Like many other Latin Americans, I grew up in a home where a party - let’s say a birthday party, for example - consisted of family and friends coming to our home where 30 or more people gathered to have churrasco (Brazilian barbeque), drink “stupidly cold” beer (adults) or guaraná (a kind of fruity soda for the children), converse, gossip and very often, sing. At the end of the meal, someone would bring out a guitar and we would get my father’s percussion instruments out of the closet (berinbau, cuica, surdo and pandeiro) and the singing would start. The guitar would change hands as the initial player needed a break, a new glass of beer or because someone else “remembered that other song”. Music permeated our lives mostly due to my father’s love of singing, but it felt natural because singing was also part of the lives of other families around us. It didn’t mean people aspired to have a professional career, it was just something people enjoyed doing, like people here enjoy watching a football game after a meal. I never thought anything about it until I came to the US and realized that parties here not only had a finish time (never heard of that in Brazil!) but it also did not automatically include singing.
Gina, in her article this month, mentions that one of her favorite movies is Bohemian Rhapsody. It is also one of my favorites and I really enjoyed watching a sing along version at the theater. In the film, based on real life, Freddy Mercury, the leader of the band Queen, is astounded when at a concert in Rio de Janeiro, he realizes that the Brazilian public not only knows all their songs but they are also singing along with him. It might have been a surprise for him and his group, but it does not come as a surprise to any Brazilian. I give you two examples here:
Emílio Santiago, in concert, singing “Eu sei que vou te amar" (I know I will [continue to] love you), by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes.
Yamandú Costa, in concert, playing “Carinhoso” (Affectionate), by Pixinguinha and João de Barros, on his acoustic guitar.
The guitar and all string instruments are very much valued in Brazilian music because they are so easily transported. Remember what I wrote about the parties at my parents home? Chorinho (‘a little cry’ or a ‘little lament’) is a style or genre of music that was developed in the 19th century and is still played today with a band of easily transported instruments - guitar, cavaquinho and flute, for example.
In this article I will try to restrain myself to chorinho because Brazilian music history is vast and I couldn't possibly give an overview of all the styles or genres in these pages. Chorinho is also, as I mentioned before, an older style of music (19th century). My father is not that old, but he enjoys singing old style songs and therefore, those songs remind me of the times my father would sit around with his friends to make some music.
Here is an example of a group of chorinho starting with one of the best known chorinho songs, “Brasileirinho” (The Small Brazilian) and then continuing to “Vê Se Gostas” (See if You Like), both songs by Valdir Azevedo. In this video, young musicians get together to play at a cafe. Camila Silva is the young woman playing the cavaquinho. Observe a man (I’m guessing just a customer of the cafe) get comfortable to hear the group play while sipping his coffee and the excellent percussion timing of the young woman with the pandeiro.
Here is a very well known and old song, “Noite de Lua” (Night of the Moon), by composer Dilermando Reis whose songs bridge waltz and chorinho. This video shows an acoustic version for two guitars.
“Tico Tico no Fubá”, another very well known chorinho tune, was composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917. The song itself might not be considered a love song but this musician duo makes playing it a labor of love. This is a tune played on an acoustic guitar with four hands.
In “Meu Caro Amigo” (My Dear Friend), composer Chico Buarque de Holanda wrote a song in which the lyrics convey his attempt to communicate with his friend during the military dictatorship of the 60’s and 70’s (I remember having read that he wrote the song thinking of his friend Francis Hime, the musician playing the piano).
And finally, because the world now is connected by social media and unknown people can come to the attention of multitudes around the world, I’m offering this video. I don’t know these people but this video was posted very close to the birthday of the owner of the youtube channel. In it, her sister and her cousin sing and play “Nunca” (Never) by Lupicínio Rodrigues at the kitchen table. Observe that the lady singing is reading the lyrics off her phone. They are not professional musicians, just normal Brazilians enjoying a bit of music. It is natural for Brazilians to enjoy and make music and that is why I believe Brazilians have music running through their veins and are the most melodious people in the world!