaying artifacts unearthed in the Salvador area, from Indian utensils to remnants of colonial era living.

    Fallen Cross representing a church felled by greed

    The Cruz Caida went up in 1999 and is set at the south end of Praça da Sé, on the bay side (to the west). It's a sculpture by Mário Cravo (of the Rampa do Mercado, above) representing the Igreja (Church) da Sé which stood in what is now the Praça da Sé and which, after standing for 380 years, was demolished in 1933 so that the city's streetcars (now long gone of course) might have a convenient looping-around point. The archbishop who authorized the church's destruction was paid off with a grand new residence close to Campo Grande, and an entire further block of colonial-era buildings went down along with the church. The praça has gone through a number of metamorphoses, to bus terminal, to public square, to bus terminal, back to badly conceived public square constantly in need of attention...

    Praça da Sé with a lovely, well thought-out square, alas long gone.

    And in another incarnation...belbottoms!

    And in yet another, postdating both of the above...this is the Praça da Sé of 1992.

    Laying streetcar tracks in the '30s

    1940s...when cars were black and Bahian men, rich and poor, wore those wonderful white linen suits
    (or Wonderful Ice Cream Suits, as Ray Bradbury would have it).

    (Or Pierre Verger...) Salvador's Centro, when men dressed like men.

    Gabinete Português de Leitura

    Located on the Praça da Piedade, the Gabinete is a reading library established in 1863. It's as lovely on the inside as on the out.

    You can get 'bout anything you want, at the Feira de São Joaquim...

    The feira is a vast labrynth of narrow passageways supplying the necessities of life in Bahia...religious articles of all types, incense, statuary, beads, plants and herbs, live chickens and goats, drums...there are vegetables and the products of butchers' stalls, tiny lunch stalls...beans and corn and farinha de mandioca, dendé and dried shrimp and peanuts and coconuts and banana leaves and garlic and clove and mint and cilantro, clay cooking vessels and wooden spoons and pots and pans. Most of the clay pottery comes from Maragogipinho, in the south Recôncavo.

    The Feira de São Joaquim is located on the water of the bay in the cidade baixa, just south of the ferry terminal, having moved to the spot in 1964 from Água de Meninos closeby when that feira burned down. Considering the two incarnations, it's been in existence since the 1920s.


    A common method of transport at the feira

    The staples of Bahian cooking

    Cinnamon, clove, honey...

    Bells and eyes and more...

    Maria Padilha and Exu

    Clay pottery and more clay pottery...

    Which begins "life" here in the town of Maragojipinho, in the south of the Recôncavo

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