On the North-East coast of Brasil lays two musical cities. First is the city of Recife, the Capitol of Pernambuco and considered the “Venice of Brasil” for its many rivers, islands, and historical bridges. Take a quick bus ride North, where I am staying, you will find the small town of Olinda best know for its sixteen historical churches or in Portuguese “Igrejas” which are almost all in view of eachother. Unlike Rio de Janeiro, “the pandeiro capitol of the world” and home of Samba and Bossa Nova, it is in this part of Brasil that a music of a very different rhythms exist.
The first and most unique is the Maracatu. This rhythm/song form was brought from Africa during the slave trade and its infectious beat is quickly becoming popular in other parts of the world. “Chico Science” was credited as on of the first Brasilian artist to incorporate this rhythm into a Brasilian pop music setting and he was very successful doing it too. Since I have been here I have had the opportunity to study Maracatu first hand with Tarcísio Soares Resende who is co-author of the definitive book on Maracatu titled “Batuque Book”. I had also had the opportunity to see the group Daruê Malungo perform as well as meet their spiritual leader Mestre Gilson (Meia-Noite). This group is located in one if the poorest parts of Olinda and upon my arrival I was afraid to get out of the cab for fear something bad happening to me. So as protection I paid the cab drive to stay with me until I was finished with my visit three hours later and this turned out to be well worth it. The musicians and dancers of Daruê Malungo are comprised of very poor children from the ages of 5 to 20’s from the surrounding slum village. Since I arrived early I had the experience of seing these ruff kids off the streets become transformed into graceful performers with their beautiful costumes and powerful drums. While the dancers where back stage transforming their bodies the drummer were fixing the stage and adjusting the backdrop meticulously until it was just right. The children took an awesome pride in their meager belongings. Before long the makeshift auditorium was beautiful and full of families and children eagerly awaiting the start of the show. I had no Idea what I was in for and soon became deeply moved by the flawless performance of these children. Not only because they were poor children but because the quality of their performance was that of a professional production and more. Something like this in the USA would have the broadway choreographer and dancers as well as the drummers taking notes – I was! You really have to see it to believe it. At the end of their performance I introduced myself to their leader, Meite Noite, and gave him some money to fix one of the instruments that I noticed was broken. He then had all of the performer sit in a circle with me and began to deliver a sermon to us. He had used this money I gave as a token to show the children that even though they are very poor that their talent and hard work is becoming know around the world and that more good things are to come for them. He explained to them that there are poor children from all parts of the world, including the U.S., who are benifiting from the positive energy music and dance can create in their life’s and community’s. I wish I had more money to give this group at the time and I know for sure that next time I come to visit I will have something more substantial to offer them.
Forro is another musical style traditional to this region. Forro means “for all” and is a general term for many sub-styles including Baiao, Xote, Xaxado and Galope. Equally important to this music is the dancing that accompanies it. This music is native to the countryside with its main instrument being the accordion, triangle and zabumba drum. I experienced this music in many clubs and on the traditional Sunday night “Serenatas do Olinda” where all of the locals parade through the hills of Olinda singing the household melodies. In Recife I had the opportunity to study the Zabumba instrument and the many Forro styles at “Bl Music”, sort of like the “Musicians Institute” of Brasil.
Frevo is also a traditional style and it sounds very similar to dixieland and ragtime music from the USA but with a march-like feel. I look forward to returning to Pernambuco during carnival where all of these tradition will be brought to their fullest potential in nonstop performances. Apparently it is here, not in Rio, where the best carnival takes place(?).