How is Salvador Not Like the Rest of the World?
This is a guide to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil — and importantly — its environs. As a matter of fact it was the first online guide in English (est. 2001, it was Bahia-Online then). And like the guides which followed it, it covers food and festivals and neighborhoods and beaches and the usual suspects. All of this can be found in the menus at the top of every page, and in the footer at the bottom of every page.
But we live here in Salvador (27 years now)…and what truly makes Salvador and Bahia eminently unique and vastly important to the world is not covered in other guides, or anywhere else for that matter…so let’s get going and open the ephemeral curtains of our imagination —
Sprawled across broad equatorial latitudes…
Stoked and steamed and sensual in the widest sense of the word…
Limned in cadenced song…
Brazil was born in a conundrum wrapped in a smile inside an irony.
Brazil was born in Bahia, and Bahia was predicated on the Recôncavo, the area around the bay over which Salvador presides like a diamond in the rough.
Salvador & the Recôncavo are the gravitational center of a place where the important architecture is not set in stone, glass or steel. Those who constructed the culture here were not in a position to avail themselves of architects and engineers…they worked with what was available to them: their voices, their hands, their bodies, the percussion instruments they themselves were able to build…in some cases, the strung instrument of the master’s house, the viola machete.
The truly magnificent architecture here (with all due respect to Salvador’s Centro Histórico, Pelourinho) is aural. You don’t enter it. It enters you.
Welcome to the primary port-of-call for the greatest enforced odyssey in the history of mankind. An argosy of souls. In a supreme act of irony the fabulously elemental joy that Brazil is famous for was created here, by these people, in the area around Bahia’s great bay, under the direst of circumstances, in what can only be called a true act of transubstantiation.
Caetano Veloso, who is from the Recôncavo town of Santo Amaro, explained it like this in his song Desde Que o Samba é Samba (Since Samba has been Samba):
Samba is the father of pleasure
Samba is the son of pain
The great transforming power…
You can hear this song right here —
And venerable Raimundo Sodré, son of a son of Santo Amaro (Sodré himself was born further into the interior, in the sertão, or backlands, in Ipirá, Bahia) put it like this:
“Where there’s misery, there’s music!”
You can hear Sodré here in his Sacando a Cana, Bagging the (Sugar) Cane (the song begins: “The samba of St. Vincent, rocked the marketplace…”) —
Salvador was Brazil’s first capital (from 1549 to 1763) and is today the capital of Bahia. And Bahia — a King Solomon’s minefield of color and culture — a place of so much living — is humanity’s and history’s all-time capital of intercontinental exodus into human bondage. Some four times the number of enslaved people landed in the entire mainland United States…were landed in the city of Salvador and environs alone. More Africans than at any other port-of-call throughout the entire history of the African Diaspora.
These environs, the area around Bahia’s great Baía de Todos os Santos — Bay of All Saints — the diaspora’s historically freighted and ponderously weighted naval — ground zero for Brazil’s sun-corona-vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture — bear a denomination justifiably echoing a thunderclap (thrown of course, by Nzazi, the Thor of the Bantus who formed by far the greatest population in this area): the Recôncavo [“heh–KAWN–kah-vo“].
Where survivors — Nzazi himself, and Oxalá and Iansã, Dandalunda and Katendê and Kabila et al — of the long gloaming twilight of the gods on the African continent found a new home and in whose music and dance a national ethos would be born.
The pulses which propel Brazilian music like a sustained, subtly controlled explosion — propel the Carnival samba of Rio de Janeiro — propel the softly understated bossa nova of Brazilians at Carnegie Hall in the ’60s — were all ultimately derived from the music played for these deities in Bahia’s houses of candomblé (that is, the sacred music of African Brazil). In these places, the gods dance…
What is now dead in Africa is movingly alive and beyond well in the convictions of a grand swath of the population of Bahia.
A population the collective consciousness of which is cradle and repository for the immense immaterial treasure troves of a place even the name of which (Brazil) was inspired in heat and embers (from brasa, through pau brasilis — Brazilwood, with its crepuscular red tint).
You’re not in Kansas anymore, baby!
[Why “Numinous Bahia”? Numinous is based in the Latin numen, a presiding spirit. It has come to mean suffused with mystery and enchantment, an illumination felt and not seen…]
…and much much more in the menus at the top of every page; likewise linked to in the footers at the bottom of every page.