Chapter 13 Between the Folds of Luiz Gonzaga’s Sanfona: Forró Music in Brazil
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13 Between the Folds of Luiz Gonzaga’s Sanfona Forró Music in Brazil megwen loveless Though Brazil is perhaps better known for its hot and sultry samba rhythms, its sun-kissed beaches, and the delicate swing of its bossa nova, it also has a longstanding accordion tradition spanning most of the twentieth century that plays an important role in the story of its popular music and its sense of nationalism. The accordion was brought to Brazilian shores in the last decades of the nineteenth century and soon became a popular instrument on which to interpret foreign tangos, boleros, schottisches, waltzes, and mazurkas in the elite salons of the bigger cities. Still, though popular even through the 1930s (when samba began to dominate the national scene), the acordeom would have faded into oblivion in Brazil had it not been for the music of Luiz Gonzaga, today remembered as the “godfather” of anentirelynewBrazilianmusicanddancegenre,forró.Gonzagatruly“rooted”his lovefortheaccordioninhisnativeBrazilbycreatingandshapingmusical“routes” across this increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse country. This essay focuses on thelifestoryofLuizGonzagatoelucidatehowtheaccordionhashelpedtocreatea senseofidentityforpresentandfuturegenerationsofBraziliansthatisintimately tied to music, space, and tradition. LuizGonzaga,morethananyoneotherperson,hascarvedoutaspacefortraditional rhythms and melodies—as well as for his iconic instrument—in the history ofBrazilianpopularmusic;andhismusiccontinuestobereinterpretedincountlesscreativerefractionsacrossthenationaswellasabroad .Asonecontemporary 269 Between the Folds of Luiz Gonzaga’s Sanfona hasobserved,Gonzagasinglehandedly“blazedatrail”fortheaccordion’smusical success in Brazil.1 I would like to trace that path, analyzing along the way how he shaped Brazilian popular music and how his legacy still ricochets off the walls of dance halls across the nation. This gregarious accordionist arrived on the music scene at a pivotal moment in history, and in this essay I will examine the national musical and political context that enabled Gonzaga’s story to speak to an entire nation, as well as future generations of Brazilians. While samba is commonly recognized as the most “pure” representative of Brazilian nationalist expression, other musics can also be argued to represent “the nation” to a wide audience of Brazilians. Increasingly appreciated locally and internationally, forró has a special resonance for Brazilians interested in or attached to the rural roots of the nation and is widely popular today in both its original form as well as in various derivative genres. Forró has been described as “a mixture of ska with polka in overdrive,”2 and withitshard-hittingbeatandmemorablehooks,itisaquintessentiallyBrazilian music. Its infectious sound and exhilarating rhythms form an intimate backdrop for one of Brazil’s most popular partner dances, in which couples swivel around one another in sensuous embraces. The faster rhythms of the forró complex include forró, xaxado, and arrasta-pé; slightly slower and more romantic rhythms include baião, xote (a Brazilian-style schottische), and xamego; and even slower subgenressuchasaboiosandtoadasareprimarily“listening”music,thoughsome couplesmayalsoslow-dancetothem.Allofthesesubgenresaredirectlegaciesof Luiz Gonzaga, as during his long career he brought the musics of his youth, spent in the hinterlands, to all of the other regions of Brazil. During a typical forró show, the nonstop twanging of a giant triangle pushes its pulsetoaboilingpitch;alargedouble-headed zabumbadrumdrivesitsseductive syncopation; and a 120-bass piano accordion pumps out its exaggerated chords. Since the 1990s, there have been increasingly diverse and interesting fusions of forró, rock, lambada, axé, heavy metal, funk, and other regional musics, as generations of musicians continue to tap into the raw potential of Gonzaga’s work. Tounderstandthetransformativeeffectofforróandbaiãomusicsonthenationof Brazil, let us go back to the beginning of the story, long before Gonzaga was born, to set the stage for the fanfare he would make with his unwieldy instrument and maniacal grin. “Os Brasis”: Musical Nationalism in Brazil Since its independence in 1822, Brazil has struggled to create a national identity to unite its diverse regions and ethnic communities. The nation’s diversity (or fragmentation, depending on one’s perspective) is evident in Brazil’s curious 270 megwen loveless tendency to refer to itself in the plural: “os Brasis.” With a geographic area larger than the entire European Union, Brazil’s territory is truly expansive. It covers half of South America, encompasses a half-dozen climatic regions, and is home to a staggeringly diverse population with phenotypes ranging from Amerindian, Iberian, North African, Mediterranean, Northern European, Middle Eastern, Japanese, South African, to West African, to name only the largest native and immigrant groups. Though it boasts one of the largest economies in the world, it has extreme disparities in terms of wealth,3 health, and education; and though the official language is Portuguese, hundreds of languages are spoken across its provinces.Brazilhasmanagedtomaintainsovereigntyasoneterritorybuthashistorically been plagued by what one scholar called “a tendency toward ‘centrifugal dismemberment’ that...


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