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...


Welcome to scintillating Brazil (where since the days of slavery music has functioned like an oyster's pearl). And welcome to a music & arts discovery engine based in Salvador and built not on artificial intelligence, assigned curators and share prices, but on REAL intelligence, OPEN curation and an African-American legacy.


My name's Randy Roberts (here in Brazil they call me "Pardal", that's "Sparrow" in English) and I love the highly misunderstood musical form samba (at its beginning, samba was in Brazil as the delta blues were in the United States...the soulful source of huge music that would come after). A couple of decades ago I "rescued" unpaid royalties for people including Mongo Santamaria, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin, Jim Hall, Phillip Glass and others. Then I came in search of samba's Holy Grail, something that could not be found on the shelves of Manhattan record shops alongside Brazilian millionaires like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil...

Canecutter in Bahia, BrazilPardal and Joao in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Why should ANYBODY not like me, not enchanted by a primordial form of African music in backlands Brazil, care if a grapevine rises from the pounded earth that João do Boi (to my left above) dances upon in his village in Bahia (per the youtube clip filmed at ground zero)?

Because that grapevine runs up through New York City, over to Co. Clare, Ireland, to Edinburgh, Paris, Berlin, Niger, Uganda, Pakistan, Australia and lots of other places.

Meaning that people scattered across the globe, who've never heard of João, can nevertheless be led along the grapevine recommendation-by-recommendation, arriving wide-eyed in João's village. João's music, rarely heard beyond the village borders before this blithe empowerment, now can be heard even from earth orbit.

And what's true for João is true for EVERYBODY on the grapevine. YOU can sign up and recommend João by clicking on his page. Then people who know you, or find you, can go directly to him. Or maybe João's not your style. You recommend a guitar shredder in Boston. Who recommends (among others) a bass genius in Copenhagen. Who recommends (among others) a drummer in Ivory Coast. Who recommends (among others) a singer in Rio de Janeiro. Who recommends (among others)...João do Boi. As per the Kevin Bacon game / six degrees of separation phenomenon, there's almost always a way.

SO WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU, MY FRIEND? If you're a musician (it's not necessary to be a musician to participate) and people by their own criteria feel that you are worth their recommending, they can likewise click on YOUR page and YOU will appear in their GRAPEVINE FORWARD >> tab (they will appear on your << GRAPEVINE BACKWARD tab). You will be part of a complicated system of trails carrying people to other people. Your village borders will disappear over the horizon.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine was inspired by pre-Civil War African Americans' "grapevine network" (origin of the expression "I heard it through the grapevine"), a poor peoples' way of working together to spread the word. It's part of and is run from a specialty record shop in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil (our outsider's inside guide to Salvador is here!) We are proud to have received a visit from David Dye of World Café a couple of years ago (our interview and the show we produced were broadcast on NPR). Writer/NPR producer Michelle Mercer's been in. As has been music writer James Gavin. And documentary filmmaker Simon Brook. And David Byrne. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And lots of others including scores of the greatest musicians you've never, ever heard of.

Assigned curators can be knowledgeble and enthusiastic but they can't know everything. Within these pages parallel universes are bridged and connections (some highly unlikely) forged. This is OPEN music curation, discovery by the most powerful, far-reaching and subtle software ever written: the collective human mind. If you care, be a part of it.

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...

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