Salvador  is justly famous for its music scene. Aside from tons of festivals and shows, there are limitless possibilities for hearing music—often for free. In the summertime especially, the Pelourinho  in particular throbs with the beat of drums as the city’s Carnaval blocos (traditional Carnaval groups associated with organizations or neighborhoods) hold open weekly ensaios, or rehearsals, often with special guests in attendance.
Usually beginning in November, these ensaios are either free or ridiculously expensive (to gouge tourists). Locales change yearly. Taking part will not only ensure you rub shoulders with Salvador’s young blood, but will also allow you to witness firsthand how summer musical hits—which eventually captivate all of Bahia  and Brazil —are generated. Think of it as a taste of the sheer exuberance and intense musicality of Carnaval , should you not be around for the main event itself.
The hottest ensaios around include Margareth Menezes and her Os Mascaradas bloco, the tradiconalíssimo Afro blocos Ilê Aiyê (whose rehearsals take place at its headquarters in the bairro of Curuzu), Filhos de Gandhy, Olodum, Muzenza, and Cortejo Afro (all of whom perform in the Pelô).
No matter what the season, there is usually always something going on at the Pelourinho ’s Praça Tereza Batista and Praça Pedro Archango (both off Rua Gregório de Matos) as well as Praça Quincas Berro D’Água (off Rua Frei Vicente). In the summer, these three outdoor areas, surrounded by bars, host musical repertories ranging from samba-reggae to pagode that jive with the feverish public’s desire to get down, get close, and samba till they drop. In the winter, the tempo slows down, switching to MPB, bossa nova, and chorinho.
Also not to be missed are the Tuesday night jams on the steep steps of the Igreja do Santíssimo Sacramento do Passo on Rua do Passo, hosted by the terrific homegrown singer and composer Gerónimo. From the top of the stairs the view across the Pelourinho is enchanting, especially if there is a full moon.
A quick cab ride from the Pelô, the newest musical venue in town has garnered a ton of buzz due to its founder and location. The Museu do Ritmo (Av. Jequitaia 1, Comércio) is the brainchild of Carlinhos Brown, composer and leader of the Timbalada bloco. This vanguard space was inaugurated during Carnaval of 2007 in the reconstructed ruins of an old marketplace, the Mercado de Ouro. Featuring a big stage and lots of dancing space, when completed this cultural center will also house an art gallery, museum, restaurant, and school.
Up and running since 1958, the beloved Concha Acústica (Ladeira da Fonte, Campo Grande, tel. 71/3339-8033), or simply “a Concha,” is part of the Teatro Castro Alves complex. Since day one, this massive outdoor amphitheater, which seats 5,000, has hosted the biggest names in Brazilian music and continues to do so, all at affordable prices.
A fairly recent addition to Rio Vermelho ’s bohemian scene is the Espaço Cultural Casa da Mãe (Rua Guedes Cabral 81, Vermelho, tel. 71/9197-9415, 6 p.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Sat., 1–11 p.m. Sun., cover R$5). Situated in a cozy whitewashed house with ocean views, this welcoming bar is operated by Roda Bahiana (an NGO based in the Recôncavo  town of Santo Amaro ) whose mission is to promote the works of local artists and musicians. As a result, you’ll often be treated to some very fine and authentic musical performances.