Featured
Image by Govba.

OkayAfrica's Mini-Guide to Salvador

What to see, do and eat in Brazil's blackest city.

Like many travelers before me, I got stuck in Salvador, Brazil. I had only planned to stay two weeks when I arrived for the first time 15 years ago. But I couldn't bear the thought of leaving a Brazilian city where my blackness was normal and celebrated. I also had never felt closer to the continent of Africa, without physically being there. So I ended up staying for four months. During those four months and seven subsequent visits, I have gotten to know Salvador in a way that is limited to locals and people who get "stuck" in the city.


Salvador is Brazil's blackest city. Of its 3 million residents, more than 80 percent self-identify as black. But it's blackness isn't just in the numbers. Salvador maintains a spiritual connection to Africa that was long broken in the United States and severely weakened in the Caribbean. The first Africans arrived in Salvador in the 16th century to work the sugarcane plantations and over the course of three centuries, the city received hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans. They brought with them their religion and now more than 1,165 Candomblé places of worship dot the city. This influence flows into the music, dance, and food. The mini-guide below goes beyond Salvador's traditional tourist places and provides you with a insider-look at the city's culture.

Travel Company and Guides

It's unbelievable that in a city as black as Salvador there is only one black-owned full-service travel agency—AfroTours. Nilzete Santos started her agency in 2007 to help tourists better connect with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. Now her company has expanded. Afro-Tours will plan your entire trip—the flight, hotel and excursions. Fernando Bingre brings expertise, multilingualism and warmth to his guided tours throughout Salvador. He's Salvador's highest rate guide on TripAdvisor, and his most popular tour explains the African history and culture of Salvador. He knows his city so well that he can tailor a tour to any requested theme. In the evening he often ends his tours with a stop at a local samba club.

Nilzete Santos

Fernando Bingre

Food: Acarajé and more

Salvador's preferred street food is an Acarajé, a black-eyed pea fritter filled with dried shrimp, okra stew, tomatoes and a cashew paste. This, and its sister food abará, can be bought and eaten throughout the city at stands managed by women called Baianas. Traditionally, these women practiced Candomblé and sold the food served in Candomblé houses on the streets of Salvador to earn a living. Most tourists encounter them in Pelourinho but the best acarajé belongs to Dinha in Rio Vermelho. Zanzibar restaurant has served African-inspired dishes for the last 40 years in Salvador's historic center. Fortunately, local dishes like moqueca dot the menu. Salvador's signature dish is moqueca de camarão, a stew made with palm oil, coconut milk, green peppers, onions, tomatoes and shrimp and then served over rice. The restaurant's terrace overlooks the bay. Get there in time to watch the sunset over the bay.

Image by Rodrigues Pozzebom.

Neighborhoods: Liberdade

Liberdade is the blackest neighborhood in Salvador—physically and spiritually. More than 500,000 Afro-Brazilians live in the neighborhood, which is known for producing people with a strong black consciousness. This shouldn't be a surprise. Liberdade the birthplace of the Ilê Aiyê Afro-Bloco, a carnival percussion group that Afro-Brazilians created in 1974 after they had been marginalized for decades in Salvador's mainstream carnival. Today there are more than 20 Afro-Blocos in Salvador and Ilê Aiyê regularly hosts concerts in its headquarters in Liberdade. Don't miss it.

Image by Govba.

Religion

Black people in Salvador survived slavery and racism by seeking spiritual refuge in Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion with strong ties to the Yoruba religion in Africa. Salvador has the highest concentration of worshippers and candomblé houses of any major city in Brazil. Casa Branca ( Ilê Axé Iyá Nassô Oká), the longest functioning Candomblé house in Salvador, was founded in 1855. Some Candomblé centers are as small as a one-story house and others, like the Casa Branca, are campuses with multiple buildings. These candomblé houses regularly welcome visitors to attend their festivals, which often include trancelike dancing, drumming and food. For more intimate contact with candomblé, schedule a meeting with a mãe or pãe de Santo (religious leader) for a "Jogo dos Buzios" in which he or she reads cowrie shells and assigns an orisha to you. Contact AfroTours to set up a visit to a Candomblé Terreiro.

Image by Ascom Setur.

Museums

The Solar de Unhão is an ocean-front complex that back in the day functioned as a plantation for a local rich man. Now the complex attracts locals and tourists to the city's Museum of Modern Art, which is housed in the casa grande (the big house). The museum has works of art from Tarsila do Amaral, Portinari, Flávio de Carvalho, Di Cavalcanti, Rubem Valentim, Pancetti, Carybé, Mário Cravo e Sante Scaldaferri.The complex also includes a private port and senzala, the slave's quarters,' and a church. Every Saturday the museum hosts a jazz jam session at the edge of the ocean where there is also a small favela community.

Image via Creative Commons.

Party

The Tuesday night Benção party in Pelourinho still draws in the crowds for a weekday party. Before the festivities, they gather at the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos for a mass accompanied by African rhythms. Then they disperse in the streets for a night of Afro-Bloco music, samba and caipirinhas. More recently Salvador has become known for spawning the popular LGBTQ party Batekoo, which now has offshoots in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Frequented mainly by young black youth, the party promotes a freedom of visual expression not found in mainstream Brazil.

Image courtesy of Batekoo.

Beaches and Islands

Salvador has more than 50 kilometers of beach and there are 15 islands near the state of Bahia. While tourists flock to Barra, there's the opportunity to explore the beaches frequented by black locals and islands. São Tomé beach is a local beach in the far west suburbs of Salvador that has clear water. Ilha de Maré is a getaway island inhabited by descendants of Africans who were slaves. These communities are known as quilombos in Brazil.

Image via David Kirsch's Flickr.

After visiting these places be prepared to fight the desire to stay in Salvador. It will be difficult to leave the city's energy, history and people. So if you have no obligation to return home, submit to it this desire.

popular
Photo courtesy of Cimarrón Productions.

Cimarrón Is the Women-Led Film Production Company Empowering Afro-Colombians to Tell Their Own Stories

The "first Afro-Colombian film production company," is teaching filmmaking in Colombia's black communities in order to combat the lack of representation.

When filmmaker, activist, and cultural agent Heny Cuesta first started her career in Colombia, she noticed a severe lack of black creators in the industry. Cuesta, an Afro-Colombian originally from Cali, was the only Black woman in a room full of mestizo directors at a panel discussion at the International Film Festival in Cartagena de Indias (FICCI) in 2013.

"None of the filmmakers were black, but they were talking about ethnic content despite the fact that they didn't know the territory," says Cuesta. That scene shocked her, but it reflected the low number of movies directed by black directors in Colombia. In 2018, Colombia's film industry premiered 37 feature films and only one of them –Candelaria– was directed by a black director. It received many international awards.

The lack of blackness in Colombia's film industry goes far beyond studios, film festivals and production companies. Afro-Colombians make up almost 20 percent of the population but historically have had few opportunities to access education. Most black Colombians, who come from cities and towns along the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts, have been neglected and isolated due to a lack of infrastructure, as well as a lack of education and job opportunities.

Keep reading... Show less
Style
Photo by Gregoire Avenel

Eliana Murargy Is the Trailblazing Mozambican Fashion Brand You Should Know About

We spoke with the designer about her latest collection "Basking In the Osun River," which was the first by a Mozambican designer to show at New York Fashion Week.

Mozambican fashion designer Eliana Murargy has been on a mission to re-imagine luxury clothing in Africa since she first established her eponymous brand in 2011. Her latest collection "Basking in the Osun River," does just that. It debuted at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) last month, making her the first designer from Mozambique to showcase at the renowned fashion event.

Murargy put the myriad African influences in her designs front and center with "Basking in the Osun River"—a name which directly reference the mystical Osun River, which runs from Nigeria to the Atlantic Gulf of Guinea.

The designs themselves, are characterized by ethereal and skillfully tailored garments, designed in solid, earth-tones with feminine silhouettes, inspired by The Aje—a female Yoruba figure believed to hold fierce, cosmic powers as well as the water deity Osun. According to the designer, the collection was created with an "exclusive community of West African tailors."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo by Emma McIntyre/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)

Daniel Kaluuya Is Producing a Live-Action 'Barney' Movie with Mattel

Yes, you read that correctly.

In a move that absolutely no one saw coming, Oscar-nominated actor Daniel Kaluuya is set to produce a live-action Barney movie in conjunction with Mattel Films. The Hollywood Reporter first broke the story.

Kaluuya will co-produce the film as part of his 59% production banner, which signed a first-look deal with Paramount back in May. Speaking on his involvement with the project and the impact of Barney & Friends, Kaluuya had this to say: "Barney was a ubiquitous figure in many of our childhoods, then he disappeared into the shadows, left misunderstood. We're excited to explore this compelling modern-day hero and see if his message of 'I love you, you love me' can stand the test of time."

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo Courtesy of the Artist)

Busy Signal Drops New Video for '100%' Featuring Afro B

Premiere: The Jamaican dancehall star and afrowave artist partner up for a comical new song and video.

Busy Signal has teamed up with Afro B for a fiery song and hilarious video for their new track, "100%".

Born and bred in Jamaica, Busy Signal's signature dancehall-reggae sound with an electronic lean is always a refreshing twist. His sound mixed with "Drogba (Joanna)" star Afro B's smooth afrowave style makes this new track, well, 100% dope.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.