Forro: A Brazilian Take On The Music Of Europe

Quarteto Olinda

Quarteto Olinda is a popular forro collective from the Brazilian city that bears its name. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Brazil has a reputation for its music. Just mentioning the country’s name can evoke images of samba bands and glittering dancers at Carnaval, or the swaying beat of "The Girl From Ipanema." But Brazil is home to plenty of other styles and genres, including forro, a musical amalgam that's been compared to zydeco, the Texas Two-Step and even mazurka.

Claudio Rabeca, of the band Quarteto Olinda, says fans love forro because it makes them get up and move.

"Dancing calls out to people," Rabeca says. "It brings people together."

Forro can be hard to precisely define, though.  Thought to have originated sometime around the turn of the century, it involves instruments and techniques brought from Europe centuries ago, and a lot of local innovation.  Carlos Sandroni, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Pernambuco, explains that the region has a long history as a mixing bowl of musical styles; forro is likely a product of that.

"You had polka, waltz, mazurka," Sandroni says. "Mazurkas came in the 19th century as rock, and hip-hop came in the 20th century."

Deeply rooted in dance aesthetics, forro became a genre thanks largely to peasant turned popular musician Luiz Gonzaga.  With his rural sensibility, musical skill and poetic lyrics, Gonzaga helped make forro popular, particularly among people from the countryside. His songs addressed everything from love to drought.

Today, forro is still popular in the city of Olinda. Where the genre will be in another century, though, is anyone's guess.

Quarteto Olinda Performs 'Upa Neguinho' (below)

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