Dance Music from Brazil: Choros and Forró
By: Frederick Moehn
Sep 3, 2000
Title: Dance Music from Brazil: Choros and Forró
Label: Nimbus Records (www.nimbusrecords.com)
Format: 4 CD set
Oficina De Cordas
Fred Dantas, Trombone
Ailton Reiner, Bandolim, Cavaquinho
The first part of the title of this CD collection could lead many purchasers to imagine that they will be listening to contemporary samba or axé from Brazil. "Dance music" today typically implies pop. While the music on this collection is definitely "popular," it is by no means "pop." Choro and forró are genres with long histories in Brazil, the former originating in Rio de Janeiro, and the latter in the Brazilian northeast. These CDs have previously been released individually by Nimbus; it is interesting that the label chose now to release them as a collection. The first three CDs, entitled respectively, "Os Ingênuos Play Choros," "Pernambuco's Music Played by the Oficina de Cordas," and "Choros from Bahia Featuring Fred Dantas & Ailton Reiner," make a logical sequence, but the last CD is a very different style of music.
Choro (sometimes called chorinho) developed towards the end of the nineteenth century; it was inspired in part by European dance genres like mazurka and schottisch, but also by samba and related Afro-Brazilian musics. Its early practitioners included both professional musicians and members of the educated middle-classes who played music as an amateur hobby. Forró, and its close relative, baião, are styles with origins in the poorer regions of the Brazilian northeast, especially the states Pernambuco and Bahia, and those who play it often have no formal musical education. Today, people still dance to forró, but it is rare to see people dancing to choro, a style that quickly grew very formalized, a "musician's music," as Ricardo Canzio observes in the notes that accompany this collection. To speak of the most popular dance musics of the country today is to refer to pagode and axé, styles that sell in the millions. These contemporary genres typically feature romantic lyrics and may include synthesized accompaniment. Like salsa and merengue, live performances of pagode and axé often include attractive female dancers on the stage. No such accoutrement has yet to adorn a performance of choro.
By the end of the 1930s, there was a body of choro repertoire that formed the core of the style. Since then, although new choros are constantly being written, the style has been marked by musical conservatism. The grass-roots revival of the genre in Rio during the 1970s was largely a return to a tradition that many of the musicians involved -- mostly from the Carioca middle classes -- feared was in danger of being forever lost with the increasing popularity of more contemporary and internationally inspired mass-mediated popular musics. As an instrumental genre, choro receives almost no support from the major recording companies based in Rio and remains a relatively unpopular genre, in terms of record sales. In fact, instrumental musics have rarely achieved great popularity in Brazil.
In recent years in Rio de Janeiro, a new choro revival has been oriented around a small group of very talented musicians who have been inspired by jazz and funk. The group, Nó em Pingo d'Agua, in particular, has completely renovated the genre and enjoys great respect amongst Rio-based musicians. Another interesting ensemble, also based in Rio, is Pagode Jazz-Sardinha's Club, who have recently released a wonderful CD of swinging jazz/pop/pagode/choro. The choros heard on the Nimbus collection, however, are true to traditional instrumentation and arrangements. All the recordings are live performances (sans audience) and are examples of perfectly well-mannered virtuosity. That is to say, these are excellent performances by committed musicians, and they provide a nice catalog of some of the core choro repertoire, yet the performances never seem to swing as much as, for example, Jacob do Bandolim's historic recordings of this repertoire (released in the US by Acoustic Disc).
The fourth CD, entitled "Camarão Plays Forró," is largely solo accordion with triangle rhythmic accompaniment, a typically traditional instrumentation for forró and baião. This style of popular song often reminds the American listener of zydeco music from Louisiana. Indeed, like zydeco-and unlike choro-baião and forró often feature vocals, as do several of the numbers on this last CD. The most famous proponent of this music -- Luís Gonzaga (deceased) -- was able to achieve enormous national success with baião during the 1950s. For anyone wishing to learn nordestino accordion style, the forró CD could be a valuable resource. Camarão claims to follow closely the style of Luís Gonzaga, whom he knew personally. Likewise, for someone wishing to learn, for example, standard 7-string guitar accompaniment patterns for choro, the first 3 CDs are an excellent place to start. For someone wishing to throw a dance party with the latest grooves from Brazil, I would suggest looking elsewhere (see, e.g., my review of the Nação Zumbi show at S.O.B.'s -- "The Mangroove of Pernambuco, Brazil," here on 'LA'Ritmo.com).
"Dance Music from Brazil" is a good representation of these important styles and Ricardo Canzio's accompanying notes are helpful for providing background information. Some more details on the instrumentation might have been of interest; the casual listener may not realize that choro typically features a 7-string guitar as well as the more common 6-string, or that the sanfona, the accordion used in forró is one of a large variety of instruments in that category. Nevertheless, this collection is a recommended purchase for those interested in these genres.