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's Afoxés & Blocos Afros

  • 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...

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