Choro Ensemble: Brazil Before Bossa When radio came to Rio de Janeiro, the city's native choro became Brazil's national music. Though it's now shadowed by newer styles, a small contingent of dedicated musicians has been resurrecting choro in New York. Hear an interview and live performance.

Choro Ensemble: Brazil Before Bossa

Choro Ensemble in Studio at WNYC - 03/11/2008

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Just the Music

Noites Cariocas

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Choro Ensemble are:

Anat Cohen, clarinet

Pedro Ramos, cavaquinho/tenor guitar

Ze Mauricio, pandeiro

Carlos Almeida, 7-string guitar

Gustavo Dantas, 6-string guitar

The Choro Ensemble performs weekly at the Zinc Bar in New York's Greenwich Village. Christopher McLallen hide caption

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Christopher McLallen

Before bossa nova and samba, Brazilian music was choro.

Born in 19th-century Rio de Janeiro, choro started when polkas and waltzes mixed with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Beginning in the early part of this decade, it has been heard weekly in New York — thanks to a group called the Choro Ensemble.

Cavaquinho player Pedro Ramos and clarinetist Anat Cohen, two of the earliest members of what would become the Choro Ensemble, join guest host David Cruz for an interview and live performance with the whole group.

Though choro is not as well known as other Brazilian musical exports, those other styles have their roots in choro.

"We used to call choro the grandfather of bossa nova, the father of samba," Ramos says. "And there's a reason why choro is so important, because choro became the national music of Brazil, and this arrived with the radio phenomenon in Brazil."

Ramos refers to 1930s Rio de Janeiro, which was home to the first (and for some time, only) radio station in Brazil. Choro was native to Rio, so choro records and studio performances were aired throughout the nation. "Brazil is a whole universe of music and rhythms, but choro is a common ground between states," Ramos says.

Ramos and three of the band's other musicians are native to Brazil. But when the Israeli saxophone and clarinet player Anat Cohen came to New York, she started playing with Ramos, eventually helping form the Choro Ensemble. She says that choro has some similarities to early jazz — constant improvisation, active countermelodies — but that learning it has posed unique challenges.

"And I think as a jazz musician, this music has a lot of challenges to understand the style, like any style inside the American art form called jazz," Cohen says. "If you want to learn how to play New Orleans music, or swing, or bebop, you have to dedicate yourself to learn a style. And the language of choro is the same thing — it's a language, with a specific accent, and I was very intrigued by it, and wanted to learn it."

Like jazz, choro has evolved significantly over time, according to Ramos. The Choro Ensemble employs traditional, 50's-style instrumentation, and their latest album, Nosso Tempo, features both original and historical compositions.