With over eighty percent of its population of African descent, Salvador da Bahia has been described as the “most African city of the Americas.” Bahia represents one of the great cultural melting pots of the New World. African cultural influences pervade all aspects of public and private life—music, dance, food, religion and language. African civilizations have left a durable, indelible imprint in the region’s culture.
Where this heritage is most obvious is in the musical traditions of Salvador. Among these is samba, the most popular style of music and dance in Brazil. Its roots go back to Africa but it originated in Bahia. It is present in the works of Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto and Caetano Veloso, and of many other composers across the country. There are many establishments where you can dance and listen to the different varieties of this musical style.
In Salvador you can experience the Afro-Brazilian culture with lively street parties and performances all year round. Of all the celebrations, Carnival is the biggest and most spectacular festivity in Bahia, and also one of the biggest festivities in the world. This event combines the catholic tradition of the Portuguese conquerors and the music and dance of the African slaves. The blocos, African-Brazilian groups, are the foundation of the Carnival.
If you walk through the Pelourinho quarter you’ll be able to admire exhibitions of capoeira in the Street. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art developed by fugitive slaves as a way of defending themselves from mercenaries who set out to capture them. Capoeira, in its contemporary form, is a stylized form of dance and combat performed by a group of capoeiristas, who gather around in a circle. In Pelourinho there are several schools of capoeira, with performances open to the public.
Walking through the streets you’ll be mesmerized by the scent of the delicious cuisine with African roots. A very popular appetizer sold by Bahian women in the streets is Acarajé, consisting of a mass of frijol beans stuffed with Vatapá, which are mashed dry prawns. At any restaurant you can try the Moqueca, a tasty stew with coconut milk, Bobó de Camarão (a prawn based dish), and Ximxim de Galinha (chicken). This is an experience you can’t afford to miss.
Drums provide the rhythm for life in Salvador, while Candomblé is its spiritual force. This African-Brazilian religion stems from the traditions of the Bantus and Yorubás of Western Africa. Those who follow Candomblé believe in spirits known as Orixás, and their rituals and ceremonies aim to gain the favor of these spirits. You can attend these religious ceremonies as a guest at the terreiros.
The city of Salvador is full of markets, shops and cultural centers that sell traditional handicrafts. Here you will find carved wooden figures of Candomblé saints and spirits, pottery, wickerwork, hammocks and a wide variety of amulets, ornaments and accessories used by the followers of this religion.
Salvador was the first capital city of Brazil and its cultural heritage is based on African traditions. All these influences have made the streets of Salvador a feast for the senses and the “land of joy.”
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