Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Cavaquinho country

As I wrote in yeterday's posting, the cavaquinho is the Portuguese ancestor of the ukulele, now used widely in Brazil both in samba and in choro music. The first time I became aware of it was on a great Chico Buarque song called 'Vai Passar' that came out in 1984 when Brazil was still in the grip of a military dictatorship. Buarque, like many other MPB artists of the time was an ardent critic of the regime and his lyrics were full of irony and satirical imagery, the understanding of such things not being the strong suit of most military dictators. However, the vast majority of the public new exactly what he was talking about and the song was a massive hit. Here's a translation of some of the lyrics to give you some idea ('Vai Passar'= 'On its way', also sometimes translated as 'It will pass') It starts -

On its way

A samba's coming down the street

All the cobblestones of the old city tonight will be shivering

Remembering that immortal sambas passed by here

That here they bled about our feet, that our ancestors danced here...

and concludes -

...Oh, what a good life, olerê

Oh what a good life, olarâ

The banner of the lunatic assylum

On its way

The superficial jollity of the performance is all that non-Portuguese speakers hear at first, but as soon as one has an idea of the subject matter the whole thing takes on a glorious feeling of potential liberation. and it is that wonderful, driving cavaquinho that kick-starts this song and propels it on its way. Vai passar!

I soon discovered that the cavaquinho was also capable of expressing a great sense of yearning, of heart-felt emotion, a feeling that runs particularly through the musical form known as 'choro' (see yesterday's posting). My first introduction to this was an album called'Desde que o Choro é Choro...' (Since choro was choro - a play on the title of a famous Caetano Veloso song 'Desde que o Samba é Samba) by Henrique Cazes & Família Violão, which came out in 1995 on the Rio de Janeiro based Kuarup label. I could find no performance clip of the group but here is their leader playing his own composition, Study no.1 for Cavaquinho.

I was lucky enough to go to a choro club in Sao Paulo last year. It was an informal meeting of choro enthusiasts who varied in age between about 15 and 75. The common interest is choro music and there was an ever-changing line up of performers, which included at least five cavaquinho players, most of whom also doubled on 'bandolim', which is the Brazilian mandolin and also features heavily in choro music. Alas I have no record of this experience other than my memory of it, but events like this are not at all uncommon all over Brazil. I managed to find this clip of such a gathering on YouTube, which gives you a rough idea of this kind of event, although in the case of the one I attended there was a little less background noise. Here, a bunch of friends are playing for their own amusement in a bar. The tune is 'Apanhei-te Cavaquinho' (You took the Cavaquinho) by another great choro composer, Ernesto Nazareth.

On our first visit to Brazil in 1994 I first met with 'Woody' (see my blog links), who has been one of my best friends ever since. Although his principal interest is in Rock and Blues and mine is primarily Brazilian music we got on extremely well because he knew a huge amount about my subject, I knew a fair bit about his and we both shared a passion for jazz. When we left Brazil the first time, Woody had made a number of cassette tapes for Mrs Voltarol and me, of stuff that we might not know about. Amongst these tapes was an album by a group called Novos Baianos (The New Bahians), entitled 'Acabou Chorare' (No More Crying), which was "a groundbreaking mix of rock, samba, frevo and choro that would influence performers, songwriters and bands in the years to come" (All Brazilian Music). This intriguing bunch of Brazilian hippies freely mixed psychedelic rock with traditional music such as samba and choro and electric guitars and basses with cavaquinhos and violão (nylon string guitar). The net result was in fact typically Brazilian, in that the pigeon holes were ignored and the result was just great music. Probably the most popular track on the album was 'Preta Pretinha' (for which their is no literal translation), but it's all great stuff and well worth looking out for. It was reissued on CD in 2000.
As I said earlier, the Bandolim also features heavily in choro music, afact that was to grab the attention of quite a few North American musicians who were playing in the bluegrass and new acoustic music scene, resulting in several collaborations between players from the two genres. I'll be looking at this from the perspective of the different instruments over the next few weeks, starting tomorrow with the mandolin.