Brazilian Popular Music

The Roots of Brazilian Music - Part II - From the eighteenth century "música de barbeiros" (barber music) to the choro.

Choro - A Brazilian classic!

Anyone who studies Portuguese will sooner or later come across the word "choro," which means "weeping" or "crying." But how many people out there know that "choro" is also a musical form? (Actually, some experts say that the name is meant to suggest the impression of melancholy of certain guitar modulations.) To read more about the origins of choro -- if you read Portuguese -- we recommend you get yourself a copy of Henrique Cazes' Choro: Do Quintal ao Municipal. Dirty Linen has a thorough examination of the genre online. Check out our Choro page for CD suggestions.

Primarily instrumental, characterized in part by improvisation and virtuosity, with one or more soloists, it originated in Rio de Janeiro in the 1870's. It was initially a Brazilian way of playing European dance music, waltzes, polkas, etc. Traditional instrumental groups consisting of two guitars and cavaquinho - called "música de barbeiros", because the slaves who played in them were also trained as barbers - had existed since the middle of the 18th century. To those were later added the flute, clarinet and bandolim.

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Photos: Bruno Rian, bandolim, and his dad, Déo Rian, with the late Dino 7 Cordas.

Hundreds of choro groups (called "chorões") would spend the night playing for food and drink, in private homes or botequins (described by someone as Rio's answer to the French bistro). The young Villa-Lobos - having a very strict father - used to escape through the window to join these musicians in the streets of Rio... He would later compose a series of 14 Choros and call the form "the essence of the Brazilian musical soul."

The first generation of chorões includes the flutists and composers Joaquim Antonio da Silva Calado Júnior - author of the beautiful "Flor Amorosa" (Amorous Flower) - and Viriato Figueira da Silva. The pianist Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935), the greatest female composer of Brazilian popular music, wrote several choros ("Atraente", "Corta-Jaca") which are still included in the chorões repertory. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Chiquinha's birth, pianist Antonio Adolfo released a "jazzy" CD of her compositions called Chiquinha com Jazz

Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) left more than 220 compositions, including the classics "Apanhei-te Cavaquinho" and "Odeon" (named after the cinema where he played the piano). Villa-Lobos at the time was a cellist in the orchestra at the Odeon and was apparently influenced by Nazareth's improvisational style. Other famous composers of this time are Zequinha de Abreu, author of "Tico-Tico no Fubá" (remember Carmen Miranda singing this song in the film Copacabana?), and João Pernambuco who wrote "Brasileirinho."

Who is considered the greatest choro musician of all time? Perhaps the flutist and saxophonist Pixinguinha (1897-1973), born Alfredo da Rocha Viana Júnior. He is also the composer of the unforgettable "Carinhoso" and other masterpieces - Ingênuo, Lamentos, Um a Zero (1 x 0), etc. Pixinguinha and his group "Os Oito Batutas" were the first to incorporate percussion instruments to choro and the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) is still the rhythm base in traditional choro.

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Photos from top left: Rabo de Lagartixa, Daniela Spielmann on sax, the singer/flutist Eliane Salek, and master Jorginho do Pandeiro (blue shirt).

Chorões of a later generation (1940's) are the bandolim virtuoso Jacob do Bandolim, author of "Noites Cariocas" and leader of the famous "Época de Ouro" (Golden Era), flutists Benedito Lacerda and Altamiro Carrilho, saxophonist Abel Ferreira and the great master of cavaquinho, Valdir Azevedo. 

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Photos: The late and much-missed Dino 7 Cordas and Cesar Faria, and Época de Ouro.

The late 60's and the 70's saw a revival of the choro - expanding from the jam sessions at the popular Sovaco de Cobra botequim in the suburb of Penha in Rio - with a new generation of musicians and composers: Paulinho da Viola, Déo Rian (who led the group Época de Ouro after Jacob do Bandolim died in 1969), Joel do Nascimento, Paulo Moura - even though he started much earlier, this is when he became really famous - and Henrique Cazes belong to this time. In 1987 and 1988 some of these chorões, along with old master Altamiro Carrilho, recreated the choro "rodas" or jam sessions from suburban Rio on the stage of its Municipal Theater. The resulting CD, appropriately called "Noites Cariocas" (Rio Nights) is a beautiful introduction to this fascinating musical genre.

chorinhonafeira.jpg (321460 bytes)In April of 1997, Brazil celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pixinguinha's birth. We're happy to report that choro is booming again, with a new generation of musicians and legions of fans of all ages. Places to listen to choros in Rio (like this "chorinho na feira" at a street market in Laranjeiras every Saturday...you can buy your fruits and vegetables and listen to a great, free concert...where else in the world?) are listed in our Little Black Book. In Brasília, don't miss the Clube do Choro and the Escola de Choro Raphael Rabello! Women musicians aren't as numerous as guys, but female choro practitioners of all ages are heard at rodas de choro everywhere; some are pictured here: Eliane Salek (flute), Daniela Spielmann (saxophones), and Luciana Rabello (cavaquinho). Another well-known flutist is Odette Ernest Dias; Nilze Carvalho (from the group Sururu na Roda) is a singer and cavaquinho player; Mariana Bernardes and Ana Rabello play cavaquinho; and Sheila Zagury and Maria Teresa Madeira are celebrated pianists.

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Photos: Choro at Cobal do Humaitá. Alas, not happening any longer. Those were the days, my friends!!

escolademusica4.jpg (320266 bytes) If you find yourself spending more time in Rio, you may want to consider taking classes from masters Luciana Rabello, Mauricio Carrilho, and others, at their Escola Portátil de Música, every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Unirio (Urca). We witnessed some 120 musicians of both sexes, all ages and races, playing together under three huge mango trees, during their lunch break (noon)...It was one of the most beautiful sights of my entire life!

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Photos: Dino 7 Cordas and Ronaldo do Bandolim; Alessandro Valente on cavaquinho.

Every year on April 23rd, Dia Nacional do Choro, there are shows and celebrations all over Brazil...especially in Rio; it's a great time to visit the city!

To find out more about choro and see some of these wonderful musicians perform, get yourself a copy of the DVD "The Sound of Rio: Brasileirinho," available from Milan Records.

This page continues on Music Roots 3 - A Brief History of Carnaval and Its Music

One way to keep up with what's going on is at  Agenda do Samba e Choro (in Portuguese).

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