The Soundcheck Guide To Brazil: Rhythms Of Pernambuco

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The host of this year's World Cup, Brazil, is a musical world unto itself. Soundcheck presents an occasional series looking at the huge musical landscape of Latin America's largest and most populous country as part of The Soundcheck Guide To Brazil.

Bossa nova and samba music have had tremendous success outside of Brazil, and continue to crop up in seemingly unlikely corners of pop music; it sometimes seems like there's no song that can't be transposed into a bossa shuffle.

Another style that has become more visible in the U.S. in recent years is a dance-party oriented sound called forró. It is one of several sounds that originate from the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of the country. The capital is Recife (pronounced heh-SEE-fay), which is one of the twelve venues hosting World Cup matches this summer.

New York-based percussionist and bandleader Scott Kettner has spent a fair amount of time in Recife and environs, absorbing some of the more obscure rhythms from that part of the world, and he guides Soundcheck listeners through a few of his favorite varieties.


The Sounds of Pernambuco: A Very Brief Introduction



Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante, "Brilhou"

Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante, "Brilhou" 

Scott Kettner: This is one of the most famous traditional maracatu groups in Recife founded in 1906. They were one of the first traditional maracatu groups to ever record a full length CD and tour the world and are currently three-time champions of Recife's carnival competition. I learned everything I know about maracatu through playing and studying with this group. They recorded on Nation Beat's first CD and they also toured the USA with Nation Beat in August 2013 through a project that I created called "A Tale of Two Nations". This was the first time in history that a traditional maracatu group ever performed in the USA. This song represents the traditional call and response vocal style and powerful percussive rhythms of maracatu.



Dona Cila do Coco, "Coco no Pneu" 

S.K.: Cila is a very good friend of mine. She lives in Olinda and has dedicated her life to singing and performing a style of music from the northeast called Coco. Coco music originated from the slaves (with a heavy Indigenous influence) when they were packing dirt of the floors of houses that were being built for their slave owners. They would put wood shoes on to pack the dirt and started dancing and chanting songs to pass the time, very similar to American "work songs."

This evolved over time and became a very popular style amongst fishermen who live on the coast of Olinda and Recife. Each neighborhood has a very different way of playing the coco rhythms and the prose and rhymes vary from singer to singer. Coco music has influenced many contemporary musicians such as Lenine, Jackson do Pandeiro and Chico Science.



Maciel Salu & O Terno Do Terreiro, "Se Tem Rabeca E Zabumba"

S.K.: Maciel Salu is a good friend and one of the sons of the late great rabeca master Mestre Salustiano. A rabeca is a rural violin from the NE of Brazil and is used to play many different styles of music including Forró. It is believed that the rabeca had been in Brazil for many years and was the principle melodic instrument used in Forró before the accordion arrived from Europe which replaced it because of its ability to play louder and be heard over percussion instruments. However, today the rabeca is making a huge comeback with the ability to use mics and pickups.

Mestre Salustiano was one of my mentors and encouraged me to pursue Nation Beat. He recorded with us and gave us a few of his songs to record which are featured on 2 of our albums. Maciel Salu is a contemporary musician carrying the spirit of his father with one foot deeply rooted in the tradition while the other is always moving forward.



Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, "Rios, Pontes e Overdrives" 

S.K.: Chico Science is arguably single handedly responsible for the resurgence and popularity of all of the aforementioned styles from Pernambuco. He helped forge a very popular movement from Recife called the "Mangue Beat Movement" where he incorporated all of the traditional rhythms from his state of Pernambuco together with all of the contemporary music that he was listening to on the radio; funk, heavy metal, rock, hip hop, etc etc.  

I am good friends with a DJ who helped him create the rhythmic foundation for Nação Zumbi and he told me that they took the rhythms of the horn lines from James Brown's band and incorporated them onto the alfaias (bass drums used in maracatu) These rhythms provided the foundation for Chico Science to develop a completely original style that became recognized around the world. When people saw him on stage with the maracatu drums and heard his music, they couldn't help but wonder what that was.  

This led inquiring minds such as myself to explore the unpopular styles of music from Brazil such as maracatu, coco, forro, ciranda and many more.  He lived a very short life and only recorded 2 albums but his tidal wave is still influencing young artists around the world.