The World's Biggest Carnival

  • Carnival in Salvador!

    The World's Biggest Party: No Contest!

    Carnival in Salvador 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) 2016 starts Thursday, February 4th, and it runs through Tuesday, February 9th -- officially. Unofficially (and actually) it runs to the morning of Ash Wednesday, February 10th, 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...

    Salvador's Carnival 2016 officially begins Thursday, February 4th, and runs to the morning of Wednesday, February 10th. Unofficially it begins in the days before that Thursday.


    Carnival in Pelourinho, Sunday, February 15th, 2015

    100 Years of Samba!

    Is the theme of Carnival in Pelourinho (Salvador's Old Town) this year (2016). Very fitting, in that samba is the creation of Bantus on the sugarcane plantations around the great bay over which the city of Salvador presides. Beyond this, the first ever recorded carnival samba (written in 1916...the smash hit of Rio's Carnival 1917) was sung by Manoel Pedro dos Santos -- better known by his nickname "Bahiano" -- from Santo Amaro, Bahia (Santo Amaro sits at the north end of the bay).

    So Old Salvador will be shimmyin' and shakin' to the hot polyrhythms that reached out from this area to conquer the hips and hearts of a nation!


    Jorge Portugal -- our attuned minister of culture and samba roots man -- makes a point in front of the Igreja do Bonfim


    Carnival at the Farol da Barra


    Viva the afoxés and blocos afros!


    We handle abadás (shirts which are your carnival tickets) and camarotes (carnival "stands" which are in reality huge enclosed parties along the carnival circuits)! Get in touch with us at bluemoon@bahia-online.net!

    Salvador Carnival Modus Operandi

     → 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.

    Carnival in Salvador, put simply, is a parade -- or two parades actually (on the first and second circuits above) -- 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).


    Salvador's "modern" Carnival began with this!

    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 is what the fobica actually looked like the first time it went out...Osmar's father-in-law Armando is there on the running-board, dressed up like a Hawaiian woman.

    This first trio (okay, duplo) 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.

    Axé music continues to dominate Carnival, together with samba-de-roda's greatly coarsified bastard offshoot, Bahian pagode, axé (ah-SHEH) 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 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.


    Juliana Ribeiro with Amor e Paixão's Carnival Trio

    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: www.jamnomam.com.br


    The Micro Trio must have some kind of a spacetime singularity in it!

    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).


    January 6th in Lapinha

    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 at home in his art (photo by Valéria Simões)

    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.


    Viva the King!!!

    *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.

    Mudança do Garcia


    In The Change
    Nobody is crowned (royalty)
    You stepped on the ball (you screwed up)
    You're screwed!

    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.