The Myth Of The Three Races

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.)

One thought on “The Myth Of The Three Races

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