07 December 2009

Lighting a Candle for Brazil's Forro

Forro in the Dark: Light a Candle
(Nat Geo Music)

So I'm making lists and taking names. Not in some elfin devotion to Christmas, no...these are lists of my favorite albums of 2009, names of the bands who created the music. One that has been simmering in the back of my mind for some time is the latest CD from NYC-Brazil troupe Forro in the Dark. It hasn't been at the top of Spin The Globe's playlists, but on a recent road trip with a vanload of testosterone-laden soccer players, I popped in the headphones, tuning out the talk and tuning in the forro. And I soon found my self regretting not digging into this disc earlier.

Forro, if you haven't discovered it already, is a festive dance music from northeastern Brazil. The name may have come from English from back when dances were advertised as being "for all." Or it may be a derivative of forrobodó, meaning "great party" or "commotion." I'm not going to try to settle that argument; I will tell you that Forro in the Dark make great music, based on the distinctive rhythms and instruments of the style, including breathless flute and incessant triangle. Perhaps not so traditional is the electric guitar that provides a key element of the band's sound. And not all of the rhythms are native Brazilian; "Nonsensical" uses a reggae beat and English lyrics that say "If you don't like Bob Marley / You better stay away from me / ...Something wrong inside your brain." Okay, not deep, but it sure is fun.

The other English-language songs are amusing, and off-kilter enough that they don't sound like a "world music" band simply trying to rope in more Anglophiles. "Better than You" could be taken as a cautionary tale of the dangers of self-improvement that neglects humility improvement. And "Silence Is Golden" (featuring vocals by Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls) is the tale of why sometimes, it's simply best not to speak.

There's enough tradition in the mix that I found myself hearkening back to what was probably my first exposure to forro, the 1991 compilation Brazil Classics 3: Forro etc. And come to think of it, there was electric rhythm guitar on that album too. So what do I know. Let's just say that Forro in the Dark are keeping the forro dance/party sound alive, whether they're neo-traditional or not.

“All the traditional elements of forró are there. We respect the tradition,” explains guitarist and vocalist Guilherme Montiero, “but that’s just the starting point. We’re open to all styles. Forró creates  the space, but our imaginations and our creativity are our only limit.”

“Our instruments, our way of writing songs is very connected to those roots,” drummer/vocalist Mauro Refosco adds. “But our  approach to playing and our attitude and energy comes from rock and roll. Living in New York helped us break the rules a little. We like to play loud.”

For proof of their penchant for loud, look no farther than the great retro rocker, "Perro Loco." Though perhaps the song that crystalizes the band's eclectic approach is "Lilou," which combines a classic forro flute sound with swinging electric rhythm guitar and turntable scratching. The more I listen to this album, the more I like it even better than their debut CD Bonfires of Sao Joao. And it's making a strong play for my best-of-2009 list.

[mp3]: Forro in the Dark: Lilou
from Light a Candle

More Forro in the Dark:
Buy CD

Finally, a live version of "Lilou" from our friends at KCRW:

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