Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hello forrozeiros! 

I haven't posted for a long while, but I have received a few responses to my blog and just wanted to say hello to all the people interested in forro'. I hope to be doing some more research in the near future and would welcome any questions, comments, critiques, etc. 

Thanks for coming to my blog and hope you enjoy.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This is my thesis on for my MSc in Anthropology that I received from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam in September 2006. I will soon post a link to another site where the entire thesis will be located along with photos taken during the fieldwork. The fieldwork for this thesis was completed during the months of January, February, and March in 2006 in and around Recife and Olinda in Pernambuco state, Brazil. I thank all of those who helped me with my research and generously gave of their time and energy so that I could research and write this work.

Kevin Cassidy

Forró: Constructing Identity in the Brazilian Northeast through Notions of “Tradition”

Table of Contents

I. Introduction pg. 4

II. Theoretical Framework pg. 14

III. Background on Forró – The Invention and Construction of a Northeast Tradition pg. 21

IV. Luiz Gonzaga: The Myth of the Modern Migrant pg. 25

V. The Research Scene pg. 32

VI. “Reemergence of Forró in Brazil pg. 41

VII. In the “Field”: A Night at a Forró in Dois Unidos pg. 46

VIII. Forró: Shifting Perceptions and Meanings of a Northeastern Music

pg. 51

IX. Truth, Blood, and Roots: Authenticity and Tradition in Discourses on Forró and Identity pg. 58

X. Conclusions pg. 67

XI. Bibliography pg. 71

Appendix I. pg. 75

Appendix II. pg. 76

Appendix III. pg. 78

I. Introduction

Upon first encountering Brazil one is bombarded with a sense of contradictory images that seemingly present the paradox of a country with deep dichotomies and fantastic mixture: Incredible biodiversity with devastating environmental damage, ostentatious riches contrasting with absolute poverty, cosmopolitan cities with huge populations and sparsely populated hinterlands which are widely considered the reservoir of tradition. Its geography, regional contrasts, and populations are enormously varied and its fabled mixture of African, Amerindian and European peoples has produced a country whose image and identity are steeped in notions of racial and cultural mixture (miscigenação) both within and outside of the country. The more one explores the different regions and spends time in the country the more the query comes to mind that David Hess and Roberto DaMatta term the “Brazilian Puzzle,” in which they seek to address the simply worded but empirically complicated question; “What is this country?” (Hess and DaMatta 1995: 2).

In fact, in Brazil the geographical, social, and economic differences have led many observers to pluralize the country and speak of two “Brazils”.[1] One of the key ways in which difference has been marked is through ideas of a “traditional” Brazil located primarily among the lower classes living in the Northeast and a “modern” Brazil in the capitals of the South(east) . Here I would like to examine these discourses as they are played out in and through a music that has been heavily linked to the Northeast, the lower classes, and certain ideas of “tradition”. This genre, known as forró, has reemerged in recent years, shifting in how it is perceived and given new meanings. This research is a study of a music, along with the region it is located, that is constructed as embodying “traditional” aspects and qualities of Brazil. In this work I would like to follow the argument of Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, who has “…changed the terms of the debate by rejecting a model of “two Brazils,” in which a traditional culture located in the lower classes of the cities and in the rural hinterlands is opposed to a modern Brazil in the upper classes and the big cities” (Hess and DaMatta 1995:8). In this examination I seek to elucidate some of the varying ways in which forró is used to construct identities and the dialogues that surround these identities in order to shed some light on what DaMatta and Hess refer to as “The Brazilian Puzzle”, or the “…mixture of Western and non-Western, as well as modern and traditional…” that make up contemporary Brazil (Hess and DaMatta 1995: 2). Through an examination of forró production and consumption, I seek to reject a vision of Brazil as dichotomized by borders between “modern” and “traditional”, experiencing modernity through a renunciation of the past, and instead propose that contemporary identities are forming by varying means (and in Brazil, music being a key means) that actively seek a modernity that allows space for knowledge and expressions that are often referred to as “traditional” through their connections to the past. Forró, a music with its imagined roots in the Northeast of the country, exemplifies and is participating in processes by which these identities are constructed.

This thesis additionally argues that these processes of identity construction can be seen as movements towards identity security and I will look at several of their main components. By examining forró I hope to illuminate discourses surrounding “modern” and “traditional”, and how this ties in with aspects of class and emancipation, myth building around migration, and authenticity and appropriation. These discourses, expressed in various ways are used by social actors towards construction of identity and security of cultural practices, ideas, and representations. Identity in this examination means a sense of who is and place in the world; where the boundaries are set that form belonging to a group and exclusion between “us” and “them.” I seek to connect this identity building with both a move towards existential security in some respects and contributing to national ideas of two differing regions in others. Security in this rendering is achieved through maintaining a strong identity that employs connections to the past amid a fast changing contemporary environment. The quest to achieve financial security is part of this picture, but there is also at play a search for identity security through production and consumption of forró that are expressed in varying conceptions of “modern” and “traditional”. Migration to the capitals is sought to achieve desired benefits of modernity such as access to jobs and opportunities to produce and consume a broader variety of material products, information and meanings. The mythic figure of Luiz Gonzaga, born in the Northeast sertão (the arid, drought prone interior region of the Northeast), is held as a powerful model, having achieved through migration to the South enormous national respect and success with his interpretation and invention of new music genres. Relying heavily on ideas of tradition in order to construct a modernity that celebrated a folkloric past tied to the Northeast, he has had enormous effect on building new visions of modernity in which it was possible to achieve status and power not through a renunciation of “roots” (raizes), but through elaborating a mixture that emphasized certain elements of the “modern” and of the “traditional”.

These discourses came up time and time again in discourses surrounding Northeast identity and forró with the words “tradition”, “roots”, “blood”, “earth”, and “truth,” contrasting and intermixing with “modern”, “commercial”, “product”, and “fake” in many of the interviews and during my fieldwork. Through these interviews and informal conversations, as well as participating and observing at various forró performances and events I came to better understand how social actors formed and secured their identities through this music. In addition to discussing my contacts’ personal experiences with forró performance and consumption, I focused inquiries on reasons for migrating (many had moved from the interior), perceptions of the Northeast, class issues, and the concepts of “traditional” and “modern”. I interviewed mostly musicians, but also fans of the music, producers, and two radio show hosts that varied in age from seventeen to their late sixties. Because a majority of the forró musicians are men, they also represented the majority of my respondents, but I did have several lengthy and informative interviews with women musicians, fans, and supporters.

Searching for literature on forró I discovered a paucity of material and what was written was usually included as part of a chapter on Northeastern music in general.[2] There has also been relatively little in-depth exploration of forró in more popular sources, appearing often only incidentally in texts on Brazilian popular musics. With its widespread popularity this stood out as a wealth of information can be found on a variety of other Brazilian music related to identity, class, gender, and race. Forró, being strongly associated with the Northeast of the country, has likely contributed to its being perceived as something of the lower classes or “music for maids and taxi drivers”.[3] In the documentary film “Viva São João” (“Long Live St. John”), about the Northeastern June festival season, Sivuca, one of Brazil’s most famous accordionists remarks that even saying the word “forró” was considered taboo for a time due to its associations to poverty and disorder. The Northeast of Brazil has been (and to some extent still is) considered a “backward” or “problematic” region by dominant discourse coming from the South and forró’s strong association with the region and its people undoubtedly caused its marginalization (Fernandes 2005: 6).

After being largely unknown outside of the rural Northeast, during the late 1940’s forró burst onto the national scene with the success of Luiz Gonzaga and forró artists featured prominently on the radio until the national media spotlight shifted in the early 1960’s to the jovem guarda (Young Vanguard) movement which increasingly embraced foreign elements such as the electric guitar and the Beatles sound, and bossa nova which infused stylistic and attitudinal elements of jazz to samba. Although from time to time an individual artist or artists would achieve a temporary breakthrough on the charts, forró increasingly took a back seat on the national scene although remaining popular among the lower classes in the Northeast and in communities of Northeastern migrants in the Southeast[4]. Over the past ten to fifteen years though it has steadily recaptured the attention of Brazil at large, becoming vastly popular among a range of social classes and broadly broken down into two main categories that are labeled “forró pé de serra” (hill’s foot forró) and “forró moderno” (modern forró)[5] which incorporates keyboards, rock beats, and slick stage and marketing production. Forró moderno is derided by many in the “traditional” pé de serra camp who consider it a purely commercial endeavor more concerned with profits through mass marketing than with a connection to “roots,” and thus not a valid cultural expression, while others have given it credit for drawing attention to the “real” forró.

My research focused mainly on producers and consumers of forró pé de serra, and the dialogues surrounding the music and how it related to their lives and more broadly their feelings about social class and creating an “authentic” cultural space. I was interested in the formations of different types of boundaries between social classes, regions, and the spaces between “authentic” and “fake”. The distinctions and borders are not always so sharp and there is some overlap and movements between the two musics. “Modern forró” has achieved substantial commercial success throughout Brazil with bands playing sports stadiums and appearing frequently on national television. My informants asserted that pé de serra forró has seen a steady rise in production and consumption over the past decade or so, but it is openly acknowledged that in terms of financial and mass success it falls behind “modern forró”.

Forró in general has seemed to gain the Brazilian public’s attention in different ways recently and has been garnering more space in the media spotlight as well. The current Minister of Culture, international music star Gilberto Gil, named forró as being the most important music in Brazil after samba[6] and has recorded several recent forró albums including the popular soundtrack from the film Eu, tu, e eles (You, Me and Them). He was recently shown on the Brazilian national evening news playing the forró hit from the album, Esperando na janela (Waiting in the Window) at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to a crowd of non-dancing business leaders as evidence of Brazil’s “cultural capital”.[7]

The rise in exposure is particularly intriguing in its cutting across socio-economic, generational, and geographical boundaries. Production and consumption of the music appears to be changing its appeal and association with specific social classes from a few years past when this music was held as emblematic of a poor Northeasterner identity, and has shifted to a popularity among the middle and upper classes. Adriana Fernandes, a Brazilian ethnomusicologist, in her recent doctoral dissertation discusses how in Recife and São Paulo forró has been given new meanings and form as it is constructed by lower, middle, and upper class to serve a different ends and purposes (Fernandes 2005). My research seeks to build on some of her arguments to demonstrate how these meanings relate to the construction of different forms of identity and security by using ideas of authenticity and tradition. Just as samba’s rise to popularity had links with processes of forming a national identity, I feel that forró’s reemergence as a popular music and dance expression and changes in perceptions surrounding it can shed light on how Brazilian identities are being constructed in the post-millennial years.

Other scholars have discussed the re-emergence of “traditional” musical styles in Brazil that contribute to a sense of regional identity as they intermix with, reinterpret and resist global influences (Galinsky 2002, Murphy 2001). Phillip Galinsky notes in his study of the mangue (beat or bit) musical movement originating in Recife, Pernambuco state, there has been a corresponding increase in regional pride, aided by and promoting a renewed appreciation of local musical forms (Galinsky 2002: 24-25). The mangue (beat) movement sought to combine elements of “traditional” musics and rhythms of the Northeast with other sounds and styles picked up from sources around the globe by way of the new global communications technology that allowed for more diverse networks of information sharing. It was started in Recife in the early 1990’s by a group of young musicians including Chico Science and Fred Zero Quatro who used the symbol of an satellite antennae in the mud (Recife rests on coastal mangrove marshland) and the motto “crabs with brains” in an attempt to revitalize local music and cultural manifestations to order to help relieve “…a chronic depression that paralyzes the local citizens”.[8] This mention of a “chronic depression” called attention to economic dimensions as well as a lack of space and recognition of artistic contributions made by Pernambucans. Many informants in my research gave credit to the mangue movement for helping to open space for local music and encourage a new generation to “value their roots”. John Murphy, an ethnomusicologist who has done extensive work on Northeastern music has similarly noted connections between regional pride, identity, and valorization of music forms considered “local”. The correlation is stressed in a quote he takes from a correspondence with Siba, a founding member of Mestre Ambrósio, a band from Recife associated with mangue movement that has attained considerable national fame with their new interpretations of forró and other Northeastern music:

“In Brazil – a country on the verge of completing its 500th year of existence, which took shape amid the intense blending of diverse races and peoples and where a huge bombardment of foreign cultural references coexists with basic problems of income distribution and education – the question of self-discovery can acquire dramatic twists and nuances. It implies a process of recognition, acceptance, and valorization of such basic things as one’s physical aspect, way of speaking, dressing, walking, dancing, singing, playing music and self-expression in general. Culture and the ways it manifests itself therefore assume a fundamental role as a source of references for the search for identity. Brazil in the 1990’s is still waking slowly from 20 years of military dictatorship (1964-1985), and it seeks its self-image in the mirror it has begun to value [its] music more highly (1998)” (Murphy 2001: 250).

In this paper I maintain that forró music and dance should be looked at in both a historical and anthropological sense in order to better understand how Northeastern identity is constructed, negotiated, and maintained in a way which both negates and contributes to ideas of an essentialist dichotomy between regions. That there exists great variation and discrepancies cannot be refuted, but in this analysis identity formation is an active process that does not merely reflect differences; through effects on the collective imagination, it participates in the creation of them. I seek to provide an understanding of aspects of Northeastern and Brazilian identities in relation to a popular and largely unexamined music that has returned to be well received by a variety of social groups in spite of (or because of) its Northeastern “roots”. Thus, the main research question that I seek to address in this study is: Why has forró reemerged as a popular musical form in Brazil and what does it have to say about how Northeastern and Brazilian identities are constructed?

In order to arrive at an understanding of how and why this may be happening and in what ways it relates to identity and security I will break down this main question into a series of sub-questions.

  • Why look towards music in an identity study and specifically in this context?
  • What is forró and what is its significance in terms of identity in Brazil?
  • What is its significance and connections to Northeastern identity?
  • What does its “re-emergence” consist of and why is it happening?
  • How is forró tied together with notions of a Brazil divided between a “modern” region in the South(east) and a “traditional” region of the Northeast?
  • In what ways is “authenticity” used in forró to legitimate certain ideas of “tradition” and set boundaries?

There have been a number of recent studies on the revival of “traditional” forms of music in the Northeast of Brazil (Fernandes 2005, Galinsky 2002, Murphy 2001). It will be important to consider forró along with other contemporary music and expressions that have been conceived of in similar ways in that they are often labeled as “traditional” or “regional” or imbued with such aspects: How and why are they constructed of in these ways and in what ways are they being revived? I would also like to elucidate how such a rise in popularity is happening and what this consists of. By this, I mean an exploration of social and other (economic, political, ideological, etc.) factors involved in such a rise and how they are evidenced. I believe it will also be critical to examine the relationship between political and economic hierarchies and the agency of the musicians and fans of forró. I seek to elucidate how individual choices of the actors involved intersect with larger ideologies, discourses and power arrangements. Like McCann’s examination of the effects of radio in the making of contemporary Brazilian identities, this thesis seeks to map out some of the “…necessary connections between the popular and the political, without interpreting popular culture as merely a reflection or a consequence of political trends” (McCann 2004: 11). This thesis takes the position that a critical look at the reification of certain music and locations as being inherently “traditional” and others as being “modern” is critical to understand the formation of contemporary identities in Brazil. By examining forró in these diverse aspects and areas, my goal is to present a rounded narrative that will explain why forró has reemerged, and what this has to tell us about the ways it has constructed and is constructing Northeastern and Brazilian identity.

II. Theoretical Framework

In this section, I will elaborate how the theme and questions of my research meet with anthropological thought on music its relation to identity and will examine theory in relation to tradition, modernity, authenticity, and social class, and how these connect to an inquiry into forró and identity security.

Roberto DaMatta encourages a view of identity that takes into account the dynamic nature of the idea of tradition and cautions and that by adopting a static view “…merely serves to legitimate domination, freezing differences and screening out an understanding of reality” (DaMatta 1995: 272). In his view, globalization should not be seen as a uni-directional flow where the “local” is steadily supplanted by the “global”, but as a complex series of ongoing processes in which local knowledge and practices can be reworked, while still retaining “authenticity” that provides security in maintaining a continuity with the past and affirming local values and culture.

Other observers of globalization have noted the ways in which identity is connected with the concept of (in)security. Benedetto Vecchi observes in the introduction to Bauman’s Identity that, “The question of identity is associated with […] a sense of insecurity, with the ‘corrosion of character’ that insecurity and flexibility in the workplace have produced in society” (Bauman 2004: 4). This inherent insecurity of the (post)modern environment can and does lead to an examination of the past in search of meanings and values as well as precipitating a resurgence of the popularity of “tradition” (Dunn 1998: 154). Dunn refers to this as a “revivalist culture” which seeks “…to retrieve a sense of authenticity, often through a reassertion of tradition and the historical past […] (ibid: 14). Alan Lomax in his examination of folk songs noted specifically how music can be seen as intimately connected to a sense of security through its deep influences in forming and maintaining identity. He writes that, “…the primary effect of music is to give the listener a feeling of security, for it symbolizes the place where he was born, his earliest childhood satisfactions, his religious experience, his pleasure in community doings, his courtship and his work—any or all of these personality shaping experiences” (Lomax 1959: 929). Forró is significant here in that it has strong ties to a Northeastern identity through its instrumentation, sounds, lyrics, dance, and themes that help in setting boundaries and a sense of value in practices and material culture from the Northeast.

Through the course of my fieldwork several dynamics came into play which attracted my interest because they were repeatedly mentioned by informants and alluded to not just specifically forró, but to how Brazilian identities are understood. The most striking of these was the discourse of tradition and modernity that inevitably came up surrounding forró. This is interesting because of the vast perceived differences between where these concepts are located geographically, with the Northeast representing ideas and notions of “tradition” and the South representing “modernity”. Notwithstanding widespread economic, social, and cultural differences between the two areas, it is possible that these very notions of “modernity” and “traditional” can help to instill certain images and ideas of place that are then reified. I will focus on how this imposed dichotomy between these two concepts relates to social class, identity, and ideas of authenticity and the myth creation involved in these ideas.

In Edward Shils’ book “Tradition” the author examines the concept of tradition and argues that it has often been viewed by the social sciences as straightforward or uncomplicated. He holds that this has led to an uncritical examination of “past practice and arrangements” (Shils 1981: 7). Shils argues that there is a tendency to view traditions as merely anachronistic or superstitious holdovers that stubbornly hold out or slowly crumble to the modern acceptance of scientific reason. He traces this tendency back to Enlightenment thought that tied tradition to passive acceptance without rational thought. In this study I hold that concepts of what is “traditional” and what is “modern” need to be closely examined in order to understand how identity is constructed in Brazil because of the duality that is imposed in regards to where these concepts are located. Shils’ main argument is that by dismissing or not examining what is known as “tradition” is to make assumptions that there are stages of human progress that run from the “traditional” (and thus irrational) to the “modern”.

Shils puts forward two important ideas that will influence this examination of forró. The first is that tradition “…is the past in the present but it is as much part of the present as any very recent innovation” (ibid: 13). This point stresses that although the notion of tradition is of a connection with and to the past, it is more importantly a statement of values, ideas, and constructions of the present moment. Tradition in this viewing is not a passive acceptance of the past, but a re-working of the past in the present in order to fit the needs and exigencies of the here and now. In order to understand the ways in which late modernity is experienced in contemporary Brazil it is necessary to understand the role that tradition has played in shaping identity. In the case of forró music and culture, tradition is employed as a means of legitimizing and affirming certain identities, but also a form of security in the face of the significant changes brought about through migration and globalization processes that impose rapid changes on populations.

The second idea from Shils is that tradition is not merely a stable and unchanging block that is passively passed down through generations, but that tradition is itself a process as well as being a “process of selection” (ibid: 26). That which is construed as “traditional” is considered and constructed as such because of both conscious and unconscious decisions by social actors trying to understand and negotiate the actual world in which they operate. Tradition has a connection to the past, but it is not merely reflecting the past; it is a present reaction to present situations that searches for responses to these immediacies in re-workings of that which functioned or was used in the past for either similar or vastly different reasons. This study is mainly concerned with the present state; an examination of how and why these decisions, responses and methods are employed. At this point it will be necessary to employ working definitions of these two key terms, “tradition” and “modernity”. I employ Shil’s definition that tradition is a set of ideas, beliefs, practices, or material culture connecting the past to the present and “…having been created through human activity, through thought and imagination is handed down from one generation to the next” (ibid: 12).

In this paper I follow the ideas of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman that see a “liquid modernity”, which is marked by increasing feelings of insecurity and embodying three key conditions: uncertainty, continuous risk, and shifting trust (Bauman 2004b). Modernity encompasses the increased reliance on rational thought, increased movements of capital, people, material culture, and information among areas that were formally more separate. Modernity can create insecurity of identity because one of its defining features is rapid change, which Bauman argues has become a “…permanent condition of human life” (Bauman 2004b: 5). This “liquid modernity” has seen as one of its features the renewal of interest and popularity of legitimizing of concepts of “tradition,” which I argue, is in response to increased uncertainty and more rapid change.

Brazilian scholar, Adriana Fernandes, in her doctoral dissertation demonstrates how the terms “traditional” (or “roots”), and “modern” are used to legitimize and privilege certain sounds and instrumentations in differing social contexts within Brazil. She writes about how middle and upper class youth in São Paulo have created a thriving forró culture in which certain music, artists, and sounds have come to be adopted as “authentic” and thus valorized. In the forró of working class Northeastern migrants in the same city she observes how “modern” is valued by the actors in terms of replacing the accordion with keyboards and other ways such as adopting a television variety show aesthetic to performances. She asserts that her research has shown that popular culture does not fit into either/or categories and that there is a certain flexibility at play that allows for new meanings to be created by social actors (Fernandes: 2005). She uses Hobsbawm’s and Ranger’s [1983] concept of “the invention of tradition” to critically examine the reification and creation of certain dances, sounds, and instruments as legitimate.[9]

My central research question concerns why a particular form of music linked with the Brazilian Northeast has changed in reception and what it can tell us about how regional and national identity is negotiated in contemporary Brazil. One of the reasons that I choose this particular topic to research is that through my time in Brazil I noticed the special significance of music in Brazil. Whether it was observing the trances induced from the calling of the spirits by candomblé drumming, witnessing the mass frenetic dancing for days of Carnaval in Bahia and Recife, or the way in which so many would know the words to an impressive array of songs, music forms a strong part in both everyday life as well as having various ritual and spiritual dimensions. It is employed to convey and induce a certain Brazilian sense of joyful play (brincadeira) as well as sounding cries of protest. It is a key force in constructing identity and pride in identity and in this study I seek to explore the ways in which musical expressions (playing, singing, dancing, and listening) provide insights to an understanding of Brazilianness” (brasilidade) and how Brazil is imagined. The analysis of music, in this case a Northeastern style that has spread throughout the country, can be an important tool towards gaining an appreciation for the “webs of significance” that make up identity.[10] As Mark Slobin notes in his Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West, there are many levels on which music operates:

Music is at once an everyday activity, an industrial commodity, a flag of resistance, a personal world, and a deeply symbolic, emotional grounding for people in every class and cranny the super culture offers… [Bourdieu argues that music] “says nothing and has nothing to say … music represents that most radical and most absolute form of negation of the world, and especially the social world…” It is not that music has nothing to say, but that it allows everyone to say what he or she wants. It is not because music negates the world, but because it embodies any number of imagined worlds that people turn to music as a core form of expression (Slobin 1992: 77-78).

According to Slobin, music grants individuals with the power to express themselves in a myriad of ways. This further highlights the agency of forró fans and musicians to create identities and spaces for themselves despite unequal economic or political power relationships. The role of music in Brazil is enormous and is particularly relevant in that it not only occupies a central place in understanding identity and how this relates to the functioning of society, but that it does so in both conscious and unconscious ways that are often “felt” rather than articulated. McCann, in his comprehensive study on popular music in Brazil relays a similar sentiment: “These themes and practices [of music] still inform the ways Brazilians understand their nation, their racial politics, their conflicts of gender -- in short, themselves, and they do so at the deepest level - that of a pop song half heard from the window of a passing car and never forgotten” (McCann: 2004: 4).

In this research, I am concerning myself with the factors that have led to the valorization and renewed interest in a music that has been conceived and labeled “traditional” and “Northeastern” (nordestino). Focusing on how forró music and dance are placed, imagined, and constructed can reveal valuable insights into Northeastern identity and the complex spaces where the “local” is negotiated with the “global”. In recent years there has been an increase in studies of how “regional” musics or “micromusics” in the parlance of Mark Slobin, have been negotiating the interstices between the local and the global (Fernandes 2004, Galinsky 2002, Murphy 2001, Slobin 1993). Perrone and Dunn chart some of the discourses surrounding international influence, power relationships, and Brazilian hybridizations of popular music forms (Perrone and Dunn 2001). They cite the example of one of the other giant figures of forró, Jackson do Pandeiro, and his classic performance of “Chiclete com banana,” which is strongly associated with the Northeast. The song and the performer are themselves hybrids of the cultural and musical mixtures within Brazil, in this case combining the samba “with a northeastern forró pattern on the zabumba (Brazilian bass drum), an instrument usually associated with northeastern forms” (ibid: 4). Jackson sings about unequal relationships of power in which he derides “Uncle Sam” for not knowing the difference between rumba and samba and playfully states that he will “mix Miami with Copacabana” when reciprocity and acknowledgment of Brazilian music is shown by the international circuits. This shows some of the resistance to U.S. cultural hegemony that was being articulated by artists since at least the 1950’s, and expressing it with characteristic Brazilian humor. This resistance, as well as forró being considered authentically Brazilian by virtue of its “miscegenated” properties being from Northeast, the bastion of the “traditional, were (and are) all important elements in the media and popular embracing forró.

It will be important to focus on power relationships that are seen in the expressions of a popular music form. I will be following the ideas of other social scientists who have studied how identity is an active process that helps to construct reality and connect people through and with music (Lipsitz 1994; Negus 1996; Cohen 1994). Both production and consumption of forró are connected in order to articulate an identity and a security of that identity. Like Cohen in her research on music and locality in Liverpool, I seek to sketch some of “…the various was in which people create an image or sense of place in the production and consumption of music” (Cohen 1994: 129). This shows the active role that social actors have in forming identities and at the same time paying attention to the power relationships and hegemonic discourses that play a role in the terms in which these identities are framed.

III. Background on Forró – The Invention and Construction of a Northeast Tradition

Forró, like samba, takes its roots from a mythic combination of the three main groups that formed Brazil; the indigenous Amerindian, the African, and the European (Portuguese). It has been conceived and expressed as “caboclo”[11] music although it has also had associations of black or African influences, consumption and production.[12] The word forró has several meanings. It can be given as a somewhat generic term that encompasses various musics of the Northeast under one umbrella, including (but not limited to) baião, xote, xaxado, arrasta-pé and côco as well as being a specific rhythm that resembles an up-tempo baião. Forró is first mentioned on a recording in 1949 on the Luiz Gonzaga and Zé Dantas composition “Forró de Mane Vito” (“Mane Vito’s Forró”), using it to refer to it as a place where dancing takes place. (Phaelante 1995: 3). The song’s lyrics refer to a boisterous altercation that occurs there and this (especially early) association of forró with disorder and the lower classes would be reiterated by many of my informants.

The term “forró” has been disputed with two competing versions as to its origins. One account often told is that the expression comes from the times at the beginning of the twentieth century when the British were in charge of building the Great Western railroad in the Northeast. Story has it that they would hold dances of which featured a variety of music from the region and that these dances would either be open only to the employees of the railroads or that they would admit the general public. There would be a sign on the entrance to the hall that would read “For All” if it was an open dance. In Brazilian Portuguese the letters “r” and “l” (at the end of a word) take on different sounds than the English and it is possible that “for all” could be pronounced as “forró.” This version was also popularised and given prominence by two giants of the genre, Luiz Gonzaga and Sivuca. An alternate take on this is that it was from the Americans who had a base in Natal during World War II, with the same idea that it was a Brazilian Portuguese corruption of “for all”. Another explanation was advocated strongly by Brazilian folklorist, Luis da Câmara Cascudo. He asserted that “forró” comes from a word with African origins, forrobodó, which indicates a commotion or a dance party. Currently both of these versions are quite popular within Brazil and I was either told one version or sometimes both of them when I inquired about the origins of the term. It seemed that the version which was given would somewhat loosely correspond to nationalist feelings in which the “forrobodó” reading seemed to play up a sense of pride that the origins of the word were “authentically” Brazilian. Indeed, as I will examine later, questions and ideas surrounding authenticity frequently appeared surrounding forró.

It is commonly played with the samfona (a type of accordion), the zabumba (a type of drum with two heads, one for the bass tones, and another for the high tones), and the musical triangle. These three instruments make up the base of what is generally considered to be roots (“de raiz”) or “pé de serra forró”; although the pandeiro (a frame drum with a stretched head and inverted bells), other percussion, and bass guitar are now often added without losing this consideration of still being authentic to “tradition”. In Pernambuco forró is also encountered with the lead instrument being the rabeca (fiddle) in place of the accordion. The addition of electric guitar and keyboards seem to be more likely to cause the music being played to be described as electronic or “modern”, but for many informants forró was deemed authentic due to its maintenance of specific rhythms and by adherence to Northeastern themes and values in the music and lyrics. As mentioned previously, Fernandes, in her study of forró in São Paulo and Recife notes that there are different values placed upon “traditional” and “modern” sounds and aspects of forró by different social groups and at different times. I also observed that at a “university” forró, where most of the attendees are (upper) middle class were in their twenties that the “traditional” lineup of the trio is favored, while the style of dancing often involves more complicated steps and arm movements that needed to be learned (often in lessons) and practiced as compared to the relatively more simple steps and more common use of additional instruments (e.g. keyboards, drumset) in lower class forró milieus.

Forró is a music that begs dancing. While I encountered the music occasionally being listened to for entertainment, its primary place is on the stereo or performed live as a rhythm and a sound to which dancing is the preferred response. It is usually danced by male and female partners, (although women also dance together occasionally with one leading) with the man’s left hand holding the woman’s right and his right usually on her left hip or supporting her lower back.[13] The partners face together and the distance between them usually signals how comfortable they are with each other, although often there is quite close contact. It is danced in a one or two step pattern with little movement above the waist and with the hips leading following the beat of the zabumba drum. Although there are variations in the tempo and rhythm, with some slower styles, it is often danced at a rapid pace. Forró is often described and referred to as a “hot” (quente) dance or rhythm[14] and there is often a strong sensuality present as dancers closely interlock their movements with the heat of their bodies making temperatures rise and the dance floor to become stifling. Indeed many of the younger people that I spoke with told me that forró dances were ideal spots for finding a “fling” (paquerando) or an amorous encounter. This of course varied considerably on the location, with some locales known for providing a more family atmosphere, others with more couples, and those where many of the participants are young and single.

The week long festival and national holidays after the winter solstice in June commonly known as the São João (St. John) festival or June Festivals (festas juninas) is the high point for forró music each year. This is actually a celebration of three important and revered saints in Brazil, Saint John, Saint Peter, and Saint Anthony. These festivities are of such importance in the Northeast that they are perhaps the most important days of the calendar for many Northeasterners. They are of great enough significance that they put a stop to sessions of the Brazilian Congress because representatives form the Northeastern states cannot afford (politically or personally) to miss them (Amaral 1998). During these feast days bonfires are lit in the streets at night, firework displays are common, typical and ritual food and drink is consumed and forró is performed and danced to by the people. Forrós place in these popular festivities is a crucial one, as regional music is the mainstay, and its performance and dancing are essential features of the event both in terms of what can be seen and through what people say about the experience (e.g. We are going to Sao João and we will dance so much forró!). The June Festivals, relying heavily on the music of forró, are an important source of pride in the regional culture of the Northeast. They are increasingly gaining in popular and commercial success with towns such as Caruaru (Pernambuco) and Campina Grande (Paraíba)[15] both billing themselves as “The Forro Capital of the World”. These celebrations are quite important both socially and economically in that they bring tens of thousands of revelers to the cities and provide a source of much needed tourism revenue as well as pride in local cultural productions (Amaral 1998).

IV. Luiz Gonzaga: The Myth of the Modern Migrant

Luiz Gonzaga for me didn’t die. If you go to a forró today you’ll see that 80% of the songs played are from him.” -Andresa, 29; forró fan

“Luiz Gonzaga wasn’t a fashion, he was a myth.” – Viola, 34; percussionist

Hoje longe muitas léguas Today so many leagues away
Numa triste solidão In such a sad loneliness
Espero a chuva cair de novo I wait for the rain to fall again
Para eu voltar pro meu sertão So I can return to my sertão[16]

Luiz Gonzaga is the man most credited with being the “inventor” of this genre of music by taking certain folkloric music from the Northeast and divulging it widely throughout Brazil (and the world). In doing so he both reinforced ideas of the Northeast as a well spring of “tradition” and created a version of “modernity” that would not be based solely on material culture of the Southeast.[17] He is the figure enshrined in myth that brought a regional music, largely unknown outside the Northeast at the time, to the ears and feet of Brazil starting in the 1940’s, several years after migrating to the Southeast of Brazil and performing in Rio de Janeiro. Gonzaga would have enduring effects on Brazilian music and the popular image of the Northeast, and on how its culture and people were perceived by the country as a whole. By his death in 1989 he had become one of Brazil’s most revered and admired individuals of the twentieth century (Crook 2005: 247, 251-66). Through his successful migration and popular acceptance he would provide a mythic, hero figure of the Northeasterner who achieved the benefits of the “modernity” that the Southeast represented, not by negating one’s background but by using the cultural capital of “tradition” in music, poetry, and certain notions of “Northeasterness” which he expanded upon and expertly reworked to his advantage. The story of Luiz Gonzaga is a myth, not in the sense of it being untrue, but in which it is a “…a statement about society and man’s [sic] place in it and the surrounding universe” (Middleton 1967: x). Gonzaga would have a profound impact on how the Northeast was (and is) imagined especially in relation to these concepts of modern and traditional and in the formation the concept of Northeast.

Gonzaga was born near the hamlet of Exu, in the deep interior sertão of Pernambuco in 1912. He learned the button accordion at an early age from his father, a musician and instrument repairman, who took his young son along to with him to play at the gatherings and parties of the small surrounding villages. He was a quick learner and soon eclipsed his father Januário, being invited himself to perform at the baptisms, weddings, and feast days which required an accordion player to animate the festivities and get the people dancing. He steadily developed a reputation as the best musician in the area, and also as a Don Juan type figure which eventually got him into trouble due to a forbidden romance with a local large landholder’s daughter. It was made clear to him that his social position was too low to be eligible to marry the girl and a drunken confrontation ensued with her father at a local fair. After a stern reprimand from his parents he decided that he would seek his fortunes elsewhere and ran off, quickly enlisting in the armed forces in Natal (Dreyfus 1996).

After a few years in the army, including seeing some combat situations in the Revolution of 1930, he ended up in Rio de Janeiro playing the popular songs of the day in small bars in the red light district for tips from sailors and migrants drawn to the large cities in search of work. He spent several years this way and had largely forgotten the songs he played in his youth when supposedly a group of young students from the Northeast detected a hint of his Pernambucan accent that he had done his best to lose and requested that he play some songs from the Northeast. Gonzaga replied that he couldn’t remember any, but practiced at home for a couple weeks and the next time the group entered the bar he honoured their request. As the story goes, the bar went wild for the music and the realization hit him that he would succeed not by adopting his identity to the dominant mores of the South, but by asserting his Northeastern “roots”. This was reinforced by his experience with the Radio Nacional and the popular amateur competitions that he entered on the Ari Barroso radio program. He played on the program several times without much success until finally playing a Northeastern themed song “Vire e mexe” (“Turn and Twist”) which won over the crowd, received the highest mark possible and secured him a recording contract with the radio. He steadily developed a large following that was interested in hearing this exciting “traditional” sound from the sertão and with his “lettered” writing partners Humberto Teixeira and Zé Dantes he went on to play exclusively Northeastern themed music and create and expound his signature rhythm, the baião. By working with song lyricists from the upper classes (Texeira was a doctor by profession), Luiz Gonzaga’s carefully fashioned an image that would appeal to a range of social classes by ‘urbanizing’ it and thus making it palatable for the audiences of the cities. As McCann notes in his study of popular music and the formation of contemporary Brazil, Hello, Hello Brazil, "...the genre of Brazilian popular music today known as forró, a term describing music in various rhythms emphasizing the accordion and nordestino-tinged vocals, grows almost entirely out of the baião that Gonzaga developed in the 1940's and 1950's. It is not a stretch to say that without Gonzaga, forró would not exist..." (McCann 2004: 124). By the 1960’s the word “forró” largely replaced the term “baião” to speak in a general way of dance music from the Northeast.

Gonzaga clamed that the baião was born from the rhythm which Northeastern guitar players used while tuning up their instruments and warming up before singing verses. It also takes from the Northeastern bandas de pifano, or fife bands that would use similar rhythms on the (zabumba) drum. By adopting these common rhythms and instrumentations of Northeastern musical forms, “…Gonzaga was able to condense a wide range of musical experiences within the commercial baião that referenced both northeastern Afro-Brazilian and sertão culture” (Crook 2005: 263). In this “condensing” he took aspects of the folkloric past and adapted it to create a new “tradition” that would simultaneously affirm his “roots” and his “modernity”.

The cosmopolitan centers of Brazil fell in love with his unrehearsed and authentic sounding regional music which was significant because the Northeast of Brazil was and still is considered underdeveloped and backward and not able to produce a material culture equal to that produced by the European centered ideals in the urban centers of the Southeast (e.g. Rio de Janeiro and So Paulo). This image of the Northeast emerged strongly as the nation headed into 1950’s in which the country was dichotomized into two exclusive halves – a “traditional” Northeast with peasants migrating in search of jobs and fleeing droughts and a “modern” Brazil located in the South(east) that was the “urban, industrial, economic, and political core of the nation” (ibid: 257). Gonzaga was important because he took aspects of the Northeast culture and “…showed in music the reality of the Northeast” in the words of one of my contacts, but more than this he showed that they had value. He played on differences and “…exaggerated, rather than concealed, his nordestino accent, stressing regional pronunciation (the twangy farta instead of proper falta)” (McCann 2004: 114). He also had the tendency to deliberately sing roughly, hit flat notes and “…exuded unrehearsed, backwoods charisma. The combination of these elements gave Gonzaga a homespun charm that metropolitan audiences found thoroughly winning” (ibid: 114). Gonzaga succeeded in that he had both the cultural authenticity and the knowledge of folklore to speak about the realities of life in the sertão to the audiences of the dominant urban areas of the Southeast.

Shortly after his initial success he recorded the seminal work of the genre entitled “Asa branca[18]” which told of the difficulties and loneliness in the lives of the migrants who had left the sertão to search for work far from home. The song became enormously popular and today is one of the most recognized and loved songs in the Brazilian catalogue. It is also inextricably linked with the Northeast and its migrants, widely considered the “…unofficial hymn of the sertão and its displaced persons” (ibid: 114). Gonzaga’s timing was critical in that cultural, political, and technological trends were coalescing to grant him and other popular Northeastern musicians the ability not just to reflect but to define a regional identity. McCann notes that Luiz Gonzaga along with Dorival Caymmi, a popular Bahian musician, had an enormous amount of influence because they were able to: "... position themselves at the nexus of three crucial trends - the great wave of northeastern migration to the Southeast, a growing interest in folklore in general and northeastern folklore in particular, and the rapid expansion of the radio and recording industries. That confluence made possible their commercial and critical success, and enabled them to exert enormous influence on popular conceptions of Baiano and nordestino identity” (ibid: 123).

One of the ways in which he both created and affirmed this identity was in his use of the regional costume of the cangaceiro, the feared and revered bandits that roamed the countryside in search of villages or farms to pillage. Lampião (Big Lamp) was the most famous of these characters and is a figure known to all Brazilians today in the form of these myths that Gonzaga helped to disseminate. Lampião and his group of cangaceiros (including his female companion Maria Bonita) are widely regarded in the Northeast as folk heroes, presented as a kind of Robin Hood and his gang, who would steal from the rich and give to the poor.[19] The reality was not quite like this, but he did present a challenge to authority which was (and still is) an admired trait in the Northeast and in Brazil in general, especially due to the strict social hierarchy in place. One of my informants, who grew up on a farm in the interior of Sergipe state, told me the story of how his grandfather had to hide his mother, a young girl at the time, when Lampião and the cangaceiros came raiding in their town. He remarked that his grandfather was not being overly cautious because of the very real possibility that his daughter could be taken or raped.

But for Gonzaga, the precise historical details were not really the point. He was going for the image of the tough and independent outlaw to frame his vision of the Northeast and Northeasterner. The exaggerated leather hat turned sideways, rough hewn leather pants and vest with colorful bandanas were all employed to bring an air of authenticity to the performances after Gonzaga abandoned the customary formal white tuxedo and suit used for performances of the era. This met with the initial opposition of the management of the national radio station and he was refused permission to perform in their auditorium with a costume that called to mind banditry and a strongly regional identity. Of his adoption of this look he said: “…I began to think what type I could make, because the [Rio man] had his striped shirt, the Bahian had the straw hat, and the southerner had [a regional costume]. But the Northeasterner? I had the opportunity to invent his characteristic and the only thing that came to mind was Lampião. […] I telegraphed to my mother asking her to send me a nice leather hat like Lampião’s” (Dreyfus 1996: 134, my translation).[20] The radio eventually relented when his image became fixedly associated with the clothing due to his outside performances. His notion of the Northeastern sound, accent, behavior and appearance became marked indelibly on the consciousness of Brazil. He would later define himself as “…‘pure nordestino’ - in other words, he had stopped trying to pass for a Carioca, culturally. The implications of this new identification become apparent in the title of his 1974 album Sangue Nordestino - Northeastern Blood" (McCann 2004: 117). With this statement Gonzaga ties together his music, a resolutely regional identity, and a statement of pride of being Northeastern that would send a powerful message that echoes up to the present day. Gonzaga is revered as a folk hero throughout the country, but especially strongly in the region he represented where forró is used as a proof of the cultural capital of the Northeast. McCann argues that because Northeasterners, “…continue to encounter discrimination and scorn as nordestinos, Gonzaga's formulation of nordestino identity still holds enormous power as a source of pride and self-definition" (ibid: 126). Many of my informants stressed this point in conversations about Gonzaga; that his success as a Northeasterner who took pride in this fact rather than hid it, was an inspiration in creating and affirming a strong identity of place.

In the 1960’s Gonzaga pushed the Brazilian federal government to implement irrigation projects in the sertão to bring relief from the harsh droughts the area was prone to. His music has also been used by land reform movements of the 1970’s protesting the strongly hierarchical agrarian system. More recently his anthem “Asa branca,” the tale of poor Northeastern farmer forced to migrate from his land because of drought has been used by the Movimento Sem Terra (MST, Landless Movement), a national movement to secure land and resources for the landless poor. “Asa branca” is often played at these protest gatherings around the nation (ibid: 125). This leads to questions of what roles popular culture has in creating group cohesiveness and pride and in what ways this can coalesce to encourage political expressions and popular movements. McCann mentions some of the effects that a re-valuation of Northeastern identity had not only on those living in that part of the country, but on Brazil as a whole, as it has begun slow and painful processes of change towards a new modern democracy working to deal with issues of land reform.[21] Gonzaga’s effect on perceptions of the Northeast (both within and outside of it) and its cultural production has been substantial, reinforcing visions of the region as a bastion of the “traditional” within Brazil, serving as a source of enormous pride in its musical heritage, and providing a strong example of the possibilities of obtaining the benefits of modernity while retaining close ties to one’s “roots.”

Gonzaga was mentioned by every one of my informants and in many of the conversations I had with Northeasterners as being a continual source of pride and inspiration. His talents as a musician are most surely part of this, but perhaps more significance can be found in his affirmation of Northeast identity and connecting it an idea that its “traditions” were sources of immense cultural value. Almost two decades after his death his presence is larger than ever as new generations of Brazilians discover his music and feel the impact of the traditions that he helped create. As contemporary Brazilians engage in a search for identity in a rapidly globalizing world, Gonzaga’s example of valuing locality and “roots” while embracing the benefits of modernity is as salient as ever.

Photo 1 – Lampião and Maria Bonita figures in Caruaru, Pernambuco (Photo: Allan Patrick)

V. The Research Scene

I arrived into Recife’s airport on a late night discount flight from Salvador packed with almost exclusively Brazilian business travelers and vacationers returning home from summer holidays in Bahia state. Walking out the gate I was met by an old friend that I had worked with five years previously at an English school in Salvador. He had his motorcycle with him and after some adjustments to deal with the 22 kilos of baggage I had with me (his frame had been recently welded and the suspension bad), we were soon speeding off through traffic. Twice we had drivers make sudden turns in front of us as my friend told me of several close calls with cars during the past year. I began to think it might have been better to take a taxi.

We made it back to the historic section of Olinda safely to the house where I would spend the next two and a half months as I was doing my research. This location proved to be a largely wise decision for many reasons, not the least of which was its proximity to venues where forró and côco music could be found. Within the first few days I made contact with a couple local musicians and scheduled interviews. Disappointingly, they did not show up at the scheduled time and I began to wonder if this would be a pattern. I eventually was able to interview both of them later and only had a couple more no-shows during the course of my fieldwork. Attending some performances in the first two weeks I was able to observe the differing crowds and atmospheres of the locations. Contact with the musicians though proved slightly difficult due to them playing extended sets and being occupied during their short breaks. I was able to engage in conversation with attendees, but decided that due to noise and distraction issues it would be better to interview informants away from performance spaces. I continued to attend forró events and shows throughout my fieldwork (about twenty in all) and this was valuable in forming a picture of the scene and the differing types of crowds that each milieu contained. I observed a great deal of variety in this respect in regards to the age, social background, and behavior at these differing venues that I will discuss in my analysis.

At the end of my second week in the field I made contact with a local forró producer, Roberto Andrade, through a fellow researcher passing along his email. He proved to be a valuable contact who would introduce me to many informants engaged in different aspects of forró production (such as musicians, composers, and radio dj’s). Roberto enthusiastically invited me to meet him at a coffee shop of a shopping mall a block from his house. At first, I was a bit taken aback by his rapid, nervous style and wondered if his enthusiasm to introduce me to the many forró musicians he knew was because he expected a favor in return. He soon let me know that he wanted me to help him out with acquiring distribution channels and shows in Europe. I emphasized that I had no experience in promoting or distributing music and had no contacts to offer to him and was solely doing research for a university. I agreed to put information on my research website about his production company and the artists that he introduced me to and this satisfied him as to some reciprocity for the time he would spend with me. I also left open the possibility for him to give me some sample copies of his upcoming release to bring back to the Netherlands and give to record shops.[22]

During the course of my fieldwork this issue came up several times as I had to inform informants of my research intentions. One particular episode occurred when I finished an interview and another musician approached me and insisted, despite my explanations of my intentions, that I try and help him to gain contacts to tour in Europe. I was continually told of the financial difficulties of a career in the music business in Brazil (particularly the Northeast) and the desire to have access to international markets and audiences. These examples of power differences between myself and informants were highlighted in interactions like this in which my own role as a foreign researcher was called into question. When another informant expressed interest in working in the Netherlands and requested my help, I had to question my place and effects as an (foreign, middle class) outsider on those with whom I was interacting: Why I was studying their music and lives and how did I represent myself to them? Although I always immediately identified myself as a researcher, I had to emphasize this both to myself and to informants at several points. All this said most of my informants clearly understood my position and a number expressed their pride and interest that a foreign researcher would elect to study forró.

The contacts that I met through Roberto soon multiplied as several of them in turn introduced me to other musicians or gave me phone numbers of possible informants. By the end of my fieldwork period I was able to interview about twenty persons directly involved in music production or performance, the majority of these being musicians and composers. In addition I had several interviews with informants that were involved in learning to play forró or by being committed fans (e.g. attended shows regularly, strongly identified with the music and scene).[23] I used an informal interview structure for most of my informants that was conversational with my promptings about forró, music, class, identity and their perceptions of the national and the local, although some interviews tended more to the question and answer style. Most of these informants I interviewed one time, although I had two interviews with three of them. These interviews took place at their homes, in restaurants, plazas, and the coffee shop of the shopping mall that Roberto used as his meeting point. They varied in length from half an hour to almost three hours, although the vast majority lasted about an hour. In addition I would often see and speak with many of those who I interviewed later at shows. I used a mini-disc recorder during eighteen of these interviews which I felt enabled me to have a more relaxed and conversational dialogue because the recorder was usually forgotten about after the first few minutes of the conversations. It was useful later in being able to retrieve quotations in context and because of my previous time in Brazil there were no problems with understanding any dialogue in the interviews (aside from the occasional regional slang word I would have to inquire about). I quickly reviewed the interviews after they were made in the field and then upon arriving in Amsterdam listened back to each interview in its entirety. Due to the quantity of recorded material I did not transcribe verbatim but noted key ideas expressed and recorded approximately twenty pages of quotes and ideas from informants.

Almost every interview I started by questioning my informants about their personal history in relation to music. In addition to giving me an idea about their backgrounds, it also helped to make them more comfortable with me and demonstrate my interest in their personal stories. One interesting fact that I noted after hearing many recollections of how they became musicians was that the majority of my informants were from the interior and had migrated to the coast either as children or young adults. When I inquired about the reasons for this I was invariably told that they and their families were in search of opportunities that would not be afforded to them in the interior. By migrating to the capital and its environs they hoped to be able to secure financial security both through careers as musicians and in other fields (many of my informants held “day” jobs in addition to their work as performers either currently or at some points in their past). They also hoped to achieve “success” as musicians; this was often defined either in financial terms (such as being able to become professional, full-time musicians), or in more intangible ways, such as by feeling a part of a community, creating personal satisfaction and affirming their identity or “roots” (raizes) as many of them commented. This “feeling a part of community” was evidenced by many of the musicians and fans having a network of friendships and acquaintances that they would connect with at and through forró gatherings and shows. I witnessed this at many of the events that I attended where indeed many of the musicians and fans greeted each other by first name, exchanged pleasantries, and inquired about each other’s families. These spaces functioned not merely as anonymous places of entertainment, but as locations where one was assured to know many of the other participants and share in an expression of enjoying and supporting “real culture” (“cultura verdadeira”). Personal satisfaction was also tied to the fact that many felt that forró was a concrete example of a “living culture” (“uma cultura viva”) in which they were keeping something vibrant that had been done in the past by their forbearers (albeit in different milieus) and not allowing it to die. This connection to “roots” was frequently cited as something essential; that forró was a space in which links could be maintained between the present and the past. A common sentiment expressed was the desire to participate in and advance the production of “true” cultural expressions. Often this was framed in counterpoint to perceived dominant, mass-media supported music and entertainment seen as corrupting, false, and imposed from the outside with the sole motive being profit.

Interviews also touched upon more personal questions about if and how forró music could be relevant to their identities to inquire about my informants’ feelings about race and class issues in forró in general, both in the past and the present. Although many of my informants were willing to discuss their feelings about social class in music and in general, conversations about race were generally dismissed as not being pertinent or relevant in examining forró. A common response when I inquired about aspects of race in forró was that “forró isn’t a black music, it is for everyone.”[24] A couple informants did bring up aspects of race tied together with class with comments such as, “Forró used to be considered music of poor and black people.” More commonly though, it was considered a music that invoked conceptions of “miscegenation” (miscigenação) that are central to Brazilian identity.

This echoes a general reluctance of Brazilians to acknowledge racism or issues of race as having validity in contemporary Brazil. This belief harks back to the vastly influential Pernambucan sociologist Gilberto Freyre’s theories of a Brazilian “racial democracy” in which Brazilians and Brazilian society was generally devoid of racism due to the large degree of miscegenation that occurred there. Freyre’s 1930 book, Casa grande e senzala,[25] was at the time a significant break from previous social thought which encouraged a “whitening” of Brazil through European immigration and instead celebrated the worth and cultural richness of a mestiço (mixed race) nation. These ideas have been appropriated by the government and the elite to deny the existence of racism in Brazil up through the present day and although there have been academic studies that contradict these notions as well as black power movements (often using music as a means to bring about awareness and assert pride) that have called attention to racism in Brazilian society since the 1960’s, Freyre’s ideas still hold much political and popular sway. These ideas have been debunked by various scholars and groups since at least the 1960’s and yet still stubbornly persist in Brazilian media and popular imagination.[26] Thomas Skidmore writes in his examination of the question of racial inequality in Brazil and the United States (perhaps erroneously considered representing opposite social experience of race) that: “For the last forty years at least it is clear that Brazil has suffered from systematic racial inequality, which can no longer be dismissed as a set of factors other than race itself” (Skidmore 1993: 376). Due to the difficulty of obtaining responses from most informants when I inquired about race, the need to have a more defined focus as well as the fact that race has been examined extensively in recent years in studies on Brazilian music, I elected to focus more attention in my interviews upon social class and how it was envisioned through and by forró music. That said, although race aspects are not the primary focal point of my research in general in Brazil race can be seen as connected to poverty. Although my research questions led me more towards other questions, this reluctance to speak about race is telling and warrants further examination.

Most of my informants self-identified as coming from either the middle-class or from the lower or “popular” classes (clase popular) and contrasted themselves to the “elite”. An exception to this was one singer (arriving to the interview in a suit and tie) who mentioned that his image was that of an “executive” and somewhat reluctantly admitted his concerns when he first began to perform that he would not be accepted because of this fact. Interestingly, he also denied that there he did not feel that there were any issues of class involved, and that forró was not, nor had ever been music from the lower classes. This said, although none of my informants conceived of themselves as from the lowest of the social strata, there were many acknowledgements of personal financial hardships and dismay over the economic situation of the region and country. Opinions among them differed as to how social class was conceived and expressed in forms of cultural production in general and specifically in relation to Northeastern music such as forró. I also inquired about informants’ evaluations of the popularity and acceptance of forró and the reasons behind this. What did they see as the history of forró as a music up to the present day, why did it come about, and what were the factors in such changes? Again, there were differing perceptions and ideas about the possible reasons and implications behind a resurgence of popularity and social implications.

Towards the end of my time in the field as I was reviewing my notes and listening to interviews, I began to focus on some themes and ideas that continually came up during the course of my interviews and interactions in the field. One of these were the terms “traditional” and “modern” that were used in a variety of ways that drew me towards examining forró as a form of existential security of identity in a quick changing, globalizing world. In addition to issues of class and emancipation, questions of authenticity and appropriation came about as the result of many of my informants’ complaints about the ways in which forró was being (mis)represented and (mis)used by the dominant economic forces of producers and the media. Lastly, discourses came up surrounding forró and its departed “king”, Luiz Gonzaga. I focused on how these ideas helped create and contribute to a myth about the Northeast and its cultural expressions that is used as a marker of regional identity and contributes to ways in which Brazil envisions itself.

VI. “Reemergence” of Forró in Brazil

Almost every informant that I spoke with noted that forró music has gained in popularity and status over the past ten years or so, and different reasons and factors were attributed different to this rise, although this was not without its contestations. These problematic spaces seemed to be located at intersections of social class and appropriation, authenticity and commerciality, and ideas of “traditional” and “modern.”

As I mentioned earlier so-called “modern” forró has seen the most exposure and mass popularity, but it was generally agreed that pé de serra forró had also garnered more commercial success and shifted to a popularity that cuts across socio-economic lines. This is noted in an article in a popular Recife daily newspaper: “In the 70’s and 80’s with the exception of localized phenomenon [...] forró became consumed mostly by the ‘cabroeira’, or country hicks. Surprisingly at the end of the century, the music invented by Luiz Gonzaga took the place of place of [other popular styles]. People from the country, of low social level, among the middle class of Rio and Sao Paulo [enjoyed it].”[27] Later in the same article the popularity is discussed in terms of the market for forró music: “Passing fad or not, the wave caught strong also in the Northeast, decades have passed since so many forró discs could be seen in the stores, and occupying the ‘noble’ part, the display windows.”[28]

Forró was perceived by many as increasing in popularity by expanding outside the June festival season, in increased status of the musicians, and through capturing the attention of the young. In the words of one local woman: “Forro is increasing yes! In the past here in Olinda it was something of the St. John’s Festivals.” Musicians also agreed that the number of performances in and around the capital has been increasing. Teresinha do Acordeon, in her mid-50’s and from Salgueiro, in the interior of Pernambuco moved to the capital as a young woman and told me: “It was a big conquest for forró, to urbanize and be played the whole year in the city.” Many musicians observed that in the capital and surrounding areas it was not so common to see forró played outside of the June festivals and that they would be the subject of jokes for playing the music. Beto Hortis, a 31 year old accordion player from Camaragibe, near Recife commented that he “… started playing at twelve years old. At the time when people saw me with the accordion of my back going to practice they would annoy me saying things like, ‘that guy doesn’t know it’s not Saint John’s time.’ It bothered me a bit, but I knew that it was what I wanted to do.” Teresinha echoed this point saying: “Before if you saw an accordion player in the street you would say, ‘Hey accordion player, where are you going to play?’ Everybody would be making jokes about it, laughing and putting you down [“gozando a sua cara”].”

Some of the younger musicians and students of the music that I spoke with who are in their late teens told me that they never experienced any teasing or questioning from their friends about why they chose to play “traditional” music instead of learning to play the pop styles. They said that they had always felt that it provided them a connection with their “roots” and that it wasn’t viewed as necessarily something “old-fashioned”. Ivan Ferraz, a forró composer, singer, and radio host echoed this sentiment one afternoon after I sat in on his radio program. “I think forró has picked itself up in the last years. The youth started to be more interested in their own roots.” He attributed this partially to the death of Luiz Gonzaga in 1989 which he felt acted as a wake-up call that a new generation would have to be taught by the older generation to appreciate valuable aspects of their culture of which forró was one important part. Renato Phaelante, a co-coordinator at the Joaquim Nabuco Institute for Social Research observed that through the reemergence of forró, “The old turns itself into the kid again in the conception of the young people.” Another informant stressed the importance of young people taking up “authentic culture” such as forró: “I’m seeing many young people playing forró now; more than in the past and this makes me very happy because it is going to continue. It isn’t going to die, our culture.” This desire for a preservation of forró culture was mentioned by many contacts and ties into discourses involving the protection and valuation of a strong feeling of locality (being Pernambucan and Northeastern) at the same time as embracing a national identity by playing an “authentic” music from Brazil versus imported international pop styles.

This element is important in examining the connections between forró and identity security. Forró as a strong indicator of the Northeast has been steadily built into a bridge through the past half century that allows for movement of ideas and shared meanings across and through generations. This bridge functions as a means by which to ensure certain continuities in the face of rapid change brought by the rapid and diverse exchanges of information and culture across time and borders. Because forró has certain shared concrete symbolic markers and at the same time is a living and transforming expression it is important means to maintain links from the present to the past.

Musicians also openly acknowledged some of the problems that they saw in relation to the “reemergence” of forró. Some felt that while forró and other music genres from Pernambuco had achieved some success, that there was more interest in the Southeast and abroad.[29] Complaints that the music was not being supported locally enough (by the government, promoters, and consumers) were common. Teresinha told me that: “The Northeast exports forró. It started here, but it seems to me sometimes that there’s more interest in the South of Brazil and even in other countries.” She felt, along with many of my informants that the government and promoters were not showing enough support and faith in forró and that as a result it did not achieve nearly the level of popularity it was capable of reaching and that it has attained in the South of Brazil. Others echoed this sentiment; expressing anger that baixaria (something of low social value) was encouraged by promoters and the government support of “non-authentic” music.

Radio and television were continually cited as the means to attract a large following among the “popular class,” (clase popular) with limited funds to buy cd’s and dvd’s and access the internet. Although more “traditional” style forró and other local music was played on several radio programs and one local (university) television station, more “pop” Brazilian music dominated with particularly styles known as brega[30] (literally “bad taste”) and roxo, with their sexually suggestive lyrics, simple keyboard based melodies, and provocatively costumed dancers composing a large amount of media space along with American and international pop. Many informants were particularly unhappy about this, feeling that it sent out negative images (especially to children and adolescents) about sexuality. When countered with the fact that many forró lyrics are sexually suggestive (often hidden by word play), informants would invariably note that it was much more subtle and that forró, while being sensual, was not an overtly sexual dance. Forró was also contrasted with these other genres as being something with strong connections to local identity, while brega was seen as a commercial venture that took its form and values from international pop music and marketing.

This power of particularly radio and television was cited as a reason while forró seemed to be attracting the attention of the middle and upper classes. Jerimum de Olinda, a 29 year old percussion player also stressed that he felt that because radio and television promotes certain heavily commercialized productions that (“traditional”) forró was not getting the attention it deserved. He noted how the audiences at shows were changing because of this: “I just was in the interior of Alagoas (bordering state) and we went there to play forró, côco, ciranda and maracatu, these things. But we played during the day to people from the upper middle class, understand? And at night there was a big stage with “stylized” forró and brega bands for the young people and the lower classes. The young (new) people are enjoying these new things…” Although many informants gave the impression that forró was equally popular across all classes and that it had moved away from being labeled as “poor people’s music” there was also debate about this that I would like to discuss in the next sections. It seemed that although forró retained popularity among the lower classes as well as gaining the attention of the upper middle class and elite, that there were still definite boundaries maintained that marked out spaces for particular classes and groups.

VII. In the “Field”: A Night at a Forró in Dois Unidos

We’re poor, but we enjoy ourselves.” – Edinilson, 25, Recife

Taking a taxi to the neighbourhood of Dois Unidos on the periphery of Recife with my contact Roberto, we talked amiably with the cab driver as we made our way through the winding streets, the sun low and the heat of the day slowly subsiding. The driver made a comment that I had heard before in Brazil as he motioned to the large numbers of people gathered in the streets of this lower class area: “The poorer the people, the more they have parties.” I found this an interesting statement as it brought attention to particular dominant views on poverty that emanate from the North America and Europe that would consider such a statement an incongruity.[31] Earlier when I left the house, my landlady inquired where I was going and when I told her she looked surprised and warned me to be watchful. Her husband, Wellington told me that he knew the area well from being a taxi driver himself and that I should be very careful especially at night there. This was reiterated to me by the moto taxi that I took on the ride home that night. The young rider, who lived nearby, told me that the area could be quite dangerous at night and that he always carefully checked out who he was picking up before stopping his motorcycle. Riding there in the taxi I could see that many of the houses on the street had plaster, windows (with bars), and were painted, but some were just simple brick structures with no windows or finishing material. As the hills curved upwards you could see many squatter’s houses hastily constructed brick and wood structures with plastic and tin roofs.

Getting out of the taxi in front of Arlindo’s house I noticed the two men with black vests with yellow “Security” imprinted on the backs chatting with patrons and they greeted Roberto warmly. After being introduced we made our way in underneath a large sign featuring the host and sponsored by Pitu, a large Pernambucan alcohol distillery. The reasonable price to enter was posted near the door (3 reais), but because we had arrived early there was no ticket taker yet and they told us to go around the turnstile so that we would not be counted. Making our way down the narrow staircase I noticed many old photos and newspaper clippings of the host and other famous forró players and religious imagery. Arriving in the backyard I could see that it was set up to appear like an interior small town, with little stands for food and drinks that looked almost like a film set with branches from trees set along the sides and tops. The backyard was quite deep (almost 40 meters) and at the end was a little stage with a small soundboard on the side. There was a band warming up on stage that consisted of the classic trio line-up with an accordion player, a zabumba drum, and a steel triangle player checking their instrument and microphone levels. As it was still early there were not many people present; about fifteen to twenty, mostly the family of Arlindo, the host, along with some neighbors and friends of the band. Roberto knew many of them and again introduced me around and I was given a friendly, if slightly reserved reception.

Arlindo appeared, being led over to our table by his daughter and Roberto chatted with him and told him that I was researching forró and would like to speak with him. Arlindo is in his 60’s and originally from Serinhaém in the interior of Pernambuco. When I went to offer him some of our fried potatoes and dried beef Roberto shook his head and whispered that he was in an ongoing fight with diabetes which had rendered him blind several years back. He now needs assistance from members of his family to move about, but keeps up a busy schedule of playing forró and teaching students the button accordion. He told me that his biggest pleasure in life was playing and having his family and friends gathered around him. As patrons began to fill in almost every one of them stopped to share a warm, affectionate greeting with him. He told me that many people were from the local area, but that tourists from Brazil and beyond would also come to visit to see the “authentic forró pé de serra” that was played there. He remarked that today there would not be so many people because of the pre-Carnaval festivities happening around Recife and Olinda, but that he had had up to 500 people gathered in his backyard on some Sundays. He told me that the backyard forró started when he, “…wanted to do something on Sunday afternoons and I called my friends for the “brincadeira” (fun, play, game). They called their friends and it went from there. Now there’s no way I could stop even if I wanted to!”

I asked him about the popularity of forró and he attributed a rise in interest to various musicians that had “secured the flag” or persisted in producing “true” pé de serra forró, among them the nationally known Dominginhos, who had slowly re-garnered the attention on the music. He also attributed the effects of the enduring figure of Luiz Gonzaga as a continual inspiration to Northeastern culture that the next generation was in the process of re-discovery of forró through his influence. His eight year old granddaughter appeared and he proudly mentioned that she was learning the accordion and could play “Asa branca”, and would join him on the stage later in the night. He noted that that his forró attracted people from “seven to seventy” and indeed looking around there was a good mix of ages. This brought up a comment that another accordion player had told me a few days before: “Forró brings together [social] classes and age groups. You can go to a forró and you can see people 70 years old and young people together.” That various age groups were there was undeniable, but some other comments later and my own observations led me to believe that at least in this milieu it would probably not be accurate to say that there was a range of social classes present.

The crowd of families and groups of friends soon filled up many of the tables in front and people started to pair off and dance to the band. Most people were dressed in casual, inexpensive clothing, but very clean and pressed. Many women were in dresses or skirts and men with button down shirts tucked in at the waist. There was a convivial atmosphere; most of the people knew each other which was observable as they greeted each other by name upon arriving and passing by tables. Many of the patrons were drinking alcohol, and through the night I noticed the effects, although no one appeared overtly drunk and the overall feeling remained relaxed and without any incidents. Groups at metal tables were sampling platters of Northeastern style food; sun-dried beef, stewed goat and maize, and little cups of bean and shrimp soup, home cooked by members of Arlindo’s family. Several pé de serra bands played and the dance floor grew more crowded and hot, dancers sweating and sometimes taking quick breaks to get a drink and sit down to catch their breath. When Arlindo and his band came out the crowd warmly applauded him as he was introduced and as he began to play I could see why he was such a popular figure. He played expertly on an eight bass button accordion that is diatonic, which refers to the fact that different notes are played when opening and closing the instrument. This gives it a distinct sound and rhythm compared to the key accordions that are nowadays much more common to forró. This was interesting to me because I had never seen a button accordion before in the numerous times I attended performances in different venues in Brazil. I was later told by several informants that it is indeed quite rare these days to see forró played with this instrument even though this was the most common type of accordion in the Northeast previously. Luiz Gonzaga had, just like his father, originally played this instrument in his childhood in the sertão, but changed to the harmonic piano key accordion that gives a greater range and was considered more “modern” when he began his playing career in Rio.

During the course of the evening I made contact with several musicians that agreed to interviews and gave me their telephone numbers as well as one woman in her early 20’s who was learning the button accordion from Arlindo. She commented to me that “The upper middle class doesn’t generally go to Arlindo’s forró.” This caught my attention as well as another musician who appeared to be in his early 60’s I spoke with briefly there that night who told me “...the elite never liked forró, it was the music of the (cabroeira) ‘country hicks’ (literally: group of goats) ... it’s our [thing].” I was interested in finding out more on these different perspectives on class in forró and how they might connect to some of the ideas about the “modern” and the “traditional” and how a cultural expression can appropriated or adopted into the repertoire of other social and economic classes.

VIII. Forró: Shifting Perceptions and Meanings of a Northeastern Music

Forró; just of the word itself there is prejudice.” - Anchieta Dali - forró composer, singer

Forró is still today prejudiced and it disappears and reappears with this prejudice.” – Samuel Valente – composer, writer

“Vou para o sul, eu vou ganhar dineiro.” (“I’m heading to the South, I’m going to make money.”) - “Folguedos de Roda” – Côco Raizes de Arcoverde

Forró has been seen as something that came from the lower classes and that emerged to become accepted by the range of social classes.[32] In this section I would like to present some of the discourses by forró actors and in what ways the music has been associated with the Northeast and the lower classes and the shifts to its acceptance (and appropriation) by other social classes. I seek to draw connections to this phenomenon in other milieus and also elucidate how musicians and producers of the music have viewed the shifts. Music has been one of the key ways in which communication and ties have been forged between different classes and groups in Brazil and in my field research and interviews with informants this was illustrated. It was also made apparent in several ways was the fact that these processes were not free of contestations.[33]

One Saturday afternoon I spoke with Anchieta Dali, a respected local forró composer in the backyard of a family of musicians I had recently met and interviewed the week before. We sat under the shade of a large mango tree as he smoked chain smoked cigarettes, explaining that forró had undergone a shift in perceptions in Pernambuco and Brazil and acknowledging the movements and barriers that he saw between classes. He recognized like many others shifts in perception regarding social classes and forró: “Because the financial resources have always been in the Southeast [e.g. Rio, São Paulo, Brasilia], there was this history of migrations in search of better lives, and those who arrived there were largely poor and black… [looking for] …work, to be taxi drivers, waiters, etcetera. And these people enjoy music like forró, and it was associated with them. [...] I think this [association] has continued, although more subtly.”

He continued on to remark that in his view forró has continued to be prejudiced and excluded, but in different ways than the past. He noted that people from São Paulo had prejudiced forró by referring to it as something of the “bricklayer, the maid, the taxi driver.” He also spoke about how the choices, mediations, and the power laden relationships that occurred in the case of forró and other music in Brazil: “In whatever Brazilian music there are divides between classes. Frevo (Carnaval season music from Recife) started with the upper class in their clubs in the [19]20’s and by the 30’s the upper class had to go behind the poor in the streets [as they marched]. Forró, on the contrary, began with the lower class. There are two processes with forró: from below to above and after above to below. Forró went [to the South] it mixed with some things and it returned.”

Haidée Carmelo and other musicians noted that forró has been a source of pride and of great social value, and that this has been taken and used as a source of power for differing means: “There has always been a class that dominates, that tries at all costs to de-valorize what the other class does, this is historic. The industrial culture appropriates from the collective knowledge, that which is genuine in the midst of the people and transforms it into products; easy, with an easy assimilation and it becomes a mechanism of power.” Patricia Cruz, a forró singer and radio show host argued for the value of a music which produces a feeling of pride to counter negative images of the Northeast as being inferior in terms of education and cultural expressions. “There are people in forró pé de serra that construct a poetry where the Northeasterner speaks beautifully, where the Northeasterner is learned, intelligent.” This is a significant comment - that because of its deep association with the Northeast forró has been marked as something inferior, but that it has also been a force to counter this image.

As other music scholars have noted, music holds a key place in understanding identity because it is an important means by which people “…recognize identities and places, and the boundaries which separate them” (Stokes 1994: 5). Patricia laments though that often the lower classes have been bombarded by other visions from the media in which they have less power: “The [lower classes] don’t decide what is mass produced.” She also felt, as other musicians expressed, that this was even more pronounced in the towns outside the environs of the capitals. “The interior [country side] is a thousand times worse; what before was folklore and a roots culture, now is a location of a strong mass manipulation [by the media], because that is how history works.”

Silvério Pessoa, a successful musician from Carpina, a small town in the interior of Pernambuco, who moved to Recife as a teenager and who over the past few years has been touring outside Brazil, told me of some of the power struggles involved in appropriation that he sees in forró: “The corporations and recording companies saw that forró could be dressed in different clothes. So, they create bands and groups and they created classifications for this like “university” forró. This is not a true genre. It dressed up in new clothes, elaborated to sell cds. [You see] people from the middle class, successful, that decide to play accordion like [the bands from São Paulo and Ceará]. There is a market for this because the business people have agreements with the radio stations; they pay to be played on the radio.”

Silvério’s, last comment here was reiterated by many of my musician informants who repeatedly denounced the fact that in order to be played on most of the commercial radio stations in Brazil artists and producers need to pay. Because many of the more “authentic” or “roots” artists are not affiliated with powerful companies that can afford these pay-to-play fees they are less able to reach mass audiences, especially the clase popular, that relies more heavily on the television and radio to provide entertainment and information. He noted that this extended to how forró is still portrayed in the media emanating from Rio and São Paulo as connected to the lower classes: “But if you are watching a popular soap opera, when the lower class area appears pagode or forró is playing. But when the middle class appears they play MPB, pop, or classical music.” Anchieta echoed this sentiment: “The elite is in front commanding the lower class with the media. The lower class is subdued by the TV and the radio. There is a lack of space for true culture like that which exists in pé de serra forró and other important cultural manifestations.”

Silvério and others viewed the connections between forró and music labeled “traditional” as not belonging to the elite class, but from the lower classes. “What we call traditional culture, folklore, and forró; who makes this are agricultural workers, people without [their own] land, bricklayers, people who earn miserable salaries. Those are who make this music and play the accordion and the rabeca [fiddle].” Rebecca, a self described “lower-middle class” university student who was learning the button accordion from Arlindo also noted the associations between “traditional” and lower class cultural production: “…before, in the 80’s, the traditional Pernambucan musicians were considered something inferior because who plays and produces it is from the lower classes. Accordion players and forró players were and still are poor. And then there’s that thing with class in music; MPB for example is called ‘Brazilian Popular Music’, but only that which is made by the upper middle class, principally from the Southeast is called this.”

There seemed to be some parallels between the perceived movements of forró from a music exclusively produced and consumed by the lower classes to its acceptance by a range of social classes and other instances in which elements of culture had been appropriated from one part of society to form more ambiguous or encompassing identities. Several artists mentioned how they felt that what they were doing was being “copied” by the upper middle class of São Paulo and garnering success nationally at the expense of the “original” artists in Pernambuco. One informant notes that forró became appropriated in São Paulo, but was demarcated in certain ways as no longer something of the lower classes: “… because there was an interest in Pernambucan music, the young university crowd gave it a new covering, and they only play xote [one of the sub-genres of forró with a reggae like feel] and called it ‘university forró. But for what? To say that it isn’t taxi drivers and maids; it’s so subtle, but it’s a form of saying that it’s the upper-middle class playing.” She also noted how this happened in Pernambuco as well. “The young people [from the middle and upper classes] in Pernambuco up until more or less the middle of the 90’s, didn’t like forró or ciranda because they were considered something black and poor. Because of racism and class discrimination it wasn’t something that these people appreciated or enjoyed.” Several informants felt that even though the upper middle class and the upper class often adopt the musicality of the lower class, they label and construct it differently, consciously and subconsciously creating divides and maintaining exclusion. This was further noted by something that I was to hear from many Brazilians about their perceptions of a decline in the middle class and the insecurity that it posed: “With passing time the divisions are more extreme between social classes in Brazil. There has been a flattening of the middle class. Today the middle class is a much smaller slice you could say. And there is more distance between the rich and the poor. Music has turned into one of the few ways that a person from the poor class to leave from that place.”

One musician, Jerimum, remarked to me that in Recife that the appropriation of forró could be witnessed in the audiences and the sites where the music is played. He made several comments about where and to whom he was performing for, noting that pé de serra forró was gaining popularity among the middle and upper classes at the same time it was declining among the lower. When I asked him for an example of this he talked about one of the venues that he had enjoyed performing in: There is a place in São Paulo called ‘Chic Forró’. They even put one here too. Damn, it was a cool place before […] and they turned it into a place for the elite. They have been trying to make forró chic.” This comment shows some of the feeling of appropriation and also notes how social space is being marked in the city.[34]

Vianna (1999) and Sheriff (1999), among others, have examined the mediations and appropriations around samba occurring between and across classes to construct national identities that took place in from the early twentieth century to the present day. Samba developed into a marker of “brasilidade”, or Brazilian identity, not accidentally, but was constructed as such by interactions between different social groups; notably popular musicians, intellectuals like Gilberto Freyre, and Sergio Buarque de Hollanda, as well as the rise to power of the Getulio Vargas[35] regime that relied heavily on samba to forge a unifying Brazilian identity that would be used for nationalist goals (Galinsky 2002: 6, McCann 2004: 6-8, Reily 2000: 5-8). To the present day samba continues to be conceived and imagined as a musical embodiment of the national identity of Brazil (DaMatta 1991, Vianna 1999). As Robin Sheriff argues in her article “The Theft of Carnaval”, samba is in an ongoing process of co-option by the elite and the government from the communities instrumental in creating it (Sheriff 1999). Forró can be seen in a similar light in its shifts in meanings through appropriation as a music for all social classes in millennial-era Brazil. Because the Northeast is regarded as “traditional” and a source of “authentic” culture in Brazil, expressions like forró can be taken by the middle and upper classes to attach ideas that they are indications and celebrations of “brasilidade”, while still maintaining boundaries between classes. In the next section, I would like to discuss more thoroughly these concepts of “tradition”, “modern”, and “authenticity” present in forró.

IX. Truth, Blood, and Roots: Authenticity and Tradition in Discourses on Forró and Identity

Throughout my fieldwork period I was confronted with discourses around questions and ideas of authenticity centered on conceptions of “traditional.” In the next section I would like to examine these notions in the forró milieu and the ways in which they demarcate social and regional spaces in the collective imagination. The idea mentioned previously of the Northeast as a region imbued with certain aspects of the “traditional” can be seen as tied with these notions of authenticity that serve to enforce certain problematic constructions as well as constructing identities based on notions of “true” cultural manifestations.

One February afternoon, in the baking sun of the middle summer, I got into a taxi with my forró producer contact Roberto to travel to the house of Camarão, a well known accordion player from Pernambuco that he worked with. On the ride over to the interview I glimpsed some of the cultural politics being played out in understandings of the place and value of “local” music. Roberto began talking to the driver about his job and how he felt that music from Pernambucan artists needed to be held in higher regard and promoted more by the state and city governments. The radio station was featuring a collection of news stories at the top of the hour and one report in particular caught both Roberto and the driver’s attention. It mentioned that the municipal government was entertaining a motion by one representative that during the Recife Carnaval that a certain percentage should be set aside exclusively for Pernambucan artists and music styles. Roberto lamented that the last few years’ Carnavals had featured too much music from outside of Pernambuco and that such a law was a good idea to restore a balance and protect “local” music, ensuring a more “Pernambucan” festival. The taxi driver strongly disagreed, observing that the music played during Carnaval should be decided by its popularity and that many people, including himself, were great fans of (Axé) music from Bahia state for instance. A spirited argument ensued in which both men emphatically stated contradictory opinions on the merits and dangers of the government’s involvement in promoting certain musics deemed “local.” This discussion was part of a larger debate relating to the authenticity of cultural productions (especially tied to locality) that I was to encounter repeatedly in discourses surrounding music.

“Authenticity” was demonstrated in differing ways, but seemed to hinge on the sounds employed, the intentions and motivations of the artist, and a sense of maintaining a connection to one’s “roots.” This experience of performing and participating in something being “real” was framed as crucial to maintaining a cultural identity. Anthropologist Edward Burner writes in his examination of experience about the connections between performance and authenticity: “All cultures are constructions that take historical elements from different eras and sources... All constructed cultures require belief; that is, the participants must have confidence in their own authenticity, which is one reason cultures are performed. It is not enough to assert claims; they have to be enacted. Stories become transformative only in their performance" (Burner 1986: 25).

Surrounding the mythic story of patriarchal figure of Luiz Gonzaga there is agreement that he had changed folkloric forms of music and expression through performance, “creating” aspects of Northeastern identity that still ring strongly. Paradoxically, he made forró into something “authentic” by adding his own specific markings that would both set it as his own creation and at the same time as unmistakably Northeastern and Brazilian. This is interesting because it notes the flexibility of these “traditions” that are discussed as having an “inventor” and at the same time being conceived as harking back further in time. As Crook writes in his examination of Northeastern music, Gonzaga “[highlighted] musical traditions with characteristics deeply rooted in notions of rural authenticity that were assumed to be more resistant to foreign influences…” (Crook 2005: 231). One of the key aspects of Gonzaga’s success was his successful use of certain traditions and the reworking of these in order to appeal to a variety of socio-economic classes. The belief that Gonzaga’s music was “authentically” Northeastern no doubt played a large part in his achievement of garnering the attention of the country as it sought a national identity that relied on “true” representations of culture to reinforce the notion of a unified country as well as creating space for a Northeastern identity.

Resistance to foreign influences were an important part of building a Brazilian identity and continue to play a significant role to those producing “authentic” music. This is a point that was brought up by many contacts in the field, who felt that much of the commercial nature music played on the radio and television was a corrupting influence that devalued the local in favor of the (American centered) global. There was great awareness among musicians and fans about the unequal power relationships between Brazil, Europe, and the United States in general and specifically in relation to music. This is something that can be seen as an active reaction to differences in power between Brazilian productions and international vectors of influence and is echoed by Vianna in the introduction to his book on samba and identity in Brazil: “The defense of “authentic” popular culture in Brazil has often gained its energy from anti-U.S. cultural nationalism accompanied by revolutionary vision” (Vianna 1999: xviii).

At the same time many musicians and fans welcomed the interchange of music and the ability to share what they felt was “authentic culture” with international consumers. Herbert Lucena, a forró producer and musician from Caruaru in his 30’s told me that he was excited about the new possibilities for exchange, but that it necessitated a vigilance to keep the integrity of the work intact; that the music can and will be altered, but that it should retain an essence of “truth.” When I asked him what “truth” in forró consisted of he told me that it was present in the instrumentation, sounds, and rhythms, as well as with a strong tie with the Northeast ways of speech, foods, geography, and attitudes toward life. He, along with other artists also expressed the feeling that there needs to be a middle ground (meio-termo) in which “tradition” can and should evolve to meet new needs and exigencies. Herbert told me that, Tradition is important, it’s our anchor. But it’s not right to super-valorize the folkloric and tradition, saying that only that is the truth, nor devalue the tradition and the folklore for what’s the new, quick thing that will bring… [media success].

This quest for authenticity was framed by many of my contacts as something that they felt passionately about, perceiving the media and the elite as appropriating music from the lower classes at the same time de-valorizing “authentic representations” and providing pop substitutes that contain and promote negative cultural values. Repeatedly stressed in conversations and interviews were the terms “authentic” (autêntico) and “values” (valor). Informants viewed these as inherent in forró pé de serra and other “traditional” music invented by lower socio-economic classes and that appropriations by the media and elite often served to replace these qualities with inferior or watered-down versions. When questioned on what constituted authenticity a typical answer was that it could be found in forró’s connection to the world and worldviews of the sertão and its people as well as the Northeast. Haidée Carmelo, a singer of forró and other Northeastern genres and professor at a local university replied to this question of authenticity by asserting that forró has maintained a strong link to the folkloric and to the “blood” of the nordestino by telling stories of a particular locale through its performance and dance. Beyond this she felt that it has maintained its resonance with Northeasterners and Brazilians in general because it has not remained static, but is a “tradition” that is flexible and adaptive.

This very quality of being somewhat flexible was also challenged when it was perceived as straying too far from its “roots.” Often the “modern” or “stylized” forró was considered a commercial appropriation that was seen as corrupting any authenticity in the music and turning it into a solely profit based enterprise. Besides the differences in sound and style, “modern” forró is often more of a spectacle or show that is watched than participated in actively through dancing. This was mentioned as another reason why informants considered it “entertainment” and not “culture.” The active participation of the audience in performance was counted as essential.

Many decried that fact that they felt the “true” artists were not receiving the financial rewards due to them. Anchieta Dali commented that the “true culture” (“a cultura verdadeira”), represented by pé de serra forró, was not receiving its rightful share of the market after its significant contributions to the local music scene. He told me that, “The receipts for a good pé de serra show get at the maximum 5 thousand reais (1 Euro was about 2.8 reais) and the “stylized” shows at 20, 30 to 50 thousand reais or more. With that you have to pay the all of the crew, the equipment, everything. But there are people that do shows for three hundred reais; the street sweeper makes more than they make. The majority make very little.” Several informants agreed that forró had been appropriated for commercial gain without any credit (or remuneration) going to those who were and are of the lower classes who produced the base or “source” of the music.

There was a common feeling that forró, through being taken far from its social setting had created something of a “lie” (mentira) in which groups of middle class Paulistas (people from São Paulo) and Cariocas ( people from Rio) took over representations and commercial success from authentic forró, playing their own version of “pé de serra” forró that many informants felt was trying to cash in on an authenticity that was not deserved because the musicians had no connection to the Northeast (i.e. considered upper middle class Paulistas). Others such as Dominginhos, perhaps the most respected living forró accordionist, told me when I met briefly him at Arlindo’s forró that he didn’t feel as if the “university” groups from the South were at fault and that they had helped bring some needed visibility to forró pé de serra in the Northeast.

Although many of my contacts were bothered by the fact that by playing “traditional” or “authentic” forró they would be much less likely to achieve the financial rewards of “modern” forró bands, and resented perceived appropriations, many felt that for them the most essential aspect of their work was attached to deep feelings of satisfaction in producing “culture” and something that was “real.” Their music is a profound expression of not just musicality, but of their identity. When questioned on what constitutes it as “real culture,” Silvério Pessoa told me, “Forró is not just a music; it identifies a people; it’s a philosophy of a people, a poetry, a way of dressing, a way of being.” Another informant framed this authenticity she felt was inherent in pé de serra forró as her means of being, “…loyal to my roots. Stylized [or ‘modernized’] forró is not culture, it’s not from Pernambuco, but it did help the real forró and … [those playing it].” Jerimum, the percussionist who plays with many local “roots” music bands felt that even though pé de serra forró might not achieve quick commercial success that it had the strength of staying power because it was something authentic: Pé de serra forró won’t die like [these popular musics] that are like clothes that go out of style and people throw them away. But pé de serra won’t ever end because it’s a root thing.”

These perspectives highlight some of the discourses at work in regards to what is held as authentic and is mentioned by ethnomusicologist Martin Stokes as significant in great part due to its effects on forming certain boundaries: “…we should see ‘authenticity’ is a discursive trope of great persuasive power. It focuses a way of talking about music, a way of saying to outsiders and insiders alike ‘this is what is really significant about this music’, ‘this is the music that makes us different from other people’” (Stokes 1994: 7). It is pertinent here to bring back the earlier mentioned point that the Northeast in general is considered the “traditional” region of Brazil: Like Crook mentions: “It is this ‘other Brazil’ the Brazil of the Northeast […] that today’s Brazilians perceive as the wellspring of their country’s ‘authentic’ national character and the home of its ‘purest’ traditional culture and music” (Crook 2005: 9).

Ruben Oliven has examined the rise of a traditionalist movement in another part of Brazil, the far south that has some parallels to the situation of forró. Based around an invented Gaúcho identity, it started in Rio Grande do Sul and quickly spread out nationally and internationally. He emphasizes that many of the leaders of the movement came from the middle classes and that they looked not towards the elite as a model for the particular Gaúcho identity that they espoused, but towards the farm hands, and lower strata of rural society. Oliven notes that “The novelty is that young people in the cities, a good number of them from the middle class, have recently begun to drink mate tea, wear bombachas (baggy pants traditionally worn by the gaucho), and enjoy regional music—all habits that have lost their stigma of inferiority” (Oliven 2000a: 109). He notes that the middle classes formed a significant part of the movement to play up certain “traditional” notions of Gaúcho identity in that they served as intermediaries between the ideas of academia and the rural working class. Several informants noted that there had been a new acceptance of “traditional” music and instruments as a way to embrace a new kind of inclusive modernity not founded on rejecting the past or on preserving it, but instead finding a way to rework it in the present. This feeling was elucidated in a comment of Silvério’s: “[There has been changes also] here in Pernambuco... forró and the accordion, rabeca [fiddle] music; the discovery of the accordion as a modern instrument, as synonymous with modernity. So, this made possible also a valorization, a vanity maybe, of affirming your place, your history. [My concern is] …to make traditional music have a new manner of being elaborated and created in order to attend to the natural necessities of new generations.”

He acknowledged, along with many of my contacts, that the mangue movement had awakened a dormant desire to learn about and value local music and musicians and succeeded in changing ideas especially in the middle and upper classes in Pernambuco. He told me that: “Through the mangue movement there was a re-discovery of another Brazil, inside of Pernambuco itself. The lower class outskirts [períferia] began to also have its own esthetic. This opened up a curiosity inside of Brazil itself to discover its own past.” Mangue was credited with precipitating an awareness of forró and other cultural manifestations that had been previously been considered of the lower classes and gave them a new worth. Informants felt that at the same time this was happening there were boundaries being set to mark areas of performance and consumption for different classes.

My attention was brought back to boundaries, and to ideas of “traditional and “backward” by a comment at a forró event made by a young fan from Recife. He mentioned that in his view, “the Northeast and the Northeasterner always have been looked down upon by the rest of Brazil.” I was to encounter this perception expressed in different ways and with different intensities throughout my fieldwork. Another young woman told me the story of arriving at the main bus station in São Paulo a year previously and being harassed by a man shaking his fist at her and telling her to return to the Northeast, that the city was overrun with “you people.” Informants observed that in the past these prejudices were more common, and they perceived them as slowly fading, but many said that there are still prejudices; they have just become more subtle by demarcating social spaces. One fan gave an example of this in the labeling of “university” forró in Sao Paulo: “They put a name on it [university forró] in order to say, ‘this is our space, it’s for the upper middle class and it is not for poor Northeasterners, even though it was invented and brought there by poor Northeasterners.’”

Northeastern music, especially forró, has been instrumental in constructing a sense of geographical, emotional, and cultural place and doing so in a way that creates a mixture between ideas and desires for both “traditional” and “modern” aspects of identity. The perception of the Northeast as a representation of “traditional” elements of Brazil can be seen as complex in that it can be employed in different ways and toward different means. Aspects of culture that are imbued with “Northeasterness” such as forró can be a means toward securing an identity that celebrates the past through present constructions that assert pride and values through its production and consumption. This dichotomy of the Northeast as representing the certain notions of the past, given form in its perception as “traditional” can also bring with it negative connotations that reinforce long standing ideas of a problematic backwards region. This is something that has been noted previously in other studies of music and identity: “The linking of particular musical styles, instruments, voices or sounds with particular places, and with various characteristics and stereotypes associated with those places is fairly common” (Cohen 1994: 121). Forró demarcates space as an “authentic” or “traditional” music from the Northeast and because of these ideas is a powerful means of constructing identities that is not without contestations.

As mentioned above, some of these contested areas are often found in interpretations of what exactly is “true” or “authentic” and what is an appropriation. There was a certain ambivalence to “outsiders,” exampled here by informants feeling that (upper) middle class musicians from the Southeast had taken “their forró” and used it for solely profit.[36] Others argued that the success of these musicians only brought attention to “real forró,” although still often they framed the music from these groups as less than authentic. Much of the same lines were drawn around “modern” or “stylized” forró, which was also often derided as appropriating “true culture” for commercial gain. Here though the criteria was not necessarily related to class or geography, as many of the artists are Northeastern and from the middle or lower classes, but as being purely entertainment that espoused a certain commercialism viewed as corruptive. Again, other informants were somewhat less negative towards “forró moderno” noting how it had helped focus more attention on the pé de serra movement. The “truth” of pé de serra was to be found in the blood my informants argued; lived and experienced. Seen in its portrayal of values like stubbornness, fierce love of place amid great hardships, the use of Northeastern speech, accent, and particular words for places and things, respecting family, and the saudades or longing to return to a place that is far away physically and spiritually.

X. Conclusions

Forró has had ebbs and flows in its popularity since introduced to Brazil at large in the late 1940’s. It has suffered under the weight of prejudice of being something from the popular classes (poor) of the Northeast and although this perception is waning it still holds some currency. Over the past fifteen years it has made a substantial re-emergence from its “hibernation” and several important factors have been mentioned as contributing to this. The death of its mythic founder, Luiz Gonzaga in 1989 brought renewed national attention on the music, the emergence of “modernized” forró bands and other genres of forró such as “university forró”, while sometimes derided for appropriating or corrupting forró have helped to resuscitate an interest in it. Additionally, many individuals in the local scene have been credited with re-sparking an interest in the music. The mangue movement led by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi has been much heralded for its success in focusing of the national spotlight on the innovative music being made in the Northeast (especially Pernambuco) and particularly the “traditional” styles and genres that were (and are) the bases or sources of considerable musical knowledge and inspiration for new generations of Brazilian musicians and audiences.

I have argued that the re-emergence of forró can also be seen as a striving for security by elaborating an identity that has one foot firmly rooted in past cultural practices and production of a music that gives a sense of “home” and pride amid a complicated and confusing (post) modernity. There is not one single factor, but rather a set of reasons accounting for the importance of tradition. This sense of security that can be provided by maintaining tradition has been mentioned in other studies related to cultural production and consumption: “Clearly, a link with the past can be an important psychological palliative in times of rapid social change. The existence of traditions gives people a benchmark against which to measure change and, perhaps more important, it provides a sense of security and connection with an earlier time that is perceived as being simpler, happier, or creatively richer. Acting out traditions or constructing a history creates powerful moods of attachment in participants” (Cameron 1987: 166). “Traditional” music like forró also provides in its strong links to identity an alternative to the violence all too common in and near Recife. Like one of my informants told me: “In Olinda if you don’t watch out you will get involved with drugs, with trafficking and thank God I had a chance to leave this world with music and with culture.” Music not only provided an economic alternative in this case, but by encouraging this informant to value local cultural production, gave him a new sense of purpose and worth.

As many of my informants have noted that the concepts of “tradition” and “modernity” and their embodiments in forró should not be considered a passive acceptance of an either-or position of these concepts, but rather an active area where new meanings are articulated and contested. Innovative meanings and stances were articulated in the past by the afore mentioned constructions and attitudes of such figures as Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, and are still held to strongly. The story surrounding Luiz Gonzaga has become a myth that has significance in that it is held as an epic of transformation from the “backwardness” of the rural interior with its numerous and rich, but unrefined traditions, towards the city, which represents the opportunity to have contact with the “modern”. On this his appeal works towards both these spaces imagined spaces: for the city dwellers he represents someone who was afforded the opportunity to display (and refine) his skills because of the very fact that he migrated from the hinterlands to the metropolis. For those in the rural milieu, his story is the personification of the belief that in order to succeed one has to move towards “modernity” that takes form in the cities on the coast, where one can have greater contact with consumer products, communicate with the outside world, and have the chance to escape poverty and the hierarchy of the large farms. Perhaps most importantly, he achieved this not through a denial of his background and “traditions”, but by embracing them and capitalizing on them.

As noted, there is the idea of “…indelible differences between the South (as culturally progressive, industrialized, and modern) and the Northeast (as culturally conservative, rural, and traditional) was an important part of the way in which Brazil emerged as a modern nation” (Crook 2005: 13). One of the key ways of marking difference in Brazil has thus been this dichotomy of modern and traditional. Social actors can and have created their own meanings though that instead of linking “traditional” to the opposite of “modern,” have reworked and constructed new ideas and spaces where the two concepts are linked. Modernity is experienced in this rendering not as a renunciation of tradition, but through a valorization of it. Musicians and participants from Pernambuco are actively creating new meanings that also take certain elements of the past that are sources of inspiration, pride, and shared identity in order to place themselves in a more secure modernity that esteems certain elements of the past. This concept and feeling of sharing an identity that highly values tradition is critical in achieving a future. In the passionate words of one forró singer: “It’s not only about revitalizing the past but not forgetting the past. So that [we achieve] a future that we want, a nation that dialogues with other nations, that shows itself; that can have a party with all of its rhythms, but that preserves itself in the midst of all this. That it appears with its own face, not with this deformed face that the modes of communication want to create, as if we didn’t have a soul, as if we didn’t have such a strong identity.”

These choices being made to secure and form identities are neither irrelevant nor random, but constructed for certain means, goals, and reasons that can and do shift as individuals and groups adapt them to fulfill new perceived needs. Tradition is not static or inert, but rather something that is in a continual process of re-working and re-evaluation. As DaMatta writes: “If the concept of tradition is not seen as dynamic, it merely serves to legitimate domination, freezing differences and screening out an understanding of reality” (DaMatta 1995: 272). Through forró, social actors are creating spaces for the incorporation of “tradition” in dynamic ways in order to construct meanings in contemporary settings.

It is essential to examine the place of tradition and how it has been created in order to understand the experience of late modernity in Brazil. Viewing Brazil from political or economic standpoint are certainly valid (and necessary) way of assessing the present situation in the country and discovering possibilities for positive change, but it needs to be tempered with an understanding of how identities are constructed, lived and understood in the day to day. As DaMatta points out: “…even if the Brazilian government were able to resolve its ongoing crisis, Brazilians would still have to confront the “cultural crisis” that is part of their daily struggle of life on the streets. Corruption and political instability are not just a product of a colonial legacy or neocolonial economics; they are also products of a continued reproduction of practices, values, and institutions in the informal institutions of everyday life” (Hess and DaMatta 1995: 21).

Just as music has been a powerful means towards creating a national identity, as in the case of samba, it can also play a vital role in envisioning and forming a vibrant modernity in which all Brazilians can take part. In the words of Patricia Cruz: “All of this popular culture, like forró and [other regional music] have a potential to create possibilities for human liberation. This human exchange is a way of reverting what wrongs exist; of learning, of drinking from the sources [of knowledge]. This is a function of art, it’s not just a question of enjoyment, art liberates.” As Brazil charts its course to the future, it faces many challenges and problems, not the least of which are the glaring discrepancies between regions and social classes. Although music has been a key means towards constructing identities and boundaries in Brazil, it remains to be seen if it can mobilize and effect large scale changes in the social realities of daily life. Can forró and other “traditional” expressions be a source of “human liberation”? That remains to be seen, but at the present they are surely effecting the formation of identities and elaborating a new mixture of past expressed in the present in a rapidly changing Brazil.

XI. Bibliography

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Age / Gender

Profession / Details


34 / Male

Musician (percussion)

Arlindo dos Oito Baixos

64 / Male

Musician, music teacher

Berto Hortis

32 / Male

Musician (accordion)


60’s / Male

Musician (accordion)

Terezinha do Accordion

56 / Female

Musician, music teacher

Lu Sanfoneiro

18 / Male

Musician, student

Carlinhos Monteverde

30’s / Male

Musician (singer)

Anchieta Dali

30’s / Male


Jerimum de Olinda

29 / Male

Musician (percussion)


31 / Male

Capoeira teacher, musician

Bia Marinho

50’s / Female

Composer, singer

Roberto Lins

40’s / Male

Buisness executive, singer

Juilio Sanfoneiro

17 / Male

Musician, student

Hildebrando Marcos

60’s / Male

Retired city employee, musician

Toinho de Surubim

60’s / Male

Musician (singer)


29 / Female

Nurse, forró fan

Patricia Cruz

30’s / Female

Radio show host, singer


25 / Female

University student, student of accordion

Ivan Ferraz

60’s / Male

Radio show host, composer, singer

Samuel Valente

50’s / Male

Writer, composer

Herbert Lucena

32 / Male

Music producer, musician (percussion)

Roberto Andrade

53 / Male


Haidée Carmelo

40’s / Female

Professor, singer

Appendix I. - Table of interviewees

Appendix II. – Interview questions

Here are examples of some of the questions that I asked informants during interviews. Not every question here was asked in each interview (or asked in exactly this form), but gives the reader a general idea of the type of queries. Additionally, other questions were often asked as follow-ups or to elucidate specific answers.

- What is your background in music; how did you start?

- Where are you from? (Why did you come to the capital?)

- What were your perceptions of the capital like before you arrived here? After arriving here? Now?

- What about your early experiences drew you to forró?

- Did anyone in your family also play; were you encouraged to do so?

- What is your profession; are you a full time musician, or do you have another job?

- What is the relation of forró and social class; has this changed?

- Why do you think it has changed; what are the reasons behind this?

- What is forró?

- Is forró something Northeastern; Brazilian, or something else?

- Does it have any connection to identity as a Brazilian, Northeasterner?

- Are there different categories of forró?

- Is forró connected with tradition? Is it modern?

- What is “modern” or “stylized” forró?

- Is it different than pé de serra forró? How?

- What about “university forró?

- Is forró decreasing, increasing, or staying the same in its popularity in your opinion?

- Has forró changed in the way that people see it?

- How important is forró to your identity? To identity in general?

- Do you feel that there are any prejudices or preconceptions related to forró? To being Northeastern? (If so) Is this something recent or older?

- What does the word “modern” mean to you? The word “tradition”?

-What do you think about ideas of the Northeast as being “traditional” and the Southeast being “modern”?

- What has been your experience in the forró world?

- What does “authentic” mean to you?

- What does “roots” mean to you?

- Is there really a Northeastern identity separate from a Brazilian identity? Do you consider yourself a Northeasterner? How would this be different or the same as being Brazilian?

- Would you encourage your children to play (forró) music?

- What about your social circle; does your family/friends participate in forró community? How?

-Do you think forró will change in the future? How?

- Forro has been mentioned in the past by many as being connected to the lower class; has this changed? Why? How?

- Has playing (participating in) this music had any effects on your life? If so, how?

- Why did you choose to focus on forró and not another type of music?

- Is forró related to some of these other musics also being called “traditional” or “local”?

- Is there a “forró community”?

- Do you see any problems in the forró community?

- What is the role [papel] of “tradition” in your opinion in forró? To you personally?

- What has been a positive of your involvement in the scene? Any negatives?

- Has the social situation in your view been improving or declining here in Pernambuco in the past years?

- Are there great financial rewards for this type of music?

- Why do you play forró?

Appendix III.


The following is a (very) short list of some popular forró artists and some of their work. Also included are two albums by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, who were mentioned in the text as vastly important founders of the mangue movement.

Luiz Gonzaga – “Volta Pra Curtir” BMG – B00005LO04, “Luiz Gonzaga Canta Seus Sucessos com Ze Dantas” BMG – B00004W3U0, “Canãa” BMG – B00004W3T2

Jackson do Pandeiro – “20 Super Sucessos” Sony – B00006LVI8, “Raizes Nordesinas” EMI – B00006LVI7, “ O Forró do Jackson” EMI – B00000G96Z

Silvério Pessoa – “Cabeça Electrica Coração Acústico” Tratore Music Brasil – B000CQO1PW, “Bate o Manca” BMG – B00006LWME

Chico Science & Nação Zumbi – “Afrociberdelia” Sony – B000002EAL, “Da Lama ao Caos” Sony – B00000G9N6

Dominginhos – “Enciclopedia Musical Brasileira” WEA - B00004TWOI

Gilberto Gil - “Eu tu e eles Soundtrack” WEA – B00004TW3X


Viva São João! – A documentary featuring Gilberto Gil’s interviews with several nationally famous forró artists during his tour of the Northeast of the June festivals in the Northeast and Southeast in 2001. It covers the history of the festivals and their importance to the local communities. More information at: www.conspira.com.br/saojoao and www.sonypictures.com.br

[1] This designation of a plural for the country has been applied by both academics and is something that I heard in a number of conversations that I had during my time in Brazil. For a mention of this see Hess and DaMatta 1995: 8.

[2] Adriana Fernandes’ doctoral dissertation mentioned above is a notable exception. Crook [2005] and McCann’s [2004] chapters on Northeastern music and forró in their recently published books have been helpful sources.

[3] This is a phrase that I heard in Brazil from informants in relation to forró, and is also the name (in English) of a collection of forró classics available on a CD.

[4] Jornal do Commecio, Recife, 19/01/2001 in Caderno C (author unlisted.)

“Forró began to decline the middle of the [50’s], and it left the charts definitively in 1959. When the bossa nova charmed [the people] … the baiões, côcos, and xaxados returned to their origins and were enjoyed in the Northeast, and in the strongholds of where the migrant trucks arrived in … São Paulo and Rio.” (my translation)

5 “Modern forró” is also referred to as “stylized forró” (forró estilizado) and “electronic forró” (forró electronico).

[6] A quote from Gilberto Gil appeared in the popular Brazilian magazine “Epoca” in the 26/06/2000 edition (page 125) entitled, “De Volta ao Aconchego” (“Return to Coziness”) “Forró is the most important genre in Brazil after the samba.” (“O forró é o genero mais importante do Brasil depois do samba”).

[7] Globo News 23:30 edition 26/01/06 –“Our Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil shows that in terms of culture Brazil is among the richest countries in the world.” (“O nosso ministro de cultura Gilberto Gil mostra que em termos de cultura, Brasil está entre os paises mais ricos do mundo”).

[8] From the “Manifesto Mangue – Caranguejos com Cérebro” (“Mangue Manifesto – Crabs with Brains”) written by journalist and musician Fred Zero Quatro and distributed to the press in 1991. The text can be found in the liner notes for the “Da lama ao caos” CD by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi (see discography at end).

9 “They seem to belong to three overlapping types: a) those establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or establishing or legitimizing institutions, status or relations of authority, and c) those whose main purpose was socialization, the inculcation of beliefs, value systems and conventions of behavior” (Hobsbawm and Ranger: 9).

10 “Believing with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take cultures to be those webs, and the analysis of it therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Geertz 1973: 5).

[11] Caboclo is a general term used in Brazil for that the mixture of (mostly) Portuguese and Amerindian peoples and material cultures.

[12] An example from Fryer: “With its texture of contrasting timbres (basically: accordion, zabumba bass drum played with a mallet and a stick, and triangle) arranged polyrhythmically over a strong, lively beat, and with much use of call-and-response singing, the forró exemplifies the persistence in Brazil of the traditional African approach to music making…” (Fryer 2000: 180).

13 Additionally, the marcha junina is danced as a type of group dance and the xaxado is often danced with only men holding wooden rifle replicas.

[14] This was evidenced in some of the conversations I had with participants and performers as well as in interludes between lyrics in which singers would often say things like “it’s catching fire in here!” (tá pegando fogo aqui!).

[15] The official site of Paraíba state prominently lists the festas juninas as one of the top attractions of the city and lasts for the entire month of June. See: http://www.paraiba.pb.gov.br/turismo/pt/cg.shtml

The city of Caruaru also features the festas juninas prominently on their site with the main photo on the home page being a shot of a performance at the festivities. See: http://www.caruaru.pe.gov.br/principal.asp

[16] Partial lyrics to “Asa branca” by Luiz Gonzaga. Perhaps the most well known example of the genre.

[17] Jackson do Pandeiro is also a main “founding” figure of forró, combining elements of samba and coco, fashioning an image of an “…urbane and street-smart figure” (Crook 2005: 267).

[18] Meaning literally, “White wing,” the colloquial name for a bird of the sertão that is known to reappear after droughts.

19 Many restaurants and bars are named after Lampião and it is common to see artisan work in Pernambuco featuring him and Maria Bonita. One restaurant near my home in Olinda had “Lampião” and “Maria Bonita” signs to indicate the male and female restrooms. (See photo 1)

[20] “...comecei a pensar que tipo eu podia fazer, porque o carioca tinha sua camisa listada, o baiano tinha o chapeu de palha, o sulista era aquele roupa do Pedro. Mas, é o nordestino? Eu tinha a oportunidade de criar sua caracteristica e a unica coisa que me vinha a cabeça era Lampião. [...] telegrafei para minha mãe, pedindo que me enviasse um chapeu de couro bonito, lembrando Lampião” (Dryfus: 1996: 134).

[21] "Clearly their [Gonzaga, and Dorival Caymmi, a successful nordestino artist] representations of the Northeast appealed not just to fellow northeasterners but to all Brazilians struggling to understand the nation's transition from archaic, rural, and enclosed to modern, industrial , and boundless" (McCann 2004: 118).

[22] When I left it was still in production and he has not since mentioned it in our email correspondence since I returned from Brazil.

[23] Note: see appendix for a list of interviewed informants and further interview information

[24] In Portuguese: “O forró não é uma música negra, é uma música pra’ todo mundo.” For a list of informants and interview questions see appendixes.

[25] Translated in English as The Masters and the Slaves.

[26] For several recent examples of discussion of race questions in Brazil compared to the U.S. see Skidmore (1993); regarding music and race Lima (2002); and McCallum (2005) detailing the production of meanings related to the (racialized) body in the Northeast city of Salvador .

[27] Jornal do Commecio, Recife 19 de Junho 2001, Caderno C (author unlisted.)

“Nos anos 70 e 80, com exeção de fenomenos localizados [...] o forró passou a ser consumido essencialmente pela “cabroeira” . Surpreendemente, no limiar do fim do seculo, a musica inventada por Luiz Gonzaga tomou o lugar do pagode e do axé. Pessoal da mata, baixa nivel social, entre a clase média do Rio e de São Paulo.”

28 Same article: “Passageira ou não, a onda pegou firme tambem no nordeste. Há decadas que não se viam tantos discos de forró nas lojas, e ocupandos a parte nobre, as vitrines.”

[29] An example of this that informants mentioned was the number of foreigners (particularly French) coming to the Recife area in order to learn maracatu (a “traditional” Afro-Brazilian music with ties to candomblé) drumming and participate in Carnaval groups previously composed of all locals.

[30] Brega here is not to be confused with the romantic “dor de cotovelo” (“elbow pain”) music known by the same name especially popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s and exampled in Roberto Carlos’ songs of the period.

[31] “In 1986 Briant Gumble, of NBC’s “Today Show,” after seeing the whole formidable and paradoxical parade of Rio’s samba schools, asked me: ‘Why this celebration, with so much luxury and waste, when there are so many poor people here?” Clearly for Mr. Gumble the celebrations were out of place. How could a poor country ritualize a luxurious, sensual, and complete utopia that is, aside from all else, so joyful? This could never happen following the deepest Western logic: if a society is poor, it can only celebrate its own misery” (DaMatta 1995: 279).

[32] Crook writes that, “…forró clubs catered primarily to working-class audiences in Brazil and later were adopted by wider segments of the population” (Crook 2005: 231).

[33] “These scholars [Freyre, Mario de Andrade] and others have perceived music, more than any other sort of artistic expression, as having the potential to break down barriers of race and class and serve as a unifying element, a channel of communication, among diverse groups in Brazilian society” (Vianna 1999: 14-15).

34 "Not only geographical but, even more important, social space is clearly demarcated in Rio and other Brazilian cities" (Yúdice 2003: 122).

[35] Getulio Vargas was one of the leaders of the Revolution of 1930 and later established the Estado Novo (New State) in which control was wrested from the states and regional power holders and consolidated into a stronger federal government. Flags of the states were gathered and burned in the capital (then Rio de Janeiro) and other means to symbolically support a strong national identity including through the mediums of music and the radio.

[36] Another example of this is the local fiddle legend, Mestre Salustiano, whose son informed me when I called for an interview that he would give me “ten or fifteen minutes” but that anything more would be charged at the rate of 250 reais per hour. I later learned from an article in a local newspaper that Mestre Salustiano charged this fee to foreigners and not Brazilian researchers.