Unless we are a part of it, or it is presented to us, history is invisible to us. Who would know that behind the small Catholic church across from a public square dedicated to poet Castro Alves (containing his statue, upon the dramatically outstretched hand of which a cup of beer is often irreverently inserted in images having to do with Carnival) existed the house of an African princess and priestess responsible for the foundation of the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé in its Brazilian form?
And who’d know that beyond the small bar filled with locals drinking beer and infusões is an excellent and inexpensive restaurant area, also very local (the place is O Cravinho, on the Terreiro de Jesus)?
And who’d know that it was a company owned by General Electric which bribed Salvador’s archbishop and knocked down a great church in order to provide a place for its streetcars to turn around?
And that within that church had been organized a lay society of slaves which had gone on to build their own church in the Largo do Pelourinho?
You get the idea…
We are Americans who’ve lived for the past twenty-five years in Salvador (Ben Paris writes fiction; Randy “Pardal” Roberts writes this site and runs Cana Brava Records, a specialty record shop dedicated to real Brazilian music, located in Pelourinho for the past 13 years).
One or the other of us will guide you through this introductory tour, which will also cover explanations of wider aspects of Salvador and the far side of the bay (the Recôncavo).
P.S. We’ve taken the BBC/Lonely Planet through Carnival (for their jointly published magazine), and France Inter (French National Public Radio) to a Candomblé festival in Santo Amaro, Bahia. We took the BBC’s Radio 3 to São Braz, Bahia for roots samba (samba chula), and produced a show for David Dye and his World Café, which was broadcast coast-to-coast in the U.S. by NPR (National Public Radio).
Our Record Shop
Our Cana Brava Records opened in 2005 in Pelourinho (the Centro Histórico) as a place to divulge Bahian samba chula and samba de roda (more about these on Two Black Americas). But to this day very little of this important music has been recorded, so Cana Brava is filled out with wonderful samba from Rio, music of candomblé, etc. etc.
And the truth of the matter is that most of the best of these styles is out of print or never made it to CD (and it sure ain’t gonna be streamed), so we rip from out-of-print vinyl and make our own CDs (we have a CD printer to make them pretty).
What about the legalities? Quite frankly I don’t worry about that, because neither do the record companies. That’s something I know about, having retrieved ripped off royalties for Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Airto Moreira, Philip Glass, Mongo Santamaria and many others.
This real Cana Brava is based on an imaginary record shop in a screenplay I wrote…and that record shop was in turn based on a real record shop that was located on 125th Street in Harlem, New York City…a place by the name of the Record Shack (sometimes the Harlem Record Shack, sometimes Sikhulu’s Record Shack; located across the street and down from the Apollo Theater). Owner Sikhulu Shange was (is!) a South African emigrant to the United States, and the screenplay’s character “Joe” was in part based on him. Sikhulu lost a fight against eviction…trying to survive the gentrification of Harlem.
Another seminal Harlem record shop that didn’t survive and some years closed down forever was Bobby’s Happy Shop (Bobby Robinson’s place, located down the street and around the corner from Sikhulu’s). Doesn’t sound like a cool place? Well think again! (Bobby produced Elmore James, King Curtis, the Shirelles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Grandmaster Flash, among many others.) Venerable Bobby was a client of mine back when I was in the music business in New York.
In part, our Matrix 121 is an attempt to fill in the enormous blank left by the closing of so many record shops, in the sense that these were places where we could go and get recommendations from staff and customers…
Sodré and João do Boi were inspirations for the Matrix. Yes, we have a record shop which divulges them and their music, but how many people even know that Salvador exists? And are willing to get on a plane to come here? And will find our shop down a cobbled side street?
So in the way that pre-Civil War African-Americans had their “Grapevine Telegraph”, origin of the expression “I heard it through the grapevine” (and inspired in the real, then-recently-invented telegraph, which few of them could afford to use), where people told people who told people who told people who told people…news spreading like wildfire through communities and from community to community…
We use the worldwide internet, where somebody can click on the page of somebody to recommend them, and that person can recommend, and that person can recommend…and I can recommend Raymundo Sodré, and Raymundo can recommend João do Boi, and João do Boi can recommend Aurino do Maracangalha, and Aurino can recommend…Trombone Shorty in New Orleans, who can recommend Quincy Jones protégé Justin Kauflin (an amazing young, blind jazz piano player), who can recommend…anybody anywhere.
Why do we call it a “matrix”? “Matrix ” comes from “mater”, Latin for “mother”. The original meaning was “source”. We’re a real mother for ya!
Our Matrix begins here…