Dia do Choro: Annual Celebration of Brazilian Music Comes to Hillsboro
Choro, a Brazilian popular music genre which originated in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century, parallels North American jazz, blues, and ragtime with its urban hybrid of influences from Africa, Europe, and the Western hemisphere. Though the word choro actually means “cry,” the sounds are typically upbeat and cheerful, giving one the feeling they are sipping café outside a bustling French bistro or relaxing with a refreshing água de coco (coconut water) on a sunny beach. Its complex emphasis on improvisation and variety of rhythms is enough to make the spirit brighten and want to dance and sway.
Known for brilliantly combining the sounds of older choro composers with contemporary jazz-like harmonies, renowned choro composer Alfredo da Rocha Vianna, Jr. (aka Pixinguinha) helped to expose Choro music to a new generation. His arrangements and musical talents made an impact on many, including local Portland-based musicians Tom Pinit and Peter Fung, members of a Pacific Northwest favorite band Choro da Alegria. Inspired by the National Day of Choro, a holiday in Brazil celebrating the birthday of Pixinguinha, and their passion for choro music, Pinit and Fung developed a Dia do Choro concert in Oregon. Here the two musicians shared their passion and knowledge of Choro with Cultural Arts staff.
For audiences new to Choro music, what would you want them to know about the genre?
Pinit & Fung: Choro is a modern form of Brazilian music, developed around the end of the 19th and early 20th century. The genre got its start with session musicians who got together after gigs to jam in the parlors of Rio de Janeiro. It combines classical music forms and technique, indigenous melodies and harmonies, and African rhythms. The term Choro (also called chorinho) is derived from the Portuguese verb chorar (to cry). It’s been said the music simultaneously evokes emotions of joy as well as melancholy. Choro has also had major influences on later forms of Brazilian music, such as samba and bossa nova.
Who are your favorite Choro composers and why?
Pinit: There are a couple choro composers who are giants in the genre. Pixinguinha (also known as Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Jr.) is widely considered the “godfather” of Choro music. A talented saxophone and flute player, Pixinguinha wrote dozens of Choro songs that are immensely popular today, with lyrical melodies and catchy counterpoints. His birthday in April is celebrated as Dia Nacional do Choro, or National Choro Day, in Brazil and around the world and [this] inspired us to put on our very own Dia do Choro here in Oregon! Jacob do Bandolim (literally “Jacob of the mandolin” as musicians were sometimes nicknamed after their instrument, formally Jacob Pick Bittencourt) was a gifted mandolinist and prolific composer, writing many of the most popular melodies in the genre. The music of Jacob do Bandolim has been a gateway to Choro for Americans, thanks in large part to the efforts of bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman who helped produce a two-CD volume of Jacob’s tunes.
Fung: Pixinguinha. I really like his ballads. In addition, his up-tempo pieces evoke a playfulness I enjoy. Like other great composers, many of his pieces have a timeless quality.
Congratulations on your 11th annual sold out Dia do Choro concert which took place last spring. What inspired you to start this popular annual concert?
Fung: It was a confluence of meeting several different people and musical groups in and around Portland that were already playing Choro music. It was very organic. First, it came out of a passion for the genre that was fairly new to me eleven years ago. It just seemed like it made sense to get these Portland musicians together for a concert. It also came out of a desire to create a greater awareness of a little known genre, as well as a desire to represent Brazilian culture for the Portland Brazilian community.
What can new audiences and returning fans expect to experience from the Dia do Choro concert at the Walters?
Fung and Pinit: We feel incredibly honored to bring Dia do Choro and a celebration of Brazilian music and culture to the Walters. You can expect a wide variety of Choro composers, instruments, and guest musicians as part of the show. With our format of three bands (having very different sounds), Dia do Choro is definitely among the most diverse Brazilian acoustic music shows in the Portland area each year, for reasons mentioned as well as musical textures and Brazilian rhythms. We hope to see you there!
Dia do Choro will feature a multi-group performance on Friday, March 6 at 7:30 pm at the Walters Cultural Arts Center. Featured bands include: Rio Con Brio (mandolin and guitar), Duo Becar (piano and guitar), Choro da Alegria (mandolin, seven-string guitar, cavaquinho, pandeiro). Featured guests include: Gabriela Gimenes (flute) and Alexandra Santos (vocals).
For more information and tickets visit Hillsboro-Oregon.gov/WaltersConcerts.