In the past few years the Chorando Alto festivals in São Paulo have successfully closed the generation and cultural gap by uniting pioneers such as Paulinho da Viola with modern masters like American mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall. Clube do Choro, a Brasilia-based musical epicenter in the tradition of New Orleans' House of Blues, has kept choro's spirit alive and maintains the music's high stylistic standards by promoting musicians who represent the crème de la crème. Toninho Ferragutti, whose Núcleo Contemporâneo is responsible for the popularization of choro in São Paulo, and clarinet and sax player Paulo Moura have been guests in the past. MPB (música popular brasileira) star Marisa Monte has even included choro in her repertoire. In fact Monte and Arnaldo Antunes's "De Mais Ninguém" may very well be the single most important hit in bringing choro back to life. Today tattooed twentysomethings with body piercings bump and grind to choro in the cafes of Rio de Janeiro, the same city that served as a backdrop to the art form's coming of age early in the Twentieth Century. Go figure.
Last month at Tobacco Road, Miami's own Clube do Choro, an informal group of local Brazilian musicians, acquainted its audience with choro. The intricate harmonies were new to listeners more familiar with prefabricated pop than refined instrumental sounds. But by the end of the night even Tobacco Road's hardened regulars stood in awe. "We had everybody on their feet," asserts flute player Danuzio Lima.
Clube do Choro formed a year ago in North Bay Village. The group of musicians -- William Duba on cavaquinho (a small, ukulele-like guitar), Sergio Ferretti on seven-string guitar, Lima on flute, Paulo Carvalho on guitar, Vito Souto on mandolin, and Claudio Silva on percussion -- began congregating weekly for a traditional roda de choro at the Bayview Café. The roda (a circle) is an all-night jam session, a social gathering of sorts where the common language and bond is music, specifically choro. "I really love the music," says Lima, who recently released a solo CD called Ave Rara. "In the roda we talk, we play, it's very open." The group plays classic compositions from the likes of Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, Luis Americano, and Zequinha de Abreu.
Choro is to bossa nova and samba what ragtime is to bebop and later forms of jazz. "It's the origin," says Lima, a native of Maranhão, Brazil. "The beginning of Brazilian popular music, the first time there was a crossover of European and African music. When people get together and play choro, young people listen. It commands respect and it's a way of playing music. Like in jazz, it lends itself to interpretation and improvisation." In the same breath Lima, who says he took it up several years ago because he felt he needed a challenge, cautions that spontaneity does not translate into laid-back playing. "Choro is very difficult to play, but very beautiful. I think for you to be a Brazilian instrumental musician you have to play some of it or else it would be like being a classical musician and not being able to play Bach."
Choro was born in the mid-Nineteenth Century and was once regarded as Brazil's version of European classical dance music. Structurally, it is the Brazilian music that most resembles the Chopin waltz and polka. Choro's identity, however, really took form when Pixinguinha, one of the most prolific choro composers and a great flute improviser ahead of his time, incorporated Afro-Brazilian percussionists into his performances. In 1922 Pixinguinha, dubbed "the Bach of choro" by musicologists because of his near-perfect mastery of harmonic structure, and his group Os Oito Batutas (the Eight Masters) became the first Brazilian musicians contracted to perform abroad when they played in Paris. In Brazil, he is synonymous with choro and is recognized as the father of samba.
Lima, who himself lived in France for eight years, hopes audiences in Miami are as receptive to his band as the Parisians were with Pixinguinha and Os Oito Batutas. But he understands that the average listener may find it hard to embrace the giant leaps in melody and sudden harmonic shifts. For now he's content with simply weaving his flute in and out of Duba's cavaquinho and Ferretti's seven-string guitar during the roda de choro. It's what he lives for.