Salvador do Bahia
Author: Albert d'Ossché
Date/Studio: 1978 Kaye-Smith, Seattle, WA
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Bill Tootell
Original Release: Crossover (KM308)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
This tune is pure Albert d'Ossché. He had a way with rhythm that simply made it feel different. He would throw in “double-strums” and “turn-arounds” in unlikely places that somehow lifted this song out of it's regular meter, making it supple and lithe. If nothing else, the samba is sensuous-- not sultry like the tango-- but rather, exuberant and celebratory. He celebrated sensuousness.
Having grown up in New Orleans and it's Mardi Gras', he truly loved the theater associated with Carnival. It was loud and big and bright. It had outrageous costumes, dancers in feathers and pulsating music that was simple but infectious. It was also egalitarian, anyone could be in a samba band. It was the ultimate musical democracy.
This tune was always a show stopper. No, that's not right. It was a show maker. It was a gateway to the outrageous in the very best sense of the word. We stepped outside of the box. He would launch into the sol-do, fa-la vamp with his silky, juggled-time nuances and we would begin talking over the music about the samba, describing the instruments as we would bring them in vocally and with visuals.
Here was the surdo-- the big bass drum that kept the off beat (2-4, 2-4)-- and we'd overmodulate into the microphone-- boom-- boom-- boom-- boom. Here were the gourds-- and we'd again make an effect imitating the sjush-sjush sound. Now the cuíca (kweeca) the friction drum with the high, squeaky-monkey sound. (That was a fun one to both imitate and to convey visually.)
Never leaving the vamp (no melody yet) we'd launch into a history and cultural lesson with a description of a typical band-- how people would work all year to come up with a neighborhood theme, ostumes, an original tune and, if they were lucky, a float to parade in that one wild day. We'd describe the feathers, the headdresses, the boas, the colorful silks, the made-up faces and wild dance steps.
“Anybody,” we'd say, “could be in a samba band, even you only had a brake drum to beat (dinka-dink, dinka dink). It was the music of the people-- folk music-- and they would take it to the streets.” Here I would go off-mike since I had a high, loud, pursed-lips, come-home-for-dinner whistle. “Led by the samba whistle,” we'd chorus. I'd let go with my whistle and he'd launch into the instrumental melody.
At that point he is doing all of the playing. I am doing most of the sound effects and all of the visuals, pantomiming the instruments from which ostensibly I was switching with my sounds. We'd bring the vamp around a number of times with the sound effects going on during the vamp then we'd both vocally jump in on the melody-- no words, just “na-nahs”. We'd end the tune by getting quieter, backing away from the microphones as if the parade had turned a corner and was fading in the distance.
Dr. Susan Porter of the Great Black Swamp Dulcimer Festival in Lima, Ohio showed us a letter one year she had received from a festival attendee. It said, referring to Salvador do Bahia, “With Force and d'Ossché we have witnessed the rape of the mountain dulcimer. I know wherefore I speak that, like a torn cigar wrapper, nothing can fix it.” Wow. That was harsh. “Not to worry”, she said, herself a trained musicologist. “You push the boundaries. Some people will never accept that. Keep it up.”
Like Stephen Foster and the Swannee River, Albert never went to Salvador do Bahia but he always thought he would. He used the name because it sounded right. On the Crossover recording, Tim Celeski dipped into his “da-da-ji” bag and pulled out all the percussion toys we had been mimicking over the years and he played the heck out of them for real. Bob Davis added the samba whistle. Al was on dulcimer. We were both on vocals. To this day that piece still lights up audiences.