Forró, the Northeast’s Uncouth Sound That Won Brazil’s Southeast Elite

Forró band ForróçacanaThe rediscovery and conversion of Northeastern music to a commanding pop posture is one of the most refreshing waves to wash up on the Brazilian music scene since Recife’s Armorial movement of the 1970s. A public that once conceived of Nordeste music as a simple-minded folk genre is now finding it as contemporary and as inviting as hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass.

Night clubs in Rio and São Paulo accustomed to rhythms more “refined” are packed with the trendiest big city people. Kids from middle class families, professionals, and intellectuals are all squeezing together, surrendering, and shaking to these “rude” Northeastern rhythms.

If this crowd were comprised solely of people from the Northeast who migrated to these urban areas and who were longing for their homeland, it would be understandable. But these venues are jam packed with the segment of the population that forms and controls public opinion, and they are dancing to forró all night!

In Rio, forró is encountered principally at Feira do São Cristovão, a huge pavilion where Northeastern immigrants, tourists, and locals meet to eat Northeastern food, listen to Northeastern music, and buy goods from the Northeast.(1)

There are restaurants, bars, many shops, and two large stages. It’s an enormous shopping/cultural center focused on the Northeast. It is also the place Forróçacana starting playing regularly. For a band of dedicated young musicians who share passion for forró pé-de-serra, but hail from Rio de Janeiro, it was baptism by fire.

Their intentions initially were to immerse themselves in the regional aspects of music originating in the Northeast. Accordingly, their repertoire included the forró pé-de-serra of Jackson do Pandeiro, Luiz Gonzaga, and João do Vale.(2)

But playing for dances that lasted until dawn, the group was moved to expand its repertoire and invest their shows with enough fiercely celebratory energy to keep crowds satisfied.

If you like musical understatement, wistfulness, and elliptical melodic shapes conveying faintly otherworldly notions and sentiments, then this band will not appeal to you. The music of Forróçacana, uniquely good humored and vigorous, is straight from the heart and full of optimism.

New Age music it is not. You need to go a long way to find music as communicative and as uplifting. Listening to them, you hear an essentially traditional harmonic language at work, but the imaginative use of texture and the wider stylistic range is most definitely music of today. With passages of brilliant ensemble interplay, the quintet’s colors and dynamics are stunning.

Overall, Forróçacana is one of forró‘s most innovative and exhilarating ensembles; their importance to the revival of the genre certainly ranks them alongside artists with whom they have shared stages: Elba Ramalho, Gilberto Gil, Alceu Valença, Cássia Eller, Jorge Ben Jor, Moraes Moreira, Geraldo Azevedo, and Lenine.

In addition to maintaining an authentic sound and the style that anointed them (forró and its variations – xote, xaxado, coco, galope, and baião), Forróçacana blends into their repertoire samba, choro, salsa, and reggae. They also enhance forró‘s traditional sonority by complementing its typical trio of instruments.3

The group – Mará, accordion, cello, and trombone; Marcos Moletta, rabeca, guitar, and guitarra baiana; Chris Mourão, percussion; Cachaça, electric guitar, 10-string guitar, cavaquinho, and bandolim; Duani, lead vocals, zabumbatera, cavaquinho, guitar, and doumbek – has the ability, at the moment of performance, to convince listeners that the music could and should sound no other way, and yet the feel remains deeply traditional.(4)

Coined from the words forró (rhythm), roça (country field) and cana (sugar cane), their name suggests not only a musical language, but its environment.

After attaining international projection with their first CD, Vamo que Vamo, which was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2001, the band toured abroad, then in 2002, released Forróçacana.

With production, arrangements, and musical direction by Forróçacana, compositions from each member of the group as well as Zeca Baleiro and Seu Jorge, and artistic direction by Liminha, the disc runs the full gamut of “no tomorrow” intensity, unforgettable invention, riotous color, and sheer unbridled joy.

The lyrics, treating day-to-day subjects, follow the pattern of their first CD. And it is exactly this poetic simplicity mixed with the band’s sophisticated musicality that has made Forróçacana so extremely popular.

In 2004, their third CD Os Maiores Sucessos de São João com Forróçacana sold 45 thousand copies in two months. A year later the DVD O Melhor Forró do Mundo was filmed at “the house where the history of MPB (popular Brazilian music) is written,” the prestigious Canecão in Rio.

From start to finish the concert moves in a single arc of musical cohesion – though with their characteristically earthy twinkle never far off. It is a performance of forró classics and Forróçacana originals boasting special guest appearances by Alceu Valença, Alcione, Elba Ramalho, Fagner, Geraldo Azevedo, Moraes Moreira, and Zeca Baleiro. Watching the band’s knockabout sense of fun, one becomes aware that nothing can quell their joy in playing.

During the June patron saint festivals, known collectively as São João or the Festas Juninas, forró is as omnipresent as samba is during Carnaval season.

When Forróçacana made their Los Angeles debut in 2002, the gregarious, outward spirit of their dance-driven style overwhelmed concert goers and caught local record stores unprepared.

If you missed it, you’ll wonder why on June 4, 2006, when Forróçacana returns to the Ford Amphitheatre in Southern California for an open-air forró. Take a long drink from a bottle with some vintage wine inside.


Selected Discography:

Artist(s) –  Title – Label  – Date

Forróçacana – O Melhor Forró do Mundo – Indie Records – 2005  – (DVD)

Forróçacana  – Os Maiores Sucessos de São João com Forróçacana – Indie Records – 2004  –

Forróçacana  – Forróçacana – Sony – 2002

Forróçacana  – Vamo que Vamo – Atração – 2001

Moraes Moreira – Bahião com H – Atração – 2000

Zé Ramalho  – Nação Nordestina – BMG/Ariola – 2000  –  – –


(1) Forró is the music of the Brazilian Northeast. Going beyond music alone, forró can be an event, a party, or a dance. According to legend, the term forró developed in the early 1900s when the English railroad company Great Western promoted a dance (some say weekend parties) to commemorate the opening of their first railroad in the interior of Pernambuco.

Supposedly, at the door to the dance a placard gave notice that the celebration was “For All,” a phrase which Brazilian railroad workers pronounced “forró.” In reality, the term had more to do with the African word from the Bantu language forrobodó (big party) that was brought by slaves to Brazil and which appeared in a dictionary as far back as the eighteenth century.

In either case, forró was the springboard for an eclectic sound from Northeastern Brazil that has recently captured the attention of middle class youths throughout Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

(2) Pé-de-serra, meaning “foot of the mountains,” is the term used for anything from the hinterland coming to town, still rough and clumsy.

(3) The typical forró trio’s instrumentation is comprised of a triangle, an accordion, and the zabumba – a shallow bass drum played with a mallet on one drum head and a stick on the other.

(4) The rabeca is a folk fiddle of Portuguese origin. Its four strings are tuned in fifths, like those of the violin, but the tuning is variable depending on the pitch of the vocal music it accompanies or the taste of the player.

The neck is somewhat shorter than that of the violin, and the player supports the bottom of the instrument against the chest rather than under the chin. The zabumbatera, a combination of the zabumba and a drum set played simultaneously while standing up, is Duani’s creation. The guitarra baiana is the 5-string electric mandolin created by Osmar Macedo and Dodô.

(Seu Jorge, Gabriel Moura, Jovi Joviniano)

O seco deserto está tomando conta do planeta
A água doce, bebível, potável, está acabando
Poluição, devastação, queimadas
Desequilíbrio mental
Desequilíbrio do meio ambiente

Segundo as previsões dos cientistas
De padres, pastores e budistas
De ciganos, pais de santo e hare krishnas
O tempo vai secar e o sol vai carcomer

Água pra beber não vai ter
Água pra lavar não vai dar
Água pra benzer, água pra nadar
Nada, nada



The dry desert is spreading throughout the planet
The fresh, drinkable, potable water is ending.
Pollution, devastation, the burning of the land
Mental unbalance
Environmental unbalance

According to predictions of scientists
Priests, ministers, and buddhists
Gypsies, candomblé priests, and Hare Krishnas
The weather will dry up and the sun will destroy

There will be no water to drink
There won’t be enough water for laundry
For blessing, for swimming
Nothing, nothing

(Chris Mourão, Cachaça, Duani)

Você não dançou comigo, Matilde
Isso causou muita mágoa
Eu fico aqui me roendo, quase desfalecendo
E tu não liga pra nada
Sou de família humilde, Matilde
Tu é privilegiada
Nasceu em berço de ouro, boa criação
Toda mimadinha, já veio perfumada

Me lembro a história de
Que naquele dia veio me
Pra não alimentar saudade, que a felicidade com ela não há
E dentro de cada pessoa tanta coisa boa se vê pelo olhar
Quem sabe antes do fim da
Matilde ainda vai me


Não me deu a menor
Se não te peguei pelo pé,
Te pego pelo



You didn’t dance with me, Matilde
And that hurt me
I’m here torturing myself, almost fainting
And you don’t care for anything, Matilde
I come from a poor family
You’re from the privileged class
You were born in a golden cradle
Pampered, always perfumed

I remember Zequinha’s story
Which taught me that day
Not to miss her, because she would never bring me happiness
And that so many good things can be seen in people’s eyes
Who knows? Before this story ends
Matilde will look for me

Oh, Matilde!
You paid me no attention at all
I couldn’t grab your foot
But I’ll get to you through your heart

Menina Mulher da Pele Preta
(Jorge Ben Jor)

Essa menina mulher
Da pele preta
Dos olhos azuis
Do sorriso branco
Não está me deixando dormir
Será que ela não sabe que eu fico acordado?
Pensando nela
Todo dia, toda hora

Passando pela minha janela todo dia toda hora
Sabendo que eu fico a olhar
Com malícia
A sua pele preta
Com malícia . . .

Será que quando
Eu fico acordado
Pensando nela
Ela pensa um pouco em mim? um pouco em mim . . .
Com malícia . . .


Black-skinned Girl

That black-skinned
Blue-eyed girl
With the white smile
Won’t let me sleep
In peace
Doesn’t she know that I wait watchfully
Thinking of her?
Everyday, all the time

She passes by my window everyday, all the time
Knowing that I look at her
With lust
Her black skin
With lust . . .

I wonder if
While I stay up
Thinking of her
She thinks a little about me? a little about me . . .
With lust . . .

Journalist, musician, and educator Bruce Gilman has served as music editor of Brazzil magazine, an international monthly publication based in Los Angeles, for close to a decade. During that time he has written scores of articles on the most influential Brazilian artists and genres, program notes for festivals in the United States and abroad, numerous CD liner notes, and an essay, “The Politics of Samba,” that appeared in the Georgetown Journal.

He is the recipient of three government grants that allowed him to research traditional music in China, India, and Brazil. His articles on Brazilian music have been translated and published in Dutch, German, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. You can reach him through his e-mail:


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