What’s On in Salvador?

What’s on in Salvador? One would think that in a place with such an overwhelming musical culture that would be an easy question to answer. But another aspect of the culture though tends towards vast disorganization, and at the highest, most powerful societal levels incompetence and aesthetic blindness combine with malice and corruption to work against the facile and straightforward discovery of the splendid musical culture here (this tirade is in respect of — to use a turn of phrase highly ironic in this instance — a powerful politician in Bahia who swept in like Fafnir, and yes that’s a hint, and destroyed so much).

Competence, aesthetic acuity*, goodwill and honesty are the hallmarks of have-nots, particularly in the hard-scrabble villages of the Bahian interior.

Paulinho’s got very sensitive antennae!

*Paulinho is a great example of why so often uneducated, poverty-stricken villagers with no formal education are repositories of truly wonderful folk music. Paulinho is from the roça (in this sense kind of like “sticks” or “boondocks”) outside of Juazeiro, in the north of Bahia. Poor kids of his generation off in the countryside got zero education. Paulinho (who can’t read or write and doesn’t know when he was born) as a teenager made his way to Salvador and established himself as a percussionist in Pelourinho, playing in the area’s houses of ill repute. Nowadays he has a “classroom” in the same area, in Didá’s house, bought for Neguinho do Samba (that’s Neguinho there on Paulinho’s t-shirt) by Paul Simon after Paul recorded Rhythm of the Saints with Olodum (Neguinho was Olodum’s percussion director; Didá is an all-female drum troupe founded by Neguinho, who has since passed; it was Neguinho who initially developed the “samba reggae/samba afro” drumming style which would become a hallmark of Salvador’s blocos afros).

The house that Simon bought on Rua João de Deus (in the middle there). To that house’s left is Edina & César’s pousada Aquarela do Brazil (Brazilian Watercolor), named for a song written by Ary Barroso (the George Gershwin of Brazil in the sense of finely wrought popular songs).
John Coltrane Bahia
‘Bahia’ was the name given in the United States to the Ary Barroso song Na Baixa do Sapateiro, based in a street called ‘A Baixa dos Sapateiros’, located around the corner from the houses above. The song was inspired in Ary Barroso’s 1927 visit to the same (and his encountering the most beautiful but difficult to meet young woman there).

Paulinho loves good samba and good choro. And if jazz of any period is playing in the window of Cana Brava Records, just up from where Paulinho sits out between percussion classes (and this is a genre Paulinho knows absolutely nothing about) he comes in to ask who it is, and listen intently. É bom! É bom! (It’s good! It’s good!) he’ll say. He wrinkles his nose at what is constantly promoted in a Bread & Circus manner here in Salvador by the classless class. He loves Diz, Bird and Trane… Count, Duke, Prez, Hawk, Satchmo… Lady Day and Sassy…

Anyway, on any given night there may be any number of happenings in any number of places ranging from easy-for-visitors-to-find to sambas out in subúrbio or sambas-de-roda out in the Recôncavo. For most of this stuff you have be in the right loop to hear about it. And then finding it presents its own difficulties (we once drove across fields to get to a samba in the countryside outside of Santo Amaro).

Below are places of entertainment in a general context. Sometimes we’ll put specific happenings here: Events: Salvador & Bahia.

Q: Why don’t we do a regular, specific, across-the-board What’s On?

A: Because here in Bahia time is relative beyond anything ever contemplated by Einstein. Events are announced for such-and-such an hour and one might show up and the doors (if there are any) aren’t even unlocked yet. Also, there are events which may draw thousands of feverish fans but you wouldn’t catch my shadow there. Salvador Bahia Online is a labor of love. And if we don’t love it, we ain’t gonna broadcast it.

ABOCA Centro de Artes
(Associação Baiana e Observatório de Cultura e Arte)

ABOCA (kind of a weird name in Portuguese; “a boca” would be analogous to Sportin’ Life’s place on Catfish Row, but this place has nothing to do with that kind of business) is only open on Wednesday nights. The doors open at 7 p.m. or so and people eventually begin to trickle into the small place until it’s full to the top. ABOCA is groovily hip, tending to attract the timely equivalent of the kids who’d snap their fingers to signal their approval of a jazz solo or vocalized poetry passage in the ’50s. The music is cool…usually starting with earnest and well-played jazz and then moving to another group playing samba de roda or salsa.

ABOCA is located in the neighborhood of Santo Antônio além do Carmo on Rua dos Marchantes, 12. This street breaks off from the main street through Santo Antônio (Rua Direita do Santo Antônio) at the oratório do Cruz do Pascoal (that column in the middle of the street with a saint in a glass box on top; ABOCA is just around the corner and down a bit, on the left-hand side from the oratório).

Below find Paulinho (from up top) at ABOCA…

Jam no Mam

Lovely backdrop made and unmade

As in jazz jam on the grounds of the Museu de Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art). These jams/shows take place every Saturday evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. or so, attracting hundreds. It’s a nice scene, right down on the water of the bay. And the price is right: 8 reais full admission; 4 for students with ID. Beer etc. and other goodies can be had on the premises.

The jam is organized by drummer Ivan Huol with percussion organization by Gabi Guedes (below). Gabi is probably as close to a percussive hand-of-god as one will find on this planet. He’s a head drummer at the Gantois house of candomblé; he plays and records with everybody; and he spent nine years on the road with Jimmy Cliff.

The hands that call down the deities of Africa

Jam no Mam has a website: www.jamnomam.com.br

Casa da Mãe
(Mother’s House)

The mother in this case is Yemanjá, Mother of the Fishes, deity of the Salt Waters. Casa da Mãe sits across from the north end of the beach where on every February 2nd presents are taken out for Salvador’s most beloved orixá, this in the midst of an enormous festa.

Casa da Mãe is owned and run by Stella Maris, a singer from Santo Amaro, and it is a musician’s hangout, with a generally stellar level of musicality in the musicians who play there. Plenty of samba and choro, some MPB. Jazz on Mondays. Cover charge is usually 15 reais these days and food and drinks are served on the premises, with a nod to the regional fare of the Santo Amaro/Cachoeira region.

Casa da Mãe
Casa do Peso — Fishermen’s weighing house — at the north end of a praia de (the beach of) Yemanjá, and across the street from Casa da Mãe

Bar Galícia or O Bar do Fua

Luiz Dórea…Nego Fua, the Rooster of Maciel (o Galo do Maciel)

Fua, a local legend and a sweet-tempered man, beloved by everybody in the community, is the toughest guy in Bahia (retired), with scars from knife-fights and bullets to prove it (some years ago I personally saw him, aged and infirm, wade into a corner fight between two young guys, one armed with a knife, and break it up). He’s lived at the corner of Rua Maciel de Cima (João de Deus) and Rua J. Castro Rabelo in Pelourinho for 65 years, with his Bar Galícia (named for a football team) on the ground floor.

Friday nights, from 9:30 p.m. or so, are given over to samba (partido alto), with the place generally getting so packed by locals that they’re almost falling out the doors (lots of people hang around outside). The band is very good but the volume is iffy, sometimes way too loud and sometimes reasonable (loud enough for both dancing and conversation), and the bar is scruffy and spartan. The place and corner can be fun but security is a definite issue here and Fua, now well into his eighties, might be upstairs and not around to help (if he were still able) should a situation arise.

Fua’s house and bar to the right

The bar nowadays is run by his daughter Tati, and there’s also music — beginning later, maybe 11 p.m. or — on Saturday and Tuesday nights. Please note however, that sometimes on these nights — Fridays, Saturdays, and or Tuesdays — Tati and Morena (Fua’s wife, who sells churrasco on the corner there), discerning a lack of movement in the area, cancel the samba.

O Velho Espanha

O Velho Espanha is a bar in the central Salvador neighborhood of Barris. Before being taken over and remodeled recently, it was known simply as “O Espanha” in that the owner was an immigrant from Spanish Galicia (the part of Spain to the north of Portugal). O Espanha was such that one might have expected to see Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea standing at the bar nursing an águadente (cachaça) in a small clear glass while conversing with other rough-cut salt-of-the-earth denizens.

José, Espanha’s owner, was brought over with his brothers by his father at 16 years of age after his father had established what was originally a mercadinho (little grocery shop). Time passed and the young brothers were old men working together behind what had become a bar. One died, and then another, and there was José, in his mid-eighties.

José finally passed the place along and after a couple of interim owners the young hipsters currently in possession christened the bar — having ambientized the lighting and decor — with what is now an official name.

There is good to great live music (samba, choro, jazz) many nights and a young fashionable crowd (plenty of beards) occasionally tending beyond university age. Food is served on the premises. Hard to imagine Santiago in here though, unless it’s for a decent cachaça and a timeless samba.

Rua General Labatut, 38 – Barris, Salvador – Bahia

Last Fridays with Grupo Botequim

With rare exceptions Grupo Botequim (a botequim is a simple bar) plays each final Friday of the month behind the Igreja (Church) de Santo Antônio in the Largo (Public Square) do Santo Antônio. This is real samba, concentrating on the compositions of the great sambistas of Bahia and wonderful sambas by cariocas (the term for people from Rio) from earlier in the twentieth century (paulista Adoniran Barbosa’s funny/clever sambas have their place too).

It’s samba de mesa (table samba) and it’s samba as it’s meant to be: a quasi-religious collective activity with not much of a clear division between music makers and partakers.

Above Grupo Botequim plays Antoniu’s, a botequim on the corner of the Largo do Santo Antônio (there’s more space behind the church and there, rather than buying beer from a bar owner etc., one buys blessedly from a priest).

The fellow in the hat singing at the clip’s beginning is Pedrão Habib, founder/director of the group and also a professor (of what I don’t know; gonna ask him one of these days) at the Federal University of Bahia (Pedrão, true to great form, also plays capoeira angola).

PORÓ Restaurante & Bar

Another place in the neighborhood of Santo Antônio além do Carmo (Rua do Carmo, 13), a lovely, creative-menu-type not-downscale eatery with fabulous choro and samba on the premises. Tel: 99618-1704

Jazz on Thursdays at Poró in Salvador
Jazz on Thursdays

Café Teatro Rubi

A music theater as nightclub in the older sense, with round tables and a stage, located in what is now the Wish Hotel da Bahia (for a short period before it became the Wish Hotel (sounds kind of like a by-the-hour place, no?) this was the local Sheraton, and for years before that the Hotel da Bahia) across the street from Campo Grande. The tendency here is towards first-class acts. Tickets may be bought at the hotel between 2 and 7 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and on show days up to the time of the show’s commencement (I don’t know how it works on Sundays).

They have a site here: http://cafeteatrorubi.com.br

Beer, Music, Friends

Yes, “Beer, Music, Friends” is appended to “Fronteira” (Frontier), presumably to lend cachet (???). This is a new spot in the Salvador neighborhood of Rio Vermelho, on the Largo da Mariquita, and for now Tuesday nights are given over to Brazilian Jazz & Blues with wonderful Kiko Souza, Beto Martins, Márcio Pereira e André Luba. Official address: Rua Odilon Santos, No. 65 Rio Vermelho.

Kiko Souza, Brazilian Soul Man

Espaço D’venetta

Located just down and around the corner in ever more happening Santo Antônio além do Carmo. Down the wide Ladeira do Boqueirão from the main street through Santo Antônio (that being the Rua Direita do Santo Antônio; the Ladeira do Boqueirão descends from the Igreja (Church) do Boqueirão) to the Rua dos Adobes, and to the left a bit. Good music: Brazilian jazz, choro, samba, forró…in a quirky, antique-kitschy, culture-is-hip vibe with food and drinks.

Rua dos Adobes, 12

The Filhos de Gandhy on Sundays

Sundays beginning on Brazilian Dia dos Pais (Father’s Day, which in Brazil is a Sunday in mid-August) see the open afoxé (a dance or carnival march utilizing rhythms of candomblé outside of a house of candomblé) of the Filhos de Gandhy in their headquarters in Pelourinho (they run up till Carnival, and thereafter there is a hiatus till the next Dia dos Pais).

The Filhos de Gandhy headquarters in Salvador’s Centro Histórico

Things begin at 4 p.m. with a padê for Exu, where the drumming meant to call down the orixá Exu to a house of candomblé is played. Exu is the opener of pathways…if Exu doesn’t come first, the other orixás are unable to follow.

Then things move downstairs to a big open area, where ijexá (a rhythm named for a people in what is nowadays Nigeria) is played, and where men dance in a circle. Visitors are encouraged to join in and dance and you don’t have to know what you’re doing dancewise because a lot of the filhos don’t know either!

The headquarters is the blue-trimmed white house at Rua Gregório do Mattos (also known as Rua Maciel de Baixo), 53.

The Second Sunday Samba (that’s what I call it anyway) takes place in the evenings of second Sundays of the month in the Terreiro de Jesus, in the Centro Histórico.

No charge. Grab a beer. Hang out and sing. That’s what everybody else does.

Samba in Salvador's Terreiro de Jesus
Second Sunday Samba