Last night I should have been gettin' busy. I’ve been accused of having a dancing habit, and there I was at a dance club, with two live bands banging out some sweetness in two different rooms. But instead of going nuts, I found myself taking baby steps. Not that there’s anything wrong with dancing with yourself, but I normally only last so long before dragging someone onto the floor with me. But last night was different. This wasn’t Barranquilla, or Boston, and the Bay Area. This was Brazil. And instead of Salsa, Hip Hop, Funk or Vallenato, the son du jour was Forró.
I got my first exposure to Forró over a decade ago when the Notorious D.A.D. brought back a handful of CD’s from a trip to Brazil. These are the kind of bands that you won’t find in the iTunes store or at Best Buy. I grew up loving Brazilian music, but that mostly meant SambaBossa Nova, and other Brazilian Jazz. I have to admit that in comparison, I found Forró to be... well... a lil’ bit country at first. I mean, really... the accordion?
But that was a long time ago. Since then, Forró has grown on me like a untreated fungus. I think the tipping point for me might have been when I got my hands on Tim Maia’s Forró Do Brasil album. That is still my jam. All twelve tracks—but especially “Cross My Heart."
Last summer my relationship with Forró music got a little bit more hands-on, you could say. After missing out two years in a row, I got to go to my happy place, Jazz Camp WEST. I decided to I face my fears and tackled an instrument that I’ve always found inexplicably intimidating—the pandeiro. In Ami Mollineli’s pandeiro class we explored a few different rhythms, but the groove that went straight to my bones was the Forró pattern that we learned.
On top of the pandeiro, I tried out something that is easily 10 times more intimidating than trying to play the pandeiro—taking a class with Jovino Santos-Neto. Here's a taste of what it's like trying to keep up with him. He's the one on the piano and we're the one's scratching our heads and asking lots of questions about the piano part on this piece by his mentor, Hermeto Pascoal.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I’ve been going to Jazz Camp WEST since 1998 and last summer was the first time I took one of Jovino’s classes. Sure, I’ve gotten to rock out with him in a couple of Samba parades, but “sitting” in his class is whole new type of hell yeah. Let’s just say I do not want my money back—more like I want to kick myself in the ass for not doing it sooner. But hey, there is so much damn candy in that candy store that is my happy place, and so little time.
In addition to being the jolliest damn fellow you’ll ever meet, Jovino is one of the most disgusting Brazilian musicians on the planet. That’s a good thing. The man is sicker than syphilis on at least seven different instruments. After a week in his Forró class, my Forró fungus metastasized into a full grown passion for Brazil’s version of Country music. I know, it doesn’t sound right, or fair, to call something as funky as Forró “country music,” but it is what it is. When the southern cities of Brazil were cooking up Samba, Tropicalia, and MPB, folks in the northeast were getting their vaquero on. In many ways, Forró is to northeastern Brazil what Vallenato is to Caribbean coastal Colombia. Unlike Salsa or Samba, there’s nothing slick or chic about it. But, if you were born with it—or if it somehow gets itself under your skin—it will bring you nothing but joy.
So, why the hell wasn’t I dancing? Well, that’s easy: I don’t really know how. I did get a quick Forró lesson from my friend Mila back in Boston, but security broke that one up pretty quick, letting us know in no uncertain terms that The Beat Hotel is not that kind of party. Their loss. So last night I was doing a lot of side-to-side two-stepping, and a whole lot of admiring. In fact, I have to take back my earlier statement—when done correctly, Forró is slicker than owl shit, which I’m told is quite slick.
So now I know how I’ll be spending the next six weeks—that is, when I’m not watching the U.S., Colombia, and Brazil romp through each stage of the tournament. I gotta get my Forró footwork down. Plus, I brought my pandeiro with me, so I’ll be stepping up my game in that department too. Unfortunately, I won’t be making it back to my happy place this summer—every four years the World Cup takes precedence, but believe it or not, it’s a tough choice. So, while Jovino, Ami, and all my Jazz Camp family are rocking out in the woods in late June, I’ll be in northeastern Brazil, getting my Forró on.