Political Soundscapes of Salvador

As you walk towards the heart of the historic centre of Salvador, Polourinho, you see a pass about five music shops. The are attractively presented and inside you will find many instruments strongly associated with Bahia and brazil more generally: samba band drums and hand percussion, atabaques, cavaquinhos, acoustic guitars as well as bossa nova sheet music and CDs of many well established Brazilian musicians. Further on, in the cobbled streets of Polourinho, many tourist shops sell berimbaus, musical bows used in capoeira which are a powerful symbol of Afro-Brazilian culture. Their very particular sound can be heard often around this part of the city, as well as various percussion ensembles, often accompanied by chanting and singing that evokes African traditions. this part of town is the showpiece of the city, known for samba-reggae, capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance. It has had huge public investment, both in restoring old buildings and for cultural production, particularly of the cultural forms mentioned, as well as museums and special events.

If you happen to wander down the narrower, less welcoming street behind those music shops you saw before you will find amuch greater number of shops dedicated toanother kind musical (re)production. These, much smaller shops sell PA systems, speakers in all shapes and sizes, cables, lights, car sound systems to fit in the car, in the boot on the roof. There is recording equipment old an new as well as some, mainly electric and electronic instruments, but the emphasis is on sound systems, which second only to the noise of traffic, dominate the soundscape of the city. This recorded, reproduced and amplified music, mostly of genres other than those for which Pelourinho is famous, emanates from thousands of roadside bars, millions of homes, and tens of thousands of cars and hundreds of churches, although to be fair, in the churches it is usually live and amplified.

Furthermore the many thousand street vendors of drinks, snacks and other things sometimes have portable sound systems. Cars drive around with big chest-like speaker boxes that broadcast at high volume in all directions. They might be playing a party political message, or a public information one. These will usually be spiced up with music. More usually they are playing commercial adverts, or insome cases a message promoting one of the many evangelical churches that are ejoying greatpopularity here.

In the evenings there are often parties, barbeques, or other occasions which call for loud dance music, be it from an installed system in a home or a bar, or from one of the huge car sound systems, designed to entertain a whole street from the strategically parked vehicle, or from a PA system specially set up for the occasion.