Forgotten Albums: Brazil Classics 3: Forró Etc./Music of the Brazilian Northeast

If the 1980s were in part about bringing African music and rhythms to greater attention in the Western world (Remain in Light and Graceland, of course, but don’t sleep on Johnny Clegg’s work with Juluka and Savuka, or The Indestructible Beat of Soweto), then the early 90s brought Brazil’s turn to the spotlight. Once again, Paul Simon and David Byrne were among those facilitating the effort. Recently I listened to The Rhythm of the Saints for the first time in a good while; I’d forgotten how deeply those songs had seeped into my bones thirty years ago. It took a little longer for the some of the disks in the Byrne-curated Brazil Classics series to find spots in my collection. Two of them–the first (Beleza Tropical) and the third (Forró Etc.: Music of the Brazilian Northeast) in the series–found particular favor with me, the latter especially. The back cover of Forró Etc. notes, “This is party music…from people who’ve been through hard times…” My recent experiences are not remotely comparable, but I’m still in the mood to celebrate the end of a trying academic year, so let’s fire up the accordion and get moving.

Luiz Gonzaga was most responsible for popularizing Northeast Brazilian music to much of his fellow countryfolk. His career began in the early 1940s; he passed away at age 76 in 1989. Gonzaga has three solo credits and a duet among Forró Etc.‘s eighteen tracks. The disk’s opener is the groovy “O Fole Roncou” (“The Bellows Roared”), recorded in 1973.

Gal Costa’s “Festa do Interior” (I think you can translate this yourself, at least approximately) was a big hit in Brazil in the early 1980s, and understandably so.

Jose Domingos, better known as Dominguinhos, was (according to Wikipedia) a protegé of Gonzaga as a teenager, and in many ways was Gonzaga’s successor as the leader of the forró movement. He appears three times on the album (one of those as a duet). You might have already sussed out that “Querubim” means “Cherub.”

Dominguinhos died in the summer of 2013.

“O Sucesso da Zefinha” (“Little Zefa’s Success”), written and performed by Anastácia, is another excellent example of how this music makes you want to jump up and dance.

“Asa Branca” (“White Wing”) was co-written by Gonzaga in 1947 and is recorded here by his son Luiz Jr., under the name Gonzaguinha. The subject matter–extreme heat and drought, according to the translation in the liner notes–doesn’t synch up at all with the joy of the performance. I’ve long held this is my favorite song on the album.

Gonzaguinha was tragically killed in an auto accident at age 45 in 1991, just about the time this compilation was released.

Jackson do Pandeiro was another leading light of the Northeastern movement. “Chiclete com Banana” dates back to 1960; he had also already passed on (July 1982) by the time Byrne was putting together this compilation.

Not much out there about João do Vale, but his song “Estrela Miúda” (“Little Star”) seems to be moderately well-known.

Eleven more delights await if you find you want to seek Brazil Classics 3 out–it’s great stuff, and I certainly enjoy circling back to it with some frequency.

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