By Laura Madden, Contributing Reporter
SALVADOR, BRAZIL – Carnival in Salvador, the capital city of the northeastern state of Bahia is regarded by many enthusiasts to be on par with Rio in terms of revelry. Like other northeastern Brazilian cities such as Recife, Salvador has a long historical context of colonialism and afro-indiginous rituals, adding a cultural flair that is both unique and amazing.
Because of the history of Salvador as a landing point for the country’s slave trade, today the city’s Christian roots continue to blend with Candomblé, the African-Brazilian religion that bases one’s soul in nature.
Home to musicians like pop sensation Ivete Sangalo and cultural figures such as former minister of culture Gilberto Gil, Salvador’s musical roots are well-documented and deep.
Axé, a Brazilian music genre generally described as a fusion of samba, reggae, and rock with some Caribbean rhythms thrown in for good measure, was made popular by Daniela Mercury in the early 1990s by with her hit album Canto da Cidade (Song of the City), and sure to get you dancing behind the trio eletrico.
Trios elétricos are common across the country, a large flatbed truck that usually has a platform with speakers and dancers, and moves slowly through the streets – followed by people dancing behind it.
According to Alexis Sheldon, British expatiate who has been living in Salvador, and also founder and CEO of Language Trainers, Salvador’s best Carnival event is the Bloco dos Mascarados. “The first night of carnival when there are no ropes,” explains Sheldon. “Everyone goes out in fancy dress … and [a] non-aggressive vibe.”
According Ana Rosa Marques, an instructor at Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia, the Carnival event not to be missed in Salvador is the Saída do Ilê (Ilê’s departure), Salvador’s oldest African Carnival bloco. “Despite being very traditional, it’s really beautiful and emotionally moving,” adds Marques.
Created in 1974, Ilê Aiyê was the first African bloco of Brazil. Today, it is a cultural group that fights for the appreciation and inclusion of people of African descent, and women in particular. On Carnival Saturday, the bloco unites with other members of the community on the Ladeira do Curuzu in Liberdade neighborhood.
The bloco formally asks the street residents to open paths for the bloco to proceed. They make requests for peace and happiness on the deities, and then parade all the way to Campo Grande neighborhood. “The bloco all goes out together on the ground, it’s not an exclusive, closed-off thing. It’s also a stunning visual – the costumes are an homage to Africa.”
Marques says efforts to inject the city’s carnival with new and innovative twists have paid off with blocos like Santo Antônio’s “Hoje às Oito” (Tonight at Eight) and Rio Vermelho’s democratic bloco where kids run the streets, complete with clowns.
Many blocos parade along programmed circuits. The Avenida Circuit starts at Praça 2 de Julho in Campo Grande moves along the Avenida 7 de Setembro Avenue all the way down to Praça Castro Alves, then turning left on Carlos Gomes Avenue and returning to the Campo Grande. The Barra/Ondina Circuit starts near the Barra Lighthouse and moves along the Oceânica Avenue ending in Ondina. Unlike the Avenida Circuit, Barra/Ondina doesn’t return.
To find out more about Carnival in Salvador see their official web site.