Let us first establish a basic musicological principle: the best music in the world is made by combining Iberian and West African. I have almost irresponsibly catholic taste in music (or maybe a damaged critical faculty); I like almost everything, and wouldn’t give up any of it, but Nuyorica, and then Miami right down the east side of the Americas to about Porto Alegre is where heaven is. It’s the greatest refutation of the bizarre idea that purity is correlated with excellence since Bach studied Vivaldi, or when Marie de Medici brought Italian cooking to Paris, or when African peanut butter was first put on bread with European jam.
As my friends know, I am particularly besotted by the music of Brazil. Want to try some? Already know about Tom Jobim and want to know where he came from and who carried on after? I’m starting a series along the lines of Keith’s movie reviews, with some of my favorites that are less widely known outside Brazil but deserve a wider audience, along with a little background. I’ll put in some links, but obviously you can browse Spotify with the names, do the usual Google due diligence, and explore for yourself.
Today, choro. The basic tools are a Spanish acoustic guitar, called a violão, sometimes with a seventh string (violão a 7 cordas); a four-string cavaquinho, the Brazilian member of the ukulele family that the Portuguese sprinkled here and there around the world; a mandolin (bandolim sometimes with a fifth course); and a truly awesome, varying collection of percussion instruments called a bateria. This includes practically anything that makes a sound if you hit it, from the surdo bass drum to something you thought was a grade-school toy (pandeiro), or if you rub (cuica) or shake it. Here’s the standard kit cooking at the Clube de Choro.
Choro is analogous to klezmer and jazz manouche: music for family and neighborhood parties, danceable and lively though sometimes lyrical, played on portable instruments, and virtuosic. It goes back early in the 20th century but is still a lively form. Choro groups often add to the basic ensemble (variously) a flute, clarinet, trombone, or accordion. If you stop in, for example, at the Bar do Cidão in São Paulo around 11 PM, a bunch of musicians will be jamming in unpredictable assortments. It is usually instrumental though some choros have lyrics. The great choro composer is probably Pixinguinha. , and Carinhoso is not only his most famous work, but probably the most famous song in Brazil. This cut is from a wonderful documentary about Paulinho da Viola, called Meu tempo é hoje, (about which more to come); in the movie, da Viola says that if you go into any bar or botequim or joint anywhere in Brazil and start singing it, everyone will know it and join in.
If there has to be an performing hero of the genre it’s Jacob do Bandolim, also an important composer (a lot of Brazilian musicians are named after the instruments they play). Sadly, there is no video of Jacob playing but he has a big discography. His tradition continues with lots of Brazilian masters, like Deo Rian, and Oakland’s own Mike Marshall. One of my favorite choro events is the classical flautist Paula Robison’s falling-in with a bunch of Brazilian musicians in New York, which generated this wonderful CD. and then this one. It’s unusual for classical musicians to be able to swing this way.
OK, you’re on your own for the week: fire up Spotify and Youtube, and check out Os Ingenuos, Época de Ouro, some of the names above, and follow branches. Gostem estes tesouros, and comments are definitely open to share your own favorites.