Throughout its history, Bahia (Bah-eeya) has been one of the Brazilian states with the richest cultural diversities. Many of Brazil’s most influential writers, poets, composers, singers, thinkers and artists in general are Bahianos (by-anos): Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil (both recent Grammy winners in the World Music category), Raul Seixas (Brazil’s version of Jim Morrison, and good friend of John Lennon), Gal Costa, Maria Bethania and Tom Zé are just some of the famous names who have made Bahia a font of inspiration and who have helped to make Brazilian music world famous.
All Brazilians love Bahia, as if it were a favorite, magical son. Art Artists who visit Bahia frequently end up staying and blending into the community. Bahia accepts visitors with open arms and souls. Those who decide to stay are spiritually adopted, and become true Bahianos. Carybé, originally Argentine, was arguably the greatest Bahian painter. Pierre Verger, a Frenchman, was and is Bahia’s pride in photojournalism. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is one of the newest Bahians, having originally discovered its beauty in the sixties with Janis Joplin, Gina Lolobrigida, and other artistic souls who found paradise in Bahia. Natural Beauties Bahia is so easy to fall in love with, for many reasons.
The warm and friendly people; the delicious food there are juices made from fruits you’ve never even heard of; the beautiful landscapes from the coast with coconut strewn beaches and turquoise ocean; to the interior where there are waterfalls (including the highest one in Brazil) surrounded by mountains and lush valleys; and the incredibly vibrant musical rhythms and dance which ooze creativity and inspiration. Literature Jorge Amado is one of the most beloved homebred Bahians. His novels deliciously describe the color and humor of the Bahian way of life. Amado has been translated into more than 50 languages, and is internationally recognized as one of the best writers of the 20th century. Many of his works have been made into films.
Among the most memorable are Dona Flor and her Two Husbands (the ghost of Dona Flor’s first husband climbs back into her life, and her bed!) and Gabriela Cravo e Canela (a poor mulatta girl whose stunning beauty and sensuality leads her blindly to the top echelons of society). Both films starred Bahian bombshell Sonia Braga, who eventually made her way to Hollywood and Broadway. Her international career peaked with Kiss of the Spiderwoman (Oscar for Best Actor to William Hurt).
Anolther example of Bahian talent is the filmmaker Glauber Rocha, who in 1967 directed O Rei da Vela (The king of the sail). This piece was originally written by the modernist Brazilian writer, Oswald de Andrade who, following the examples of contemporary art, cinema, music and literature, mingled together these influences to create new artistic expressions, particularly in the Tropicalism movement.
Music Many musical movements originated in Bahia. In the 1960s, Tropicalia incorporated electric guitars and keyboards with traditional Brazilian instruments, thereby creating a whole range of new musical sounds. Rock and Roll has been adopted as a solid menu choice in Brazil, with the local production having its very distinctive spice of additional percussion instruments and the sway of Brazilian Portuguese (considered by many as the most beautiful of languages).
Raul Seixas is definitely the eternal king of Bahian Rock and Roll, and is an important influence on all Brazilian rock. His lyrics were absurdly genius, funny, insightful and from the hip. Since the 1980s afro influence on music has been constantly growing. Today almost all of Bahia’s music production has strong afro undertones and overtones, especially through percussion.
An interesting detail of contemporary Bahian music is the six string electric bass guitar. The rhythm necessary to keep people dancing in the streets through five days of Carnival is so strong that the traditional four string bass just isn’t powerful enough. Carnival Carnival is Bahia’s most important festival, which begins 40 days before Lent and ends on Ash Wednesday. Having been an elite club party event decades ago, it has been transformed into one of the biggest public seasonal events in the world, attracting approximately one million visitors to the capital city of Salvador during Carnival week.
This metamorphosis began when two friends, Dodo and Osmar, transformed a small car into a small mobile stage which paraded through the city streets, and were followed by whoever wanted to tag along. Their tradition grew year by year into today’s extravaganza of dozens of 18 wheeler trucks transformed into mobile stages, using the most advanced technology. The trio eletricos, as they are locally known, follow two main circuits in the city center and have bands on top of them playing for hours on end.
Sometimes two or more bands meet along the way and perform together on pure improvisation. Each trio elétrico and its band are associated with Carnival clubs with 2-4 thousand members who parade and dance behind the trio during the five days of Carnival. Each day the members wear a different Abada (colorful t-shirt which allows the wearer access to the private cordoned-off area in the street behind the trio eletrico). Visitors who wish to join one of the Carnival clubs for one or more days of the street party can pay a fee and enjoy the club’s infrastructure. The Afro groups display a rich variety of rhythms that are performed only with percussion instruments.
One of the most famous and beautiful is Ilé Ayé (Eelay Eye ay). Dressed in their vibrantly colored African clothes, they dance through the streets mesmerizing their audience with their beautiful movements and rhythms. Another outstanding Afro group is The Sons of Ghandy. Inspired by Ghandy’s peace teachings, thousands of men and young boys dressed with white robes and turbans, chant their way along the carnival circuit in such a way that they appear to be a beautiful river of peace winding through the city center.
Religion Bahia is the center of cultural and religious syncretism in Brazil. Here the elements of Catholicism brought by the Portuguese colonists, the Tupinambá Indian beliefs, and the religions of African slaves blended together to create a fascinating religious experience. When slaves were brought from Africa, they were forbidden to practice their religions, so they secretly practiced by changing the names of their deities to those of Catholic Saints.
Today, as any adept of Candomblé has a Patron Saint, almost every Catholic has an Orixá. Candomblé is widely practiced in every corner of the state. This Yoruba tradition came along with the many slaves brought from western Africa during more than 300 years of slavery in Brazil. During the religious ceremonies the drumming and dance create a very unique atmosphere that activates a state of trance which enables the participants to receive the Orixás (the gods of Candomblé). A visit to a Terreiro is a must! The head of these spiritual centers, called Mothers of the Saints (it’s a matriarchal religion), are so influential that many of Bahia’s most important politicians, artists, writers and dignitaries consult them before making any important decision.
The most famous Mother of the Saints was Mae Menininha (Mother Little Girl’) do Gantois. In her time she was as influential as Salvador’s Archbishop. Many of Salvador’s main festivals combine Catholicsm and Candomblé. In January there is the Festival of Bomfim where Bahianas and Mother of Saints dressed in their traditional white lace with hoop skirts and turbans leave in procession from Praia Catholic Church balancing vessels of spiritually scented water on their heads. Thousands of faithful follow them, singing and dancing and parading through the city’s main avenues towards the Bomfim Church.
On arrival, the Mothers of Saints wash the steps of the Church with the scented water, blessing those who enter the most important of Salvador’s three hundred churches for yet another year. Every February 2, during the Yemanjá Festival (a Candomblé Orixá equivalent to goddess of the sea, and very vain), the Catholic population takes offerings such as perfumes, mirrors, brushes and flowers to the fishermen, who have a colony next to the Catholic Church in the district of Rio Vermelho. Some give the offerings to the fisherman to take to the sea to bestow them upon the Orixá Yemanjá.
Others venture out onto the rocky shores and personally give their offerings to Yemanjá. This ritual was begun by the wives of the fishermen who did not want Yemanjá to take their husbands for herself. Today the tradition is more about bringing good fortune for the following year. In June there is an important harvest festival in Bahia and Northeast Brazil: Sao Joao (St. John), which traditionally takes place in small towns around the countryside. People gather around a big bonfire in the main square to dance forró (a cross between a square dance and the Texas two step) and drink Cachaça (alcohol made from sugar cane) and a variety of fruit liqueurs until the sun comes up.
During the 3 days of Sao Joao accordion led music is played and traditional food is served, such as corn cakes, corn dogs, cream of corn, coconut milk pies, corn on the cob, grilled corn and pop corn. This festival is a very welcome break for the natives of the northeast region, where the land is arid, with very little water to grow crops, income is one of the lowest in Brazil and life is tough.
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