Catherine travels to Brazil every summer to experience more and more of the diverse musical culture of this country and its people.
In our website’s blog section she’ll share some of her impressions and stories from this year’s trip starting with her journey to Pernambuco..
“This is my first time in Pernambuco, and I came here curious to learn about its culture! I’m staying in the historic part of Olinda, literally surrounded by churches and monasteries that were destroyed by the Dutch in the early 17th century and rebuilt soon after by the Portuguese. I walked up the hill to take in the magnificent views (the Recife skyline and all these little hills and churches in between, and of course the ocean, beckoning to a tropical paradise).
On top I ate tapioca (a kind of crepe) with shrimp, and bought some woodcuts of local scenes from a man who showed me pictures of his family and some old newspaper articles written about him and his work.
I went by bus to Recife and walked to the Paço do Frevo, where I took in a great lunchtime concert where could check out the similarities and differences between choro and this local style – march music on steroids! On the top floor of the museum they have banners from local frevo blocos from many years of Carnaval. I met some friends who happened to be in town and had lunch – a feast of local specialties: casquinha de siri, caldo de camarão, queijo coalho, aipim frito as silky as tofu pillows, interesting pimenta jellies and honey to put on them, and of course a bottle of ice-cold Original, all while overlooking the ocean.
On Saturday night a friend of a friend took me to a roda de choro at Bar Retalhos, in Recife. It was the birthday of the 7-string guitarist, Bozó, and the place was packed. After about an hour of burning choro from the house quartet, Bozó invited me up to play a tune, and kept me there for five more. Playing with these musicians felt collaborative, friendly, the way it does when the roda de choro is at its best; I am learning the ways as I try to contribute what I know and feel.
After playing I chatted with people in the bar, including a couple who were professors of violin and cello at the State University of Pernambuco. I found much common ground with these nice, creative people, given our classical training and our interest in local folkloric music. On Monday I went to their University and gave some chamber music coaching and an informal workshop on choro.
I have also seen: a Maracatú rehearsal in Olinda’s Praça do Carmo, a fantastic exhibit of Carnaval “Mamulengos” and the art of animating these dolls in improvised stories, Abilio Sobral’s store with hundreds of percussion and string instruments that he has made, and a nightclub packed full of people all dancing in unison to a band playing a steamy gumbo of samba and reggae at deafening volume.
Although with different flavors and accents, this experience has been very typical of my other travels in Brazil – arriving with no expectations, and the revelation of interesting activities and human connections. One of the most profound experiences I had: returning from a long run up the coast, I stopped at an area where there were hundreds of abandoned cats, and talked for an hour to a woman who was feeding them. When she could, she would take some of them to be fixed, but unlike in Rio there is no program that offers free neutering to stray animals. She cried when telling me about the cats. We didn’t want anything from each other; we were two strangers bound together in a moment, finding words to express things that were meaningful to us, and when words failed, simply allowing the sentiments to take hold.”