Much to my delight, in September the university announced its intent to strengthen academic collaboration with Brazil, beginning with President Mary Sue Coleman leading a group of researchers on a visit to Brazil. Perhaps in the spirit of this initiative the University Musical Society decided to bring one of Brazil’s most popular icons, Gilberto Gil, to Hill Auditorium last week. He is famous for pioneering tropicália, an experimental artistic movement in Brazil during the 1960s characterized by a fusion of traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms with rock and psychedelia. However, instead of performing a string of his famous hits during his show, he primarily played forró songs from his latest album Fé Na Festa inspired by the forró greats, Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro.
Though I love Gilberto Gil’s classics, at the sound of forró I was filled with saudade, a nostalgic longing, for Recife, where I did my internship this past summer. Brazil is world famous for samba and bossa nova, yet there is more to the richness and diversity of Brazilian musical tradition that remains relatively unknown to the outside world. It was not until my internship that I learned about forró, a nationally popular genre of Northeastern Brazilian folk music that combines the sounds of an accordion, triangle, and zabumba. And just as samba has Carnival, forró has São João, a month-long Northeastern festival in June. I celebrated the festival on weekends in Recife and in the country side in Caruaru, “The Capital of Forró”, dancing at large open-air concerts and street parties lasting from sunset to sunrise, eating coxinhas and drinking Skol.
During the concert my Portuguese tutor Mari, a visiting scholar from São Paulo, and I ran to the stage to get close to Gilberto Gil and did our best to solo forró in the corner (it is usually a partner dance). People swarmed the edge of the stage, dancing with abandon. A group of women waved the Brazilian flag over their heads as they danced. Spotting them, Gilberto Gil two-stepped over, gathered the flag in his hands and kissed it.
And for that hour and forty-five minutes it felt like summer again.