This year marked the fifth meeting of the Mestres do Mundo, the Masters of the World, an event where “masters of culture” from small towns are invited by the Ceará state government and other organizations to share their work, take pride in their skills as musicians, dancers, poets, actors, and artisans, and meet one another to form a community of regional culture bearers. People who are given the title, “master of culture,” also receive a salary from the state. The four-day event took place in the town of Limoeiro do Norte, and journalists, college students, scholars, and people taking advantage of the St. Joseph’s Day three-day weekend saw the masters of culture in action. Every morning, the masters performed. In the afternoons, they talked about their lives in one lecture hall, while folklore scholars from Fortaleza lectured and debated about regional culture in another. The theme of the multi-session academic symposium couldn’t have been more appropriate for my research: “Preserving the Environment, Humanity, and Culture,” and there was even a lecture on the role of drought in cantoria, a kind of regional music. Every night, huge concerts were held in the town square, with musical acts from around Brazil.
In Ceará, it is generally believed that if it doesn’t rain by São José—St. Joseph’s Day—it will be a dry winter. At the end of a lecture about the relationship between the environment and pottery making, it began to pour outside, raining for one of the first times all season; coincidentally, it was on São José. The professor shouted, “Chuva, meu povo! São José!” (Rain, my people! St. Joseph!) And everyone began to applaud.
Here’s my video of the event:
› Continue reading
I first heard of Dona Zefinha (pronounced Zeh-FEEN-ya) about a year ago. I asked an employee at a CD shop if he sold any CDs of bands from Ceará that mixed forró (and other kinds of traditional northeastern music) with rock. He mentioned four groups that were part of a short-lived movement called Movimento Cabaçal that started in 2001: Dona Zefinha, Dr. Raiz, Jumenta Parida, and SoulZé. But he told me I’d only find the CDs downtown in a little area known as the Galeria do Rock. So I went to a crowded shopping area in the centro where I entered a narrow shopping mall that sold religious books and religious-themed products. (Pretty much all the stores had the word “gospel” in their name. Gospel Bookstore. Gospel Paper Supplies. Gospel Optometry.) And between the first and second bookstore was an inconspicuous dark entryway. So I braved the corridor and ascended the cement staircase. On the second, third, and fourth floors, I found tattoo parlors, skate shops, and record stores selling obscure Brazilian heavy metal and punk albums with employees wearing studded leather wrist bands and nose piercings. I went into every record shop and asked about these four bands. In the last store on the top floor, I was told to return to the first floor where I’d find a CD shop hidden at the end of the gospel supply stores. It was there that I bought Dona Zefinha’s album from 2007, Zefinha Vai a Feira.
Here’s a t-shirt I bought in the Galeria do Rock. It might explain why none of the stores upstairs had the Dona Zefinha CD.
› Continue reading
I was recently invited to a sarau, like an 18th century French salon, at the home of a local psychiatrist. She hosts the parties every other month, and local opera singers, musicians, poets, and other artists come to share their work. The parties are centered around a voice teacher from Fortaleza named Vitor Philomeno Gomes who studied in the US and currently lives in São Paulo, but comes to Fortaleza periodically to give voice lessons.
Vitor and I chatted, and he explained how Cearense music has roots in medieval Europe, with influences from the Moors and troubadours. This is why, he said, traditional forró is modal (it uses the mixolydian, dorian, and lydian modes) and why instruments like the rabeca (see my previous blog post) and pífano (fife) are played in the interior of the state.
After hors d’oeuvres, the host of the party invited everyone to her living room. She joked that all three Brazilian races would be represented, since there would be not only classical European music, but also indigenous Brazilian music and Afro-Brazilian music. It was a multicultural night, she said.
There was Mozart, Gershwin, an African American spiritual, and a Neapolitan love song. An artist brought a collection of paintings, and an actress swayed gracefully to the night’s music. Marlui Miranda, a singer, composer, and researcher of Brazilian indigenous music, performed a song by the Kayapó Mekragnoti (a Brazilian indigenous group) while a well-known maracatu musician accompanied her on the drum. Vitor sang a piece by a contemporary Brazilian composer about the orixás, the deities of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion. And a soprano performed an art song by Alberto Nepomuceno, a Brazilian nationalist composer from Ceará who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Ricardo, a young tenor with a powerful voice, told me that it’s hard starting a career as an opera singer in Ceará since it’s the “land of forró.” But it’s also the land of indigenous groups like the Tapeba, maracatu cearense, Alberto Nepomuceno, and depending on who you ask, Mozart and African American spirituals.
Watch some of the highlights:
(Thanks to Bete Bezerra for helping me film.)
Francisco Ferreira de Freitas Filho, better known as Di Freitas, is a conservatory trained musician who’s played in orchestras around Brazil. In 2002, he settled down in Juazeiro do Norte, a city in the interior of Ceará known for its rich culture, and became enamored with the sound of the rabeca, a kind of folk fiddle. When he began teaching music to local children, many of them couldn’t afford to buy instruments, so he decided to teach them how to make their own rabecas.
Di Freitas recently came to Fortaleza to lead a week-long workshop at the Banco do Nordeste, where we spent our days making rabecas de cabaça (rabecas made from calabash gourds). Watch the video to see how it’s done and to hear Di Freitas playing the rabeca de cabaça in the song “Segura o Coco” from his CD, O Alumioso.
Ricardo Bezerra was my host father when I first came to Fortaleza as an exchange student to study Portuguese. Ricardo, a practicing landscape architect and professor, is also a composer. In 1978, he released his first album, Maraponga, featuring Brazilian musical heavyweights like jazz legend Hermeto Pascoal and singers Raimundo Fagner and Amelinha. His song “Cavalo Ferro” became a huge hit, one that musicians still record and perform today (there’s a recent version on iTunes if you’re curious). Fagner and Amelinha and a few other musicians from the state of Ceará came to be known as the Pesssoal do Ceará, the folks from Ceará, and they helped bring Ricardo’s music to a wider Brazilian audience.
In 2003, Ricardo released his second album, Notas de Viagens, and is now working on a new CD. His most recent music is instrumental, and much of it combines jazz with northeastern Brazilian traditional music. He and I met up to talk about his new project. We chatted about the search for the Cearense sound and the ways musicians can express regional identity through music. Check out the clip to hear him talk about the ways he’s given his music the sound of Ceará and to hear one of his new songs from his upcoming album.