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Salvador, Brazil’s real party capital
As a three-month festival of Brazilian culture opens in London, why not try out the real thing in Salvador, the country’s – and possibly the world’s – party capital
timbalada carnaval salvador bahia
Party till dawn . . . Salvador’s carnival is the biggest in the world. Photograph: Caio Guatelli/LatinContent/Getty Images

The rest of the world looks up to Brazil as world champions of partying, and by the same token, Brazilians doff their hats to the north-eastern state of Bahia and its capital, Salvador, as the undisputed kings and queens of carnival, music and knowing how to have a bloody good time.

As early as the 17th century the magnificent Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints, which Salvador overlooks and which gives the state its name) was given the epithet e de Quase Todos os Pecados (and of Nearly All the Sins), because of its reputation for decadence and bawdiness. Today it’s a funky town – tropical, soulful and intoxicating. I went on holiday to Brazil in the early 1990s, fell in love with Salvador and stayed for five years.

But unlike in Rio or São Paulo, you won’t find a hip party scene here. In fact they don’t do nightclubs or trendy bars too well at all in Salvador – the best parties take place in outdoor spaces or in the street, and no one really cares how you’re dressed – shorts and flip-flops will do. Paradoxically, the carefree spirit exuded by Bahians is the direct result of 350 years of slavery. Around 40% of all African slaves transported to the New World came to Brazil – officially 4.5 million, perhaps many more. Millions came to Bahia, the centre of Brazil’s sugar and slave trades, and today more than 80% of the population has African ancestry.

Salvador is the oldest city in Brazil and was its capital for more than 200 years, until it was replaced by Rio de Janeiro in 1763. Bahia then went into decline. Isolated from Brazil’s wealthy south, it was left to simmer under the tropical sun for two centuries, a melting pot of Africans in exile who developed a culture – music, dance, cuisine and religion – unique to this corner of Brazil, and more connected to Africa than anywhere else in the Americas. On the great sugarcane plantations of Bahia’s interior, samba slowly evolved from the ancient African rhythms. Sugar was to samba what cotton was to the blues in the American south.

Bahia’s energy is celebrated in Brazil! Brazil!, a show that has just opened in London, part of a summer-long festival showcasing Brazil’s music and arts. It is an adrenaline-pumping journey through Bahia’s musical history, taking in samba, capoeira (the fusion of dance and martial arts), slavery and even football, performed by a troupe of musicians and acrobatic dancers.

Fontehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/jun/19/salvador-brazil-party

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