by ROBERTO LYCKE
LISTEN: Bomba do Hemeterio - Gangbe Brass
(Look at "Listen Tracks")
While I keep driving through the endless sugar can plantations I try to concentrate on the real reason of my trip to Recife, the capital of the Pernamubuco and of the Del Frevo State, one of the musical styles born at the beginning of the past century named by "Marcha Nortista or Marcha Pernambucana”.
This kind of march song played by the military bands was generally part of a repertoire that included many other different musical styles, amongst which popular music compositions, classics of Polka and Mazurka, very popular at the time all over Brazil.
Usually during the street parades in the capital these orchestras called Brass-bands would bring together many capoeira dancers who would improvise their steps and dance/fight at the start of the procession attracting the people who would get together in the streets to celebrate.
The capoeira dancers were the favourite goal of the authorities, through those exhibitions they would start unhiding and modifying the Capoeria movements into true dance steps which took the name "Passo". In front of Recife we head immediately towards Olinda, a twin city that is situated on top of a hill and overlooks Recife.
Olinda is very discrete and all in colonial style, it is well kept and has nothing in common with the stress that animates the twin city where the fear of being assaulted by poor desperate people is always present.
Finally, away from the Bahia Axe and from the carioca funk, with ease I manage to set up pleasant and interesting discussions with some boys that were playing music in exchange of some cold bear in the bar beneath the bed & breakfast.
Here the Forro, the Maracatu, the Coco are ancient and traditional, but the music everybody listens to is the Frevo.
-“Aquì è Frevo è Frevo mesmo !!!!”- (Here the Frevo is really Frevo) says a boy to me while he is telling me how much this style/genre is eradicated not only in the spirit of this city but throughout all Brazil, he adds proudly.
For those who have no idea of what Frevo is, I would like to remind you that we are talking of big steel bands that play more or less like the fires’ military bands of the twentieth century; a count that we presume is unable to let loose the enthusiasm of the new MTV-World generations; too greedy of American consumerism dementia (it would be interested to make a research on the non permeability of the Brazilian music compared to some "western" pop).
To further clarify the enthusiasm that pernabucans have for this genre my interlocutor is always more excited while talking about a new orchestra that during the past two years is having a great success amongst the young people.
The name of the orchestra is : Orquestra Popular da Bomba do Hemeterio and takes its name from a community; symbol of the quarter-belonging, that was so called because during the thirties and the forties the only ones to have a pump for water in the area was a guy called Hemeterio, in fact the name Bomba do Hemeterio (la pompa di Hemeterio)
The sound that characterizes the project is an ensemble of traditions and modernity that in the city is sweeping out everybody.
In order to better understand my friend tells me to go in one of those open public rehearsals that during those days, before the carnival, thousands of trembling people are waiting to exhibit in the streets of Recife and Olidna.
Grabbing this opportunity I take the car and drive to Rua da Moeda where the orchestra is playing together with the percussionist; Nanà Vasconcelos and other groups of Maracatu.
The atmosphere is very friendly, at each stride the volume is louder and when we arrive we find an orchestra of about 25/30 people that are shooting rare and powerful sounds accurately.
The impact is really strong, the tuba bass creates literally air movements that one can feel on the skin, while the surdo shake our bodies starting from the fundaments passing though the ankles to arrive in the stomach.
Conducted by a Foro Mater, which I only later discovered, the orchestra presented a traditional repertoire spacing from some Mambo of Benny More to Mangue Beat of the late lamented Chico Science, from the Swing to Maracatu, from Xaxado to Ciranda, from Cavalho Marino to Fox Trot passing through the standard re-editions of the famous "Vassourinhas", "Cabelo de Fogo" and "Elefante".
Fast changes of super accelerated beats, sonar hilarious spots, gags between the orchestra leader and the audience enrich the orchestra's precision.
At the end of the concert I speak with some of the components of the orchestra who proudly precise that the OPBH project is not only a show but that the orchestra is only one of the various vivacious expressions of the area named "Agua Fria" which is located in the north of Recife.
While the conversation continues, the OPBH appears to be the main expression of what is included in the wide project within which other than a one side project together with Dj Dolores, there is also space for a music school called Escola Comunitária de Música Zé Amâncio do Coco that is also a place where children with educational and everyday life problems find shelter.
Immediately I buy the CD (5 euro) and I return to the area of my bed and breakfast. While I drive, I insert the Cd that sets off with “Frevando em Paris” a song that immediately clarifies the sound of the orchestra. A "battery" that dictates beats and breaks on a typical Frevo structure, it functions as a rhythmic mat to a wind section that sometimes seems to play like Punk. The riffs are similar to capoeria; sharp as blades they cut through space and the styles mix up with each other.
The second song “Luanda d’agora” is already what we can define a "neofrevo" song where funky improvisation leaves space to an unexpected Fox-Trot beat over which the banjo is full of thirties Chicago style, it joyfully brings us into another space-time dimension.
It is the triumph of the new pernambucan generation, who after the end of Chico Science (who still today is considered a sort of electric saint) and of hi Mangue-beat were waiting to show the rest of the country that is looking at them as an old fashion state, savage and bent on itself from which nothing new can come out.
Today they are the new bishops of the new young local generation, them together with Silverio Pessoa, Otto, Banda Eddie, Isar, la Spok Frevo Orchestra e Antonio Nobrega who transmit that contagious freshness that over here (in US and Europe) is rarely met.
In the meantime the cd keeps playing and my imagination brings me to think how interesting it would be to find the boy who helped me know the orchestra and to have him listen to another project that on the other side of the ocean is bringing forth a similar project: the Gangbe Brass Band.
While I keep day dreaming the cd reaches a song called “Suite America” where reminders of Gershwin mix up to the song that represents the history of Frevo, the ubiquitous “Vassourinhas”. The outcome is incredible, the OPBH is everywhere in New York in Mexico City and when a dragging Coco enters where two seconds before there was a Swing, we return to Olinda to Pitangueira drinking some liquor with home made cacao and singing :
“Segura o coco moçada,
responde o coco moçada !!!”
Jumping from one continent to the other with the same ease with which I manage the CD player, I return to Gangbe Brass Band, nephew of the military brass bands that during the beginning of the century were emerging in the main capitals of West Africa.
The first brass bands were taken to Liberia and Ghana from the Caribbean by the western patrons that during their stay in the colonies loved to have everything without anything missing . . . nothing.
Unconscious of the role represented for the local musicians, those orchestras would assist in the creation of African generations that other than appreciating the musical organization were also astonished by the military uniform and the discipline that were communicated at that time.
The visual impact of those bands in uniform had a big influence on people.
In Ghana for the first time Ragtime, Rumba and Calypos reached the African country transforming and influencing the musical tradition.
The explosive mix came from the fantastic jams that the first local brass bands called "Adaha" loved improvising together with the military bands, giving life to a genre that for decades made the whole African continent dance.
Shortly the musicians learned various instrumental and compositive techniques to then use according to their own sensitivity and insert them in their local cultural context, so this is how the famous orchestras of Cape Coast Sugar Babies, Jazz Kings , Excelsior Orchestra and l’Accra Orchestra appeared.
In the meantime the close Dahomey (actual Benin) after a short period for armed conflicts fell under the French domination. The French tried with all their means to cancel the few cultural traces of those commercial relationships that in the past the King of Daomé held with the Portuguese before and with the Brazilians later.
With the arrival of the French domination also in Benin the common trauma already experienced in other African countries saw their own political borders changed by the new colonial power. In particular who paid most for those politics was the Yoruba community that found itself broken up between Nigeria and Dahomey where in addition to the Edo and the Bini the Yoruba is still one of the most common languages.
Also years after the end of colonialism, Benin, like the majority of the other African countries, is today economically depressed and its land has no more resources.This allowed them to maintain an uncontaminated culture which did not change and was not influenced.
Today with the advent of Satellite TV and the Net the new generations claim their presence or better their existence within the big global village.
The Gangbe Brass Band somehow represents this. After having started playing traditional music at weddings and local festivities, the use of different genres allows the bad to take new directions.
Together with the music of the Brass-bands, Elzo (a sort of local juju), Afro beat and Caribbean rhythms and ritual voodoo songs dominated the strong sound of the band and became part of the band's repertoire.
“Gangbè” in Fon language means metal. In the local culture metal is a mineral related to Voodoo or to the Orisá Nigerian divinities: Ogun, a warrior and master of all the activities related to iron in general.
Having reached their fourth work Gangbe offers another album full of vitality; Assiko. Edited by Belgian Contre-Jour the Cd starts with "Nikki" a song dedicated to the Baatonou a populations originating from the north part of the county, they bravely opposed themselves to the slave business, in this part of the Benin gulf this was so active and ferocious that it was sadly named the "The Slaves Coast".
This topic we will see comes back on other songs of the album like “La porte de non retour” which refers to the monument in Ouidah to memorize millions of Africans deported during the traffic of slaves to the New World.
From this the positive idea, reminding us that through this door passed sufferance and pain, years later would have returned home elaborated and transformed into Jazz and Blues to testimony a culture that, even if brutalized and afar from home, has managed to create new forms of musical expressions that still today simply return to their land of origin.
The sound is cheerful and the captivating rhythms sometimes remind us Art Ensemble of Chicago during their joyful period.
The album runs and reaches “Un ètè a Vodelèè” that immediately brings to my mind rhythm of marchinhas pernambucane or of Carimbò the Parà or Mestre Vieira.
In one second I rebuild and I put all in line: Xaxa with its amazons, Burrinha (a local version of Bumba meu boi from north east) danced in the roads of Port Novo by the Agudas who still today remember the Bahia Fiesta de Nosso Senior do Bomfim.
The last resistance to the unavoidable parallels that I tried to send away from my mind was overwhelmed when an incredible accordion plays, bringing me back to the fair of Caruarù where“Trios de Forrò” sitting at a bar were making the atmosphere joyful.
Assiko finishes with “Mementon” a beautiful vocal song that develops around a typical African structure of “call and response”, a common structure for all the cultures whose roots are African and remind us of songs sang while working.
Certainly, listening and comparing the two works, it is clear that the consonances between the two projects are not based on similar musical choices but the approach chosen is definitely similar.
It is the insatiability of the people that are hungry and want to grow, it is the urgency of letting others know that far from the centre of the Empire the "savage civilizations" are pushing their seducing borders to allow others to listen to their own rhythms, their sounds and their voice.
Sitting on the flight that brings be back to Rome I ask myself if one day . . . somehow . . . . a simple record could allow young boys imagination in Olinda to travel just like I did.
Author: Orchestra Popular da Bomba do Hemeterio
Title: : Jorrando cultura
Label: Produzione indipendente
Listen Tracks in ascolto:
1. Prevando em Paris
2. Luanda D'Agora
3. Suite america
Author: Gangbe Brass Band
Label: Contre Jour
1. La porte de non retour
2. Un été a Vodélée