Last week while combing Brazil for new beats I finally had a chance to visit São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão in the hot and sparsely populated Northeast. Here is a quick video from that journey (music by Zomes: Cosmovital Force):
Situated on a large island on the edge of the Amazon Basin and known as the Reggae Capital of Brazil, São Luís had been on my radar to visit for a long time – especially since Junho’s dad and step-mom live there. I arrived on the Friday before national and regional elections, and I quickly settled in to a plate of fried shrimp and ice-cold Antarctica on the beach at Calhau with Celia to observe the omnipresent cars with enormous sound systems fitted to their roofs cruising the streets blaring reggae tunes supporting the political candidates whose faces were posted on their doors and windows.
The Afro-Brazilian presence is strong here in São Luís, and reggae culture is proclaimed everywhere, down to the Rastafarian red, gold and green that make up the colors of local Serie B side Sampaio Corrêa Futebol Clube. Obviously Saudade Brothers is now an avid supporter.
In turn ruled by the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese for over 400 years and boasting unique and (fairly) well-maintained tile facades and architecture, São Luís is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to the elections there were no tourists, as Brazilians needed to be in their home region to vote that Sunday. Wandering the hot, empty streets of the Old Center Celia and I followed the sounds and came across a Capoeira school in session. We poked our heads in and were immediately invited to have a seat and check out the heavyweight Afro-Brazilian vibes going down. Mind blown by the scene and channeling the spirit of my hero Alan Lomax I pulled out my phone and made my first (and so far only) field recording of the authentic rootsy sounds going down. Just me and Celia and a couple other curious onlookers in attendance, with everyone sweating, clapping and joining in the singing and chanting. Check it out below:
Now no one actually cares, but apparently around 1950 there was a split in the capoeira world, and apparently the capoeira practiced in São Luís is, according to the Wiki Crew, is “traditional Bahian capoeira” as opposed to some other upstart “Bahian Angola” tradition. Like I said, no one cares except capoeira nerds (if there are such things, as capoeira is cool as shit and rootsy as hell), and I don’t know if these guys are considered “good” or not, but there were definitely some ill maneuvers and sick handstands as they grooved to the live music. You be the judge – I took this video:
Later it was back to the beach for some crispy fried Rock Fish and agua de côco gelado (hint: make sure the côco is bem frio and that the hole in the côco is big enough to pour cachaça into. Add cachaça and enjoy!). Also, the cheek-meat of the Rock fish is considered a delicacy.
With an average daily temperature of around 86F and abundant equatorial sunshine, there is no need for glass in the windows in São Luís – just sit back with an açaí bowl and let the ocean breeze in.
Vibes are good in São Luís. Obrigadão e abraços to my awesome hosts. See you again soon.
I leave you with some shots for Junho and Herz, as you may recognize the surroundings. Abração!