Hello! I'm "Sparrow" Roberts. Salvador Central is mine, but The Brazilian Grapevine (universal musician et al discovery based not in algorithms, which can only recommend music based on what one has heard before; nor in the curation of assigned professionals; but in word-of-mouth open to anybody) belongs to all the tremendous (and merely wonderful) people who participate in it. We began simply as The Online Guide to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, but given that music is so compellingly paramount here in Bahia, and that the most compellingly paramount music here (it's called "chula") is, amazingly, highly unknown EVEN here... I wanted a way to reach around the world — to alert like-minded souls wherever they are that this powerfully heart, soul & body moving music exists and that the generally poverty-stricken people who make it live, sing and dance upon this at once select and benighted part of our earth... (some words about this & them at the bottom of this page)
My methodology is universality and was inspired in pre-Civil War African Americans' "grapevine telegraph" (origin of the expression "I heard it through the grapevine"). That is: EVERYBODY can publicize what THEY love, recommending other people (these recommendations appear on one's I RECOMMEND THEM tab), and then THOSE people recommend people, and those people recommend people...these recommendations-in-series forming long followable internet vectors running throughout the universe of music in our time, opening the world up to people and music we'd never otherwise discover while conversely offering musicians both unknown and established a means to reach new and perhaps more distant audiences.
We began with a musician who rose from poverty only to have his major label career crushed under the boot of Brazil's dictatorship (and be forced into exile under the threat of death): Raimundo Sodré. And with men of stunning talent, known only to their communities and a miniscule set of insiders here: João do Boi and Bule Bule.
Tours through old Salvador -- the Centro Histórico -- and for the more adventurous, into the Recôncavo around the other side of the bay (analogous in Brazil to the Mississippi Delta in the United States), to the sambas-de-roda and festivals out there (depending on what's going on). To learn something about samba-de-roda (primordial, African samba), the following two entrances below into our music section will put your hand on a heartbeat unlike that anywhere else...
Salvador's Afoxés and Blocos Afros
Afoxé (ah-faw-SHEH) is basically candomblé with the religion taken out...the use of candomblé rhythms and "songs" in social, non-religious settings like Carnival and weekly dances. The principal rhythm associated with afoxé is ijexá (ee-zheh-SHAH), a more subtle and complicated version of what you might hear pounded out on the Maxwell House coffee can for a late-hours Manhattan cocktail party conga line (a modified version was also used in composer Stan Worth's theme for the 1960s George of the Jungle cartoon series). On terreiros de candomblé ijexá is associated with Oxalá (the father) and Oxum (goddess of sweet waters).
Embaixada Africana (African Embassy) was the first afoxé, parading in the Carnival of 1895. The next year afoxé Pândego da África (African Hijinks) went out, and in 1905 an afoxé climbed the Ladeira da Barroquinha to parade up the Ladeira de São Bento, thereby breaking a tacit understanding that the Carnival groups from the lower (and darker) economic classes had their areas (Baixa dos Sapateiros, Barroquinha, Pelourinho) and the upper classes had theirs (Avenida Sete de Setembro, Piedade). Salvador's largest and most widely known afoxé -- Filhos de Gandhy -- was formed in 1949 by a stevedore whose inspiration was the great Indian leader and pacifist (who had been assassinated the year before). Other afoxés include Filhos de Korin Efan, Badauê, and Filhas de Oxum. From 1904 until 1918 afoxés were forbidden to march during Carnival, ostensibly to combat "crime, ao deboche, e à desordem (crime, debauchery, and disorder)".
Blocos Afros are Carnival blocos (groups) which, put simply, celebrate cultural manifestations of African origin. The rhythms are usually based in what is called "samba reggae" (which comes in a number of variations) and the dress is African-inspired (in contrast to afoxé Filhos de Gandhy, whose robes draw their inspiration from the Indian subcontinent). Olodum, Ilê Aiyê, and Ara Ketu are the three biggest and best-known blocos afros...Ara Ketu -- and in international terms Olodum to an even greater degree -- having achieved significant commercial success. Other blocos afros include Muzenza (from Liberdade), and Malê de Balê (of Itapoan), who drew the inspiration for their name from the Malê Revolt.
Muzenza, left, is from the neighborhood of Liberdade; Ilê Aiyé, right, is also from Liberdade, from an area called "Curuzu"
With respect to the name "Olodum", the best known of Salvador's blocos afros (both Michael Jackson and Paul Simon have recorded with them), I've heard respectful stories in several variations but with the common theme of reaching deep into tradition and pietous religiosity for inspiration...
Principal founder Geraldo Miranda (popularly called Geraldão -- Big Gerald), who went on to found Muzenza after an internal breach, tells it like this, however (my translation):
"As for the name of the bloco, Olodum, I was the one who came up with it, thanks to a friend, a filha-de-santo (candomblé adept), who happened to mention that Olo and Dum were two gods, without mentioning anything about their origins or if there was really any religious basis for this. I stuck the two names together and nobody disagreed and so it was, Olodum."
Geraldão was correct in his unvoiced but implied suspicion that there wasn't any true religious basis for this, although it wasn't completely off the mark.
I mention this not only to puncture a glossed image which is often presented to the world (not only by some of these groups; isn't this pretty much universal human behavior?), but as intro to the fact(s) that in spite of some groups' in-some-cases questionable origins, the rhythms and music they play can nevertheless be wonderful (gee! sounds like Christianity!).
Olodum played New York's Summerfest in...what, 1990? I wrote the descriptive part of the grant request to the New York State Council for the Arts, bullshitting as I hadn't actually ever heard Olodum. But the bucks were provided and Olodum played Central Park. I of course went, but...
Wonderful people have come out of Olodum, but the bloco ain't my personal bag.
The best recording, BY FAR, of Salvador's afoxés and blocos afros in a carnivalesque sense is Edil Pacheco's (together Paulo César Pinheiro's) AFROS E AFOXÉS DA BAHIA. Some of that can be heard here...
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