It's night in Salvador and you hear drumming. It may be coming from one of the numerous terreiros de candomblé scattered throughout the city. Most terreiros will permit visitors to attend their ceremonies. Should you go, dress respectfully. Trousers for men, and women should wear longer skirts. White is best because it is respectful to all the orixás.
("Orixá" is commonly translated as "god". A more accurate representation would perhaps be "saint". Candomblé posits a monotheistic supreme being -- usually referred to as Olodumaré or Olorum (in candomblé ketu) -- with the orixás being called upon as intermediaries between earthbound humans and the all-powerful, much as a Christian will pray for a saint's intercession on his or her behalf.
Orixá is by far the most common term in Bahia for these entities (the candomblé ketu term), although they are also referred to as Nkisi in candomblé angola and Voduns in candomblé jeje.)
If you speak Portuguese and would like to find information with respect to various houses of candomblé, where they are located, what nights they hold their ceremonies, and when they have their special festas, a good place to go is the FEDERAÇÃO BAIANA DE CULTO AFRO BRASILEIRO, located at Rua Portas do Carmo, 39 (1st floor) in Pelourinho.
It's said that Salvador has a (Catholic) church for every day of the year, they're all over the place. But this number -- or whatever the true number is -- pales in comparison to the number of terreiros de candomblé in Salvador. An amazing project, the Mapeamento dos Terreiros de Salvador truly and literally puts this into perspective, detailing 1,155 terreiros (and this doesn't include Itaparica!), with maps, satellite and other photos, leaders' names, addresses and contact and other information.
The practice of candomblé was at one time prohibited in Brazil (unofficially for centuries, and then officially by law between 1937 and 1945, during the Estado Novo of dictator Getúlio Vargas, who at the same time ironically, as part of his plan for the manipulation of the popular consciousness as a means for the further consolidation of his power, promoted Brazilian music and music which promoted Brazil, e.g. Ary Barroso's Aquarela do Brasil), and thereafter in Bahia a licence was required, the same that was required by nightclubs and gambling establishments. After a personal appeal by Mãe Stella of Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá to the governor of Bahia (Roberto Santos, in office from 1975 to 1979), this requirement was lifted, and new terreiros sprouted -- for the most part among the more humble neighborhoods -- like singing flowers weaving to the lovely melodies and gloriously complicated rhythms calling down to Salvador Iansã and Yemanjá, Dandalunda, Oxossi and Xangô...
Candomblé Angola on the Beach
February 2nd, 2012. A group from Irará, Bahia at the Festa de Yemanjá. A woman to the left has been possessed.
Although for historical reasons candomblé ketu (from what is now Nigeria) is more common in Salvador and in Bahia generally than candomblé angola, candomblé angola was the first to arrive (with the Bantus) and its rhythms form the base for what is now called "samba".
Here is candomblé ketu, in Salvador...
Candomblé ketu in Salvador's neighborhood of Castelo Branco
Salvador's two best-known and oldest continually functioning houses of candomblé are Casa Branca and Gantois (the latter named for the Fleming upon whose land the terreiro was originally founded).
Address: Av. Vasco da Gama, 463 - Vasco da Gama
*Mãe Altamira Cecília dos Santos
Casa Branca (White House), or Ilê Axé Yá Nassô, is usually cited as Salvador's first house of candomblé, but it might be better said to be Salvador's oldest continually functioning house of candomblé because candomblé was practiced in the senzalas and on the terreiros of the sugarcane plantations both before (and after) the house was established. The "house" (in an organizational sense) was first located on the Ladeira do Berquo -- now known as Rua Visconde de Itaparica -- behind the Igreja (Church) da Barroquinha (the church is easily visible from Praça Castro Alves; it burned in 1983 but has since been rebuilt as a small theater).
Ceremonies are on Sunday nights, beginning at 8 p.m., but it's always best to contact the terreiro; there's a post Carnival hiatus of some months when ceremonies don't take place, and there are other such spots in the calendar as well.
GANTOIS (Ilê Axé Yá Massê)
Address: Alto do Gantois, 23 - Federação
Without the resources to build cathedrals, their temples of worship simple houses within the means of runaway or freed slaves, African-Brazilians reached inward for what they could project out, and the result of their soul-searching was soul-stirring music and dance. These are the Tincoãs of Cachoeira, Bahia (a tincoã is a bird native to the region), in extremely rare footage. Mateus, their primary composer (building on melodies and rhythms of candomblé) is the only surviving member of the group.
Mateus at a terreiro de candomblé in São Francisco do Conde
The lower quadrant features another song of Mateus' taken straight from candomblé (and elaborated upon). The first singer there is Thalma de Freitas, accompanied on piano by her father, Maestro Laércio de Freitas. Second voice is Mateus' daughter Fabiana, and Mateus himself plays guitar.
The deities which are the subjects of the song are both mother figures, the first being Yemanjá, and the second Nanã. Saravá!
As for Mateus himself, he was brought up in the terreiro Roça do Ventura, a Jêje candomblé in Cachoeira. The Jêje house in Salvador is Bogum, in the neighborhood of Engenho Velho de Federação...a principal runtó (ordained drummer) is Luizinho do Jêje.