This post refers to an event that occurred in the past. For current event/workshop information, visit www.centrum.org/blues, and follow the workshop or performance links at the top right,
Mike Marshall, one of the world’s most accomplished and versatile acoustic musicians, will lead a Brazilan choro music workshop at Centrum the week of November 8-11. Registration is now full.
“The Brazilian musical style of choro represents the coming together of European melodic and harmonic traditions with African rhythms and sensibilities,” says Marshall, who will be teaching with his band, Choro Famoso (pictured).
“The way this came together in Brazil is particularly exciting," he says. "There was something about the Portuguese and Italian influence that gave a strong romantic feeling to the resulting melodies, giving choro a swinging groove that is so Brazilian underpinning everything.”
Choro, which emerged in Brazil in the middle of the nineteenth century, is a cousin of jazz with sense of yearning often described as a “sweet lament,” says ethnomusicologist and clarinet player Andy Connell, adding that many ethnomusicologists believe that the name of the music comes from the Portuguese verb chorar—that is, to weep or to cry.
Beneath the sparkling veneer of choro—the parades, floats, and the fluidly ecstatic sound of the music itself—lies the darker history of colonized Brazil, Connell says.
“There is a wonderful bittersweet quality about it,” he says. “It often seems bright and happy on the surface. But if you dig, deeper you find a kind of sadness, a longing that the Brazilians call saudade.”
Saudade is a Portuguese word for a feeling of longing for something which is gone, but might return. It often carries the knowledge that object of longing might never return. This sense of longing, combined with the Brazilian slave trade that forced Africans into labor for the coffee and brazilwood trades, gave choro music its lament.
The “bright and happy” are elements of choro as well, Connell says. By the late nineteenth century, the music was dazzling Brazilian nightlife. Rio de Janeiro burst with choro musicians. The musical arena was uniquely tolerant of the mixing of classes, he says. Choro ensembles were made up of slave musicians playing primarily guitar, flute, and the cavaquinho, a small string instrument.
Between the eighteen-seventies and the nineteen-twenties (when North American jazz greats like Louis Armstrong met and played with with choro musicians), makeshift choro bands, paid in food and drink, worked the all-night party circuits.
The composers were equally diverse. Chiquinha Gonzaga flouted convention, becoming Brazil’s first female composer. Her operettas and choros, such as “Só no Choro” “Corta-Jaca,” and “Forrobodó” are an essential part of the choro repertoire.
And choro continues to develop and change, Connell says. “Choro musicians have responded to music they heard coming from the U.S., coming from Europe, or wherever,” he says. “The music’s not the same now as it was thirty years ago, let alone one hundred years.”
“My god, this is the sound” Mike Marshall said, when he first heard choro in its element. “I knew about samba and bossa nova, but this genre is just mind-blowing.”