O Choro

Versão em Português


The mixture of styles and nuances which led to the birth of Choro occured in different countries, though in similar ways. From the same elements-- european dances (principally the polka)which were the sum of the subtleties of style of the colonizer and the influence of black culture---came genres which would be the basis of popular music as we know it today.

Hence, if we look at the maxixe of Brasil, the beguine of Martinique, the danzon of Santiago de Cuba, and the ragtime of the United States, we observe that all are adaptations of the polka. The differences are the result of the nuances inherent in the music of the colonizer (Portugual, Spain, French, and British), and, in some cases, the degree of influence of religious music. The region of Africa from which the slaves were taken also was influential, since different musical and religious traditions were brought by the blacks of different and distinct tribes.

In the areas colonized by the Portuguese, the instrumental popular music developed in very similar ways, to the point that we find cavaquinho and nylon-string guitar together in ensembles here (in Brasil), in Cabo Verde, in Jakarta (Indonesia) and in Goa. Another common characteristic found in the music of the Portuguese colonies throughout the world is the nostalgic and sentimental quality. The kronjong, a music typical to Jacarta, is a type of slow lundu, commonly played with flute, cavaquinho, and nylon-string guitar: a very similar genre exists in Goa.

The arrival of the Portuguese court to Brasil in 1808 instigated a surge of modernization in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Besides the urban improvements, there occured an investment to create an infrastructure of essential public services such as the post office and railway lines.

As well, the anti-slavery laws substantially altered the social and economic nature of the city. The prohibition of the slave trade in 1850, besides placing Brasil in the roll of civilized nations, liberated capital for grand enterprises. (NB slavery abolished 1888)

The city grew and improved, and an urban middle class composed of public servants and small businessmen arose. This middle class, the majority of whom were Afro-Brazilian, provided not only the handiwork of Choro, but the consumer of this type of music as well.

The post office, the port, and the railway line, in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, were the font of innumerable "chorões", among them the guitarist and historian Alexandre Gonçalves Pinto. A postman as a professional, an amateur guitarist, and known by his nickname "Animal", Alexandre is the author of the book O Choro: memories of the old chorões , the only document about the practitioners of Choro at the turn of the century. This book, in spite of the countless times used as a resource, is terribly written and full of imprecision and absurdity. As an example, look to page 115 for the following entry:" The polka is like the samba--a Brazilian tradition. Only we, who God permitted to be born under the constellation of the Southern Cross, know how to dance and cultivate it with affection and love. The polka is the only dance which fits with our customs, the only one which contains a Brazilian character."

In respect to the famous musicians there also exist grave inaccuracies such as the elegys to the violin of Villa-Lobos, who played guitar and cello. Nevertheless, when treated from the point of view of statistics and in the passages which describe the ambience of Choro, the book reveals, between many errors, important facts.

In the majority of books which treat a musical genre, style, or artistic movement, the part most nauseating is often the discussion concerning the origin of the name. With Choro the same could happen, since there exist different theories, each supported by researchers of distinction. In order to avoid the nuisance, or to dissuade one of the more anxious readers of this book from desisting from learning about the best parts of the story, I will treat the topic as briefly as possible.

Folklorist Luís da Câmara Cascudo believed that "Choro" derived from xolo, a dance party which the slaves frequented on the plantations. He saw the the term gradually changing to xoro, and finally Choro.

Ary Vasconcelos believed that the term originated with the Choromeleiros, an important group of musicians in the colonial period. he points out that these musicians did not play only charamelas (a type of reed instrument, precursor of oboes, bassoons, and clarinets). The public had begun to refer to any group of instrumentalists as Choromeleiros, later shortened to Choros.

José Ramos Tinhorão believes that Choro comes from the impression of melancholy generated by the baixarias of the guitar and that the wordchorão followed as a consequence.

In spite of my enormous respect for the capability of each of these researchers, I have doubts about the first two theories: I cannot believe in rural origins for a typically urban phenomenon such as Choro, and I do not see how charamelas could influence something which occured such a long time later. In addition to the melancholy of the baixarias of the guitar, one can observe that in the first recordings of Choro groups, made in 1907 when the style already had been existent for forty years, the guitar was not yet used with the exuberance to which we are accustumed today. Consequently, if something evoked a feeling of melancholy it was the way in which the melody was played. This being the case, I believe that the appearance of the word Choro is a result of the "crying" way to phrase, which generated the word "chorão" to designate the musician who "softened" the polkas.

Later the word Choro appeared in various contexts: to designate both a group of Choro practioners and the party where the music was played. Only in the first decade of the 20th century, at the brilliant and inspired hands of Pixinguinha, did Choro come to signify a genre of music with a well-defined form.

In my view, what made the term "stick" and pass into common usage, was the fact that it precisely translates exaggerated sentimental way in which the popular musicians of the time "Brasilified" the European dances.

A more profound etymological study of the word Choro certainly could bring forward even more possibilities, since it can signify a bargain or godsend, or a quantity beyond a mere dose of any alchoholic beverage. All these are capable of generating amzing and astonishing theories, which would in the end not at all aid in the comprehension of the artistic process which resulted in the development of this music; this last is in fact the true subject of this book.

If I had to specify a date as the beginning of the history of Choro, I would not hesitate to suggest the month of July in the year 1845, when the polka was danced for the first time at the Teatro São Pedro. The arrival of this dance, from central Europe by way of Paris, was preceded by great expectations thanks to the impact it had caused in Lisbon ten months earlier.

In that era, salon dances (such as the quadrille and minuet) were undergoing a transformation from collective expression to that of the intertwines couple, principally due to the advent of the waltz. This change came from the desire to initiate a major liberalization of social customs; in the polka it had an ideal means by which to proceed.

A perfect picture of the undergoing change in habits in the salons is the sonnet of Arthur Azevedo, "An Observation":

The girl is seated. Her sweetheart
for a "counter-dance comes to pull her from her seat
--Would you give me the honor?--Of course!--and through the hall they pass arm-in-arm
With love how protest -----
those sweet hearts which exhale their scent
until the beating palms of the conductor
find their rhythm in the couple in love
The dance begins. The clever hand of the boy
teases, disturbs, squeeezes, touches, opens,
accompanying the turbulent dips and swings:
And a woman (who is not a child)
seated in a corner observes that in the dance of
today it is the hands and not the feet that do the work.

In a binary rhythm, with the indication of the tempo allegretto, melodies skipping amd communicative, in a short time the polka dominated the salons, in soite of the opposition of the moralists.If it already appeared absurd for a man to touch a woman's waist for the waltz, how much more so the jumps of the couple in polka.

From the book: Cazes, Henrique. Choro:Do Quintal ao Municipal. São Paulo:Editora 34, 1998