Brazil Classics 3: Forró etc.: Music of the Brazilian Northeast
Various

Once Again on LP!

I heard this music when I visited Salvador, Bahia for the first time in 1986(?). Forro was not a sound I expected to hear. It sounded like a mixture of Ska with Polka!  The closest equivalent I knew of was Zydeco, the music made familiar by the late great Clifton Chenier and many others. In Salvador RADIO ITAPARICA! had a great morning show which would sometimes play, without interruption, a whole string of what I later found out were Forró hybrids—Forró with brass, Forró with funk bass lines, Forró with country fiddles, and, of course, electrified Forró, or Fo-rock, as it is called. I taped as much as I could off the radio, and later bought some records and tapes. I only touched the surface, the well is deep.

This is party music. It’s party music from people who’ve been through hard times, who live in a parched, unforgiving area of Brazil, the Northeast. They love their country, their land, probably more than they love Brazil, which has not always treated them well. The people who make and dance to this music are most often brown. Like their earth. It is the brown sound. Chão. The festas are intense and the bands would play all night, when one band got tired, they would take a nap, or drink, or eat, and another band would take over. Until the sun came up.

As pictured on their record covers, many forro stars dress in spectacular costumes based on the outfits of the cowboys and outlaws of the Brazilian Northeast. I guess it could be compared to the North American country and western gear. The stage costumes of Hank Williams (Sr.) and now Dwight Yokum convey a similar spirit. The amazing hats that Luiz Gonzaga and others wear  have their source in the Brazilian cowboy work hat, although the stage hats have evolved and mutated into something wonderfully new that refers to the originals, but says so much more. Symbolic of their humble origins, but now elevated to a more theatrical and poetic level.

The songs celebrate their land, parties and festas, lost love, and the hard life of the Brazilian cowboys.  Themes similar to Zydeco and other musics the world over, but here with a peculiar Northeastern slant.  A humor and wink that cuts through the bullshit.

-David Byrne



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