Rio de Janeiro may have the biggest and most famous Carnaval (and now the Olympics of course), but Salvador is the musical heart of Brazil.
The streets and clubs of Salvador display a rich and proud African heritage which is just as clear in the music.
Evenings in and around the Pelourinho district of Salvador are lively, outdoors, and musical. You only need to walk around for a short while to be drawn into all sorts of irresistible rhythms.
Getting in the mood
If you want to get in the mood before you go, or remind yourself after you get back, here’s a highly selective/biased set of recommendations from James:
Olodum – Filhos do Sol, Pela Vida and many other albums widely available. Olodum a re widely credited with the creation of samba-reggae in the mid 1980s. The production is slick and there are prominent horns and vocals to complement the samba-reggae rhythms. Olodum are based in Salvador.
Ilê Ayiê – Canto Negro A slice of Africa in Brazil with plenty of berimbao and hypnotic drums. Ilê Ayiê were founded in 1974 and have been a prominent musical and political force in Bahia since then – pushing the protection and development of African culture.
Canto Negro is also available from the UK Samba Association online shop
There’s an article on samba-reggae on wikipedia.
As well as samba and samba-reggae, you may come across capoeira music, which is the accompaniment to the spectacularly acrobatic capoeira dancing.
It’s predominantly call-response vocals accompanied by berimbao and hand-clapping. The Angolan influence to the sound is clear. There’s lots of capoeira to explore on Spotify, e.g. Mestre Kenura‘s Capoeira Água De Menino for a pure sound, or Bahia Brasil‘s album for a more pop-capoeira sound.