Streets of Salvador is an exploration of the memories resurfacing in the collective body of the city from a colonial past and, in particular, from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Once the capital of Portugal’s most valuable colony, the city’s architecture and urban structure bear testimony of the splendors of the past, but also of the deep rooted divisions within its population based on race and class discrimination. As nearly 40% of the entire trade in African people was directed to Brazil, Salvador became the city with the highest number of people of African descent living outside of Africa and the place where their cultural and artistic traditions have been kept alive like nowhere else. This rich heritage is manifested through language, food, dance, music and religious cults such as Candomblé, which combines Catholic and Yoruba elements, and whose pulsating rhythm lies at the core of this video sound artwork.
The following pages are extracts from the artist’s diary during her staying in Salvador de Bahia and the post-production of Streets of Salvador in London.
22 February 2009 – Impressions
Migration is like blood circulation around the human body. It takes the nutrients to each of its parts and keeps the body alive. Like blood, it is a fluid movement of carrying with itself ideas, memories. It regenerates the body and brings life.
Amma says: “Each nation is one organ in the body of the world”. And so I see it. The body and its moving people – Streets of…- follows me in my journeys to seven cities along three migration routes, which in Portuguese is ‘rodas’, and in Italian ‘rotte’.
Sound guides me, with its tactile quality – a texture that I bring back from the everyday life into the installation rooms. The musicality of all things around me makes my walk in the streets light like a dance, moving from the outside to the inside. In Naples it was the sound of storytelling, ancestral voices and the city’s perennial state of emergency, in Mumbai the rhythmic quality of the human voice, mixed with traffic, temple bells and percussions, in Salvador the sound of birds, atabaques, loud music and sweet – sounds which I digitised, stored on my external hard drives, named as sound waves while the eyes were caught by peoples’ movements and natural postures.
Again, as it happened in Mumbai, I had the strange feeling of having come back home when I arrived in Salvador. This time I thought it was conveyed by the resonance of Portuguese with Italian, while my internal chords would similarly play to the exciting feeling of vulnerability in the unknown city balanced by the kindness of new friends.
Of course, being Italian, I revelled in the architectonic beauty of the city, its baroque churches and the monuments of Perlorinho, the city’s historical centre. Yet, when I walked the first time through the streets of the Perlorinho I felt a strange sense of uneasiness. I can’t say why… like a sense of doom, an uncanny effacement of the past. It took me some research on the city’s history to discover about the pain and blood that had been shed there, about the enslaved Africans transported on ships from the another continent across the Atlantic, valued and sold according to their strength and age. That’s how my journey in the history of the city and its collective body began.
According to Hegel “syncronicity mimes the utterance of the word that created things”. This is how situations from the everyday life in these cities would come to me and the relationship between sound and image that we would recreate in the editing room: the rumble of ancestral memories resurfacing through the radio waves, the clanking of fruit pushcarts at the Feira de Sao Joachim, the voice of women selling fish at the market of Seite Portas, the sound of the sea obstinately caressing the coast line while sucking in the breath of amazement of those watching the sunset from the Porto da Barra every day.
Meaning reveals itself in between things. I start to understand it, while following my route, resigned to the impossibility of representing life in a continuum as my thoughts keep on interfering with the vision of what surrounds me and the messages carried to the brain by my senses. It is a syncopated movement, it is jazz.
26 February – Note dalla lettura di Deleuze
Il movimento e` quanto accade tra oggetti o parti, dall’altra cio` che esprime la durata o il tutto.
• immagini istantanee, cioe` sezioni immobili del movimento
• immagini movimento che sono sezioni immobili della durata
• immagini tempo, cioe` immagini-durata, immagini-cambiamento, immagini-relazione, immagini-volume al di la’ del movimento stesso
Adesso tocca a me!
14 August 2009 – Impressions
It’s hot this second time in Salvador, although it should be raining this time of the year according to locals.
Locations are the arenas of pure life enjoyment. I am deeply immersed in the surroundings, but simultaneously detached through the sound recorder. How will I make audiences feel this? How will I give them the sense of touching people, smelling the food cooked for the Orixas, sensing the spiritual nature as rain pours down heavily during the Candomble’ ceremony at the terreiro in Brotas? I tried to translate it in words for my editors and that was a clumsy effort.
6 September 2009 – Email correspondence
Dear Tarun and Laura
As you know my second visit to Salvador is coming to an end. Soon I will be flying to Sao Paolo and then back to London. Before I’m off there are still some sounds to record and I’m now thinking of a couple of images which might be missing from the video editing which I need recorded.
The reason why I writing to you now is because I want to share with you the impressions of my first visit to a Candomblé ceremony in one of the oldest terreiros in Salvador de Bahia, located in the area of Brotas, an intensely populated bairro, marked by what is called here “invasao” that is invasion, meaning the overnight erection of poor building in areas located within the city centre which mostly remain unserved by electrics, water and sewage system for years having been built without permissions.
I suggest you try to get some information on Candomble’, a religious practice of Yoruba origins, which represents one of the oldest and strongest links with African culture on this side of Brazil. That’s for two reasons: firstly, it represents the red thread which I am following in this journey back from Salvador to Luanda and as such it is an important preparation for the work that we will do there later on next year. Secondly, as I thought when I first arrived here, this is a religion that however practiced by a small part of African descendents in Salvador (most of the them are either catholic or followers of the most recent north American Adventist churches which are mushrooming everywhere in the country) it certainly has the strongest impact on the way people act, speak, eat, behave and the overall rhythm of the city, from the music patterns of the Axé (carnival) music, to samba and other genres played in the streets.
I went to the terreriro de Brotas to take part to the ceremony dedicated to Oshumaré, one of the Orixas divinities which make up the pantheon of Candomblé Gods. It was a powerful experience. The ancestral rhythms played by the drummers of Atabaques followed one after the other as ocean waves changing in strength and power according to winds and undercurrents. The room which housed the ceremony in the main building of the terreiro was beautifully decorated in honor of Oshumaré, the ceiling covered by hanging strips of multicoloured fabric which created the effect of a rainbow in the sky, which is also the symbol of this divinity and were very similar to the little strips which are tied up around the wrists or at the gate of the Chruch of Bomfin to make wishes.
The dances were from another world, brought down to earth by the followers of this religion, people who had devoted themselves to the practices of Cambomble and were now letting the divinities manifest themselves through their bodies in front of my eyes. The whirling of waist, the drumming of feet, and the wind of time passing through the fremito of their scapole and shoulders of men and women flapping like wings, memories of other species contained in us.
I wrote down few words for us to work on my return to London.
Wind / rain / dissolve / flight of birds / entrance to church / the body resonating to the ancestral rhythms of divine cosmic pulsations / water surface reflecting unchanged rituals, carnival and all things…
… the kiss to the soil which I saw at the Festa da Yemanja and is mimed at the beginning of a game of capoeira when the dancers touch the floor with their heads…
So my dear friends, here are some of my thoughts. I should be back to discuss them and much more with you very soon. I can’t wait to put everything together. For now, take care.
20 October 2010 – Post scriptum
In the end the email was never sent, and landed in the drafts folder of my hotmail account. I forgot about it being so absorbed by the production tasks in the few days before my departure. Eventually I read the e-mail to Tarun early in the afternoon, before our editing session at my studio in London. It was like being transported back to the ceremony, I was there again… and we worked with it.