THE COMMON THREAD OF BRAZILIAN CULTURE
In Brazil, there is nothing as pervasive and inescapable as guitar music, Carnaval and soccer. Practically everybody plays soccer, shows up for Carnaval celebrations, and plays the guitar. And mind you, those who don't, surely enjoy watching.
Until industrialization arrived in Brazil with the Vargas Era, most people could not even think of, say, buying a tennis racquet, a piano and much less a well tailored dress to attend a formal party. But anybody could make a ball out of old socks and kick it around in alleys (believe it or not, that was how Pelé learned to play soccer), anybody could party on the streets, and anybody could buy a second hand guitar. As time went by people took ownership of those things, thus making them part of their daily lives.
Nowadays these habits are deeply ingrained in our culture and share fundamental environmental factors in the way they developed to become part of the social fabric. In all three cases the basic variables came from abroad and Brazilians formulated unique equations with them. We did not invent soccer. The English did, but we are the champions... So sorry. We did not start with either rituals or percussion ensembles. The Africans did, but only the cultural melange resulting in the Afro-Brazilian could turn those things into the festivity called Carnaval. Finally, we did not invent the guitar, the Moors introduced its ancestors to Europe first. The guitar repertoire produced in Brazil, however, is second to none.
The manner of maturing, perhaps even transforming these primary elements was achieved by continually incorporating local "blood" and attributes in them, which were already present in people's basic nature. For those who have witnessed either Brazilian soccer or Carnaval, it is transparent that the swing, flexibility and the surprise element are manifestations of that basic nature.
N.E.: In the 1920's, writer Mario de Andrade coined the term Cultural Antropophagy to metaphorically describe the process by which cultural influences are assimilated, digested, and regurgitated as a new and unmistakenly Brazilian cultural product. The same concept was seminal in Tropicalismo, a movement initiated in the 1960's in music (e.g. Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso) and the arts (e.g. Helio Oiticica).
The samba, choro, frevo, pagode and baião are only a few of the many styles of popular music heard across Brazil. In each instance a distinct swing can be noticed, projecting a smooth, surprisingly elastic yet rhythmically irregular flow. I call it the syncopated flux. It is the same flux that fooled Pelé's opponents and continues to enchant spectators of Carnaval in Rio every year. It is that attitude that makes Brazilian music, and the use of the country's "national instrument", distinctive.
The story goes that long ago an English gentleman was visiting the Northeast region of Brazil and, upon noticing a vast group of people singing and dancing in the streets, he asked:
'My goodness, what are all these people doing?'
'They are partying, Sir,' answered the guide.
'What do you mean? They are having a party just like that, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, for all to attend?'
'You see, Sir, this is the way they party here. Anybody can join in anytime. As you noticed, this is a party for all'.
The gentleman was impressed with the absolute informality of the party for all, and went on to inquire more about it during his trip. This for all sort of party sounded very intriguing to him, who was so exclusive in his own habits, particularly when choosing parties to attend and parties to avoid! Oh yes, a true gentleman understood he had to know those things. What he did not know, however, was that he had just created a label that would last for over a century! To this day, the term Forró is used to identify parties where the music and dance come from Northeastern Brazil. The term itself has no meaning, except the phonetic translation of what the gentleman called for all.
I love this story because it illustrates the context upon which cultural evolution actually happens. It is the blending, the consistent interaction, the "soup" made of human energy on all levels that creates new cultures and new ways of doing old things. The freshness of our guitar repertoire is but one result of this fusion. Probably in the same category is the style of play we created for the game brought by Charles Miller from England.
For many years the most frequent follow-up to a friendly soccer match has been getting together and making some music in a neighborhood café. Then, one of the soccer players will turn into the guitar player, matchboxes and bottles will turn into a percussion ensemble and everybody around will either sing along or dance for the rest of the night. See the interdependency now?
© Ricardo Peres, 1997-
The reproduction of this document, partially or in its totality, is prohibited without previous permission by the author.