By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – “Taxi?” The man stood nearly two meters tall in a plaid shirt, knee high cowboy boots and bleached blond hair tied back into a ponytail. We were exasperated with an entire line of taxi drivers goading us from the windows of their cars outside of Salvador’s ferry terminal.
There was absolutely no sign of a corresponding taxi, but we consented and followed the surfer cowboy down a row of cabbies who showered him with insults for disregarding the line-up and a few short minutes later his old yellow car was galloping up the cobblestone hills of Pelourinho like a posse of bandits.
After checking into a hostel, we spilled back out into the weekly action that blessed every Tuesday night in Salvador. We had heard the sound of drums resounding off the colonial facades before we’d even left the building – the whole hill of Pelourinho seemed to shake with seismic activity as we moved through the dimly lit streets. As we came into the center, the crowds were so thick behind marching drum troupes that we couldn’t get anywhere without falling into dance steps.
We let the rhythm guide us as we crossed an all female troupe inspiring the madness swirling around a popular intersection. We stopped only because a passing beer vendor appealed to our gathering thirst. Fortunately, we only had time to relax for a minute before the sounds of live samba spilling out of a narrow passageway beckoned us into a courtyard dominated by a stage full of musicians.
Although the festivities slowed down the next morning, the music continued to echo through the pedestrian streets that wound up the hill. Samba from stereos seemed to guide the paintbrushes of the artists covering canvasses with Bahian scenes in bright colors while the twanging sounds of bow-like berimbaus set the rhythm for spinning street capoeiristas in the squares.
In fact, the only time we couldn’t hear some sort of music was during the thirty seconds it took to descend the towering Lacerda Elevator from the plateau of Pelourinho to the craft market by the harbor. It seemed that the pervasive Bahian musical sense included a tasteful censorship on elevator music.
The following night after spending the afternoon navigating the hustle of the market, I decided to check out the traditional capoeira hosted inside the Forte Santo Antonio. The groups here practiced a slower form of capoeira steeped in tradition called Angola. As the martial artists twisted their bodies into distorted movements to dodge kicks and trip their opponent, an aging master led the rhythm with the twanging of his berimbau, calling the players out of the circle whenever they began to break the pace or became too aggressive.
The music was hypnotic, holding the unblinking attention of the onlookers on the complicated movements of the players. I eventually left but the echo of the master’s berimbau rang through the ramparts as I walked out of the ancient fort – in Salvador silence was not considered a virtue.