Conjunto: Água de Moringa
Recorded in Rio de Janeiro Aug/Sept 1997
Choro – still gaining in popularity
We are in the middle of a delightful period of creativity and growth of a form of Brazilian popular music called the “choro”. We may not realise it, but it is there if you look for it – a movement perhaps comparable to Bossa Nova in Rio in the early 60’s. The mass media have still not picked it up (except in a few sparse radio programs) and there is still not a weight of marketing, or creation of big names. But what we have is an increasing number of groups (young and old) playing choro, and an increasing number of bars finding that it brings in the public. So my recommendation is to enjoy it while it has the charm of innovation, experimentation, and while the outstanding musicians and groups are emerging!
It is a little hard to pin down what is “choro”. It is not a particular rhythm, nor a sort of dance, nor is it a way of singing, because the music is instrumental – but it refers to a group formation which contains essentially wind and plucked string instruments. “Musica de pau e corda” is the old expression. According to professor of Brazilian Culture Luís Fernando Vieira, music by Brazilian instrumental groups began essentially with the coming of the Portuguese court to Brazil in 1808, bringing instruments and European traditions – polkas, waltzes, as well as church music. As time passed, the musicians playing outside the Court (and especially in districts like Gamboa and Saúde) made music for “the people” in tertulias and saraus, mixing in elements of African rhythms and giving it a local colouring. So music which developed into modinhas in the salons, in its popular expression became choro – the name coming either from “choromela” a bamboo flute, or from the wistful “choroso” nature of the music. But then, as now, a key feature is collective improvisation, and the “chorões” are the artists whose ability and knowledge let them conjure attractive, moving music from the group and from the moment as it happens.
By 1900, there were already acknowledged names – Joaquim Calado, Anacleta de Medeiros, Pattápio Silva, Ernesto Nazaré, Chiquinho Gonzaga, Paulo Sacramento…..
By now in 2004, there is a far wider range of musical heritage for the musicians to draw on. In North America, jazz developed from ragtime to bebop – from rhythmic, bluesy marches to the wild flights and dissonances of Charlie Parker. In Brazil, João Gilberto pioneered the subtle rhythm and the complex, modulating harmonies of the Bossa Nova. In today’s choro, one can hear echoes of both, as much in the harmonies as in the phrasing of the soloists when they improvise. Old standards are getting a new treatment. Some groups innovate more than others; and some musicians move back and forwards between choro, MPB, and jazz (depending on where they are playing) and elements of all appear in their music.
“Saracoteando” (strolling) is to me a good, typical representation of what is choro. The group “Agua de Moringa” is six strong – the melody is carried by a clarinet, together with a bandolim and cavaquinho. The bandolim is an 8-string lute-like instrument with a light sound, while the cavaquinho is a 4-string boy guitar, with a more forthright sound. A normal guitar (6-string) supplies harmonies and rhythm, and a 7-string guitar provides both harmony and a bass line, playing little linking passages between the phrases of the melody. The sixth instrument is the pandeiro, providing the essential percussive base. Since the melody is mainly carried by plucked, light stringed instruments, the lines tend to be fast moving, undulating phrases. No room here for long sustained notes of varying intensity! The general impression is of fast fingers, pleasant, friendly melodies, and an unobtrusive sound. Fine to listen to, and also fine if you want to chat to your neighbour!
On this record, we have numbers from some of the best-known composers – Ernesto Nazareth, Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, Radamés Gnattali, Guinga, Guerra-Peixe. The title track Saracoteando, has a fine rhythmic lilt, while Arabiando has an unusual and attractive melody with an echo. Just don’t try and sing it – it’s hard to get it right! Some of the numbers are slower, others more experimental – a good mixture.
Where to go to hear choro
So although this is a very attractive disk, I really couldn’t say how it stands in the context of choro as it is today. There are so many groups and places to hear them (and so many unusual and original names!) So the thing to do is to get out there and hear for yourself! Here’s a partial list of groups in Rio: Trio Madeira Brasil, Rabo de Lagartixa, Água de Moringa, Nó em Pingo Dágua, Sururu na Roda, Arcos do Choro, Sacode o Evaristo, Abraçando Jacaré, Tira Poeira……
Many of the bars to hear choro are in Lapa, which really bubbles with nightlife. I don’t think one should be too worried about going there – go by taxi and dress modestly. There is an endearing facet to these bars: since the music is not yet big time (for mass audiences), most of them are not expensive, there is an evident camaraderie among the musicians (the composition of a group may change several times in the evening) and the audience love it. In the Rua Mem de Sá, you can find Carioca de Gema and Sacrilégio, while in the Rua de Lavradio there are many options, including Rio Scenarium and other old antiquariums. My favourite, though, is the Centro Cultural Carioca, (near the Teatro João Caetano) for its friendly atmosphere. In all of them, you have to pick the night when there is choro – it’s not all the time.
If you want to buy Saracoteando, go to http://www.samba-choro.com.br/. This site also brings news of shows, and you can sign up to receive free Emails twice-weekly to be advised of who is playing where. Another good site is http://www.kuarup.com.br/ .
In choro, both musicians and audience are recapturing past traditions. For me, choro presents some particularly endearing qualities that are very Brazilian – really skilled players, a gentle friendly atmosphere, spur-of-the-moment improvisation, and emotional engagement. Listen to this quote from Daniel Brazil (on http://www.sociedadedochoro.com.br/) “The choro is the best school for forming good instrumentalists, and it is an inseparable part of our national identity. To play it is to love Brazil, our richest tradition, our musical character…..”