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Manhattan Plays Brazil’s Forró

 Manhattan 
                Plays Brazil's Forró

Forró
is not only for Brazilians anymore. You can go to your local
megastore in the U.S. and you will find CDs by popular forró bands

such as Mastruz com Leite and Magníficos. And now forró has

become also hip in Manhattan’s East Village. There, a group of
forró musicians has been crowding the Nublu Club.
by: Ernest
Barteldes

During the final years of World War II, the U.S. military maintained bases
in northeastern Brazil as a strategic point, and, according to legend, once
in a while the officers’ clubs would have balls that were open to the general
public under the label "for all", in which the music of Glenn Miller
and Tommy Dorsey was replaced by the local sounds that were provided by small,
local groups that played the accordion, triangle and a hand-held bass drum
called zabumba.

The music they performed
was a fast-paced, two-by-four syncopated dance beat that was then called baião,
and couples danced along together to songs with simple lyrics and melodies
that spoke of the hard life of the retirante (farmers who are forced
out of their homelands in search of work during times of drought) and their
struggles with the lack of rain so characteristic of that region of the country,
of love won and lost and also of the simple peoples’ love for the relief of
dance.

The locals who lived around
those bases could not speak English, so they would adapt the word "for
all" on the clubs’ billboards to their own speech and accent. In time,
"for all" became forró (pronounced fo-HOH), and the
name became synonymous not only with the events, but with the spirit, the
music and everything else associated to the music of that region of Brazil.

The first icon of forró
was the late Luiz Gonzaga (1912-1989), a native of the state of Pernambuco.
He was responsible
for taking the sound of the dry countryside of his land to the rest of the
country, later becoming the musical (and sometimes spiritual) godfather to
well-known Brazilian musicians who later made it big inside and outside the
country, such as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and many others. Despite all the
history, forró was basically looked down upon by the most sophisticated
crowd of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other southern states.

For many years (despite
the respect everyone had for Luiz Gonzaga), the style was relegated to either
the residents of the warm Northeast or to those who migrated to the big city
in search of better jobs and opportunities. It was only after the lambada
craze of the late eighties (anyone remember "Chorando Se Foi"?)
that the forrozeiros (forró musicians) realized that
they had to evolve. Inspired by the country bands of São Paulo, they
gradually modernized their sound.

While the accordion remained,
the triangles and zabumba were replaced by (or sometimes added to)
modern keyboards, electric guitars and drums. The lament of the retirante
remained, but words with stories of sexual innuendo and humor have also appeared.
The formula worked,
and all of a sudden forró was cool in Brazil. Today, you can
go to your local megastore and you will find (in the international section)
CDs by popular forró bands such as Mastruz com Leite, Magníficos
and others.

And now forró—go
figure—is also hip in the East Village, where Forro In The Night,
a group of musicians led by zabumba player Mauro Refosco has been crowding
Nublu, the tiny club on Avenue C and E 4th St for about a year.

When I walked in, the
place sounded Brazilian and stirred memories of times past when this writer
lived in the warm northeastern Brazilian town of Fortaleza, where the temperature
is seldom under 75 degrees.

Greg, the son of Haitian
immigrants with a deep love of Brazilian music commanded the DJ booth with
old records that I hadn’t heard in years, while the bartender served caipirinhas
(the traditional cocktail of the land) at $8 a piece.

The crowd itself didn’t
seem Brazilian, and many seemed to enjoy the music as if it was somewhat of
a curiosity. "There is a mixed crowd", says Yussef Sayman, one of
the club’s collaborators. "There are people who live in the neighborhood,
Europeans, and especially musicians."

What surprised me the
most was that no one seemed to mind that the songs were in a foreign tongue.
Some couples danced, while many others simply lounged around while following
the beat with their feet as they sipped their drinks.

Although the main band
is currently on vacation in Brazil (Yussef Sayman says they will be there
for a month), they are being competently replaced by a band led by vocalist
Karina Zambiani (who also sings with the main band). Although forró
was not exactly on the menu, their blend of original songs with some covers
of Brazilian classics such as Clara Nunes’ "Canto de Ossanha" were
rendered with a lot of soul, and everyone (myself included) was having a good
time.

Brazilian Forró
Night

Wednesdays at Nublu
62 Avenue C
New York , NY
$5.00 cover
Internet: http://www.nublu.net


Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that,
he is a freelance writer who has regularly been contributing The Greenwich
Village Gazette since September 1999. His work has also been published
by Brazzil, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island
Register, The SI Muse, The Villager, GLSSite and
other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached at
ebarteldes@yahoo.com

This article was
originally published in The Villager—http://www.thevillager.com

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