February 19, 2015,
Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
Carnival is over but in Salvador it ends later than in Rio, and Salvador claims it throws a bigger party than Rio, which bills its carnival as “The biggest party in the world.”
In Salvador the carnival, according to the books I have read, revolves around blocos, or block parties, that have become movable feasts. Bands played on stages, but then they started putting themselves on big flatbed trucks with huge amplifiers and big speakers (trios eléctrios) and driving around the neighborhoods of the city. Following the trucks a rope marked off the “block” and those from the block, or those who paid admission, were given distinctive t shirts and could dance within the circle of rope. It started as a way for local bands to make some money from their performances. I have to take this on faith that the guidebooks are not misleading me.
According to the guidebooks the flavor of Carnival in Salvador is samba, yes, but more mixed with rock, reggae and jazz played by the popular bands. It is a form called axé, an Afro Brazilian form. One of the most famous axé groups is Filhos de Gandhy (Sons of Gandhi). Their symbol is a colorful peace sign. This bloco has more than 30,000 members who dance at their party and I certainly saw many of their t shirts on people, and their symbol on tambourines, drums and other paraphernalia.
In Salvador Carnival extends into Ash Wednesday. There are fixed stages in many of the squares of the old town where bands perform. I missed this, having been in Ilheus on Ash Wednesday, but at 9 AM on the first Thursday of Lent the stages were still up, the porta potties lined up along the fountains and the decorations still vibrant. About midday workers stumbled out to disassemble the stages. (In Recife, carnival ends on Tuesday but is reprieved on the first Sunday in Lent with large events on stages and, in effect, a city wide bloco.)
I’m not sure why the carnival extends into Lent. Several years I did a carnival show on Raven Radio and in the research I read that the Ash Wednesday party started as a funeral for Val (Carnival) that became a party. I did that show years ago, I am not in a position to verify the source now but it seems to make some sense (note the multiple weasel words.)
But I do know that as you walk down the streets of this colorful city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the decorations are coordinated. Each neighborhood has a different theme. The mermaid, the bull, the clown, Michael Jackson, the dove, and most prominently, the African mother dressed in white. This figure represents the black slave who cared for white children and now cares for all
Carnival may be over but the beat goes on. Almost every bar had a TV with video of the concerts from the night before, the music pumping into the not very penitent streets of Salvador. Between the bars and cafes you can hear the wind running through the streamers that hang overhead as part of the decorations that will have to come down, but not quite yet.