For perhaps as long as human society has existed, music has existed with it. As civilizations and empires rose and fell, as republics and autocracies collapsed and were reborn, music was there through it all. It’s one of the few true universals in our world, one of the omnipresent markers of our existence that cling at the very core of what it is to be human. It was present in the nomads’ tent, and it’s present on the phone in your pocket. Because of this, to come anywhere even remotely near to an understanding of a culture requires a knowledge of the music that is important to it. It helps to show the passions and the rituals of a people, the history and ethos of a society. And fortunately, today’s globalized world affords us more opportunities than ever to hear and admire those musics from traditions unfamiliar to our ears.
One such unfamiliar tradition (for most Ann Arborites, at least) is the choro music of Brazil. Originating about 150 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, choro marks one of the first fundamentally Brazilian genres of instrumental music, and in a concert Saturday night at Kerrytown Concert House, the audience will have the chance to experience a performance by one of this genre’s greatest contemporary musicians.
“Choro has its origin in European polka. It arrived in Brazil fast and dancing, and Brazilian musicians started to play it slowly and it became more melancholic, more dramatic,” said Danilo Brito, mandolinist and choro musician, who will be performing this Saturday in Kerrytown. “This was around 1860, 1870. So soon we were doing music to make people cry, because it caused this emotion to those who were hearing it, and so the name of this genre, choro, means ‘to cry.’ ”
Brito (who does not speak English, and communicated through translation by his manager, Maria Silvia Braga) went on to explain that despite the genre’s name, much of the music is in fact fast, cheerful and virtuosic — “but always intense.”
Choro is a type of music that is of great important to the culture of Brazil, expressing a wide range of sentiments, and in the view of Brito and others, it is the genre that best represents the spirit of the nation.
“Choro is the musical expression of Brazilian people,” Brito explained. “Brazilian people have very intense feelings, sometimes melancholic, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes cheerful. All these different intense feelings of Brazilian people are very well represented by all the different styles that choro has.”
In this assessment, Brito is in the company of some of the most famous Brazilian figures in the history of music.
“The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos said that choro is the music that best represents the soul of Brazilian people,” Brito said. “The great maestro and composer Radamés Gnattali said that choro is the most perfect and last stage of Brazilian music.”
Brito himself was drawn to choro at a young age. His father was an amature musician, and played mandolin and Cavaquinho. Through him and the musical environment he fostered around him, Brito was introduced to music early on.
“[Some] nights [we] had hearings of old vinyl recordings, and very soon [I] started playing [my] father’s instruments, mandolin and cavaquinho,” Brito said. “And through hearing the old vinyls [I] learned to play.”
Brito never had a formal teacher, but his natural ability and passion for the music has since propelled him to the forefront of the choro scene. Saturday’s performance will mark but one concert on a tour that has already included Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Oakland, among others. The tour has been an immensely positive experience for him.
“It’s been wonderful, my feelings about this, my impressions of these concerts have been wonderful,” Brito said. “ [There has been] a very warm reception by the audience, always with full houses, and a great energy… [I] played at Kuumbwa [Jazz] in Santa Cruz last night, and it was a memorable evening that [I] will keep with [me] the rest of [my] life. The connection with the audience was fantastic.”
Choro is a music that is energetic, involving a full range of complex harmonies and counterpoint, in addition to having a highly improvisatory structure. These qualities, in part, help address the question of why Brito is so drawn to the particular genre.
“First of all, choro is a very communicative music,” Brito said. “The melodies are complex, but it’s easy for you to assimilate it. In Choro you have a harmony that modulates all the time, and an incredible variety of rhythm, and an enormous variety of feeling.”
More than anything, however, it was the passionate spirit of the music that drew him in.
“This music captured me by feeling,” Brito said. “It’s always a very intense and strong feeling when you hear it. Either it is cheerful, or melancholic, or chromatic, or romantic. It’s a genre that gives [one] the tools to express [one’s] feelings in a most complete way, perfectly or almost perfect.”
It is this sense of emotion and feeling that Brito hopes to share with Ann Arbor Saturday night. When he performs, it is an act of passion, a passing on of the emotion of the music.
“The music that [I] will present comes directly from [my] heart,” Brito said. “The style of music that we play demands a lot of study and technicality, but the intention is that the audience does not feel all this work that is behind, but just receives music as it is, as pure emotion, feelings and expressions. Our technique is always from the work of music of pure heart. The audience, hearing it, will feel this.”