Getting to Know Brazilian Music: What Is Choro

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It’s been almost a year since I stopped featuring Brazilian music on a regular weekly basis, but seeing as I’m making an album of mostly samba and choro this summer, I’m going to start giving a bit more background on the wonderful music of Brazil! I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it - it’s so much fun, and makes you move involuntarily! (As I type this, I’m listening to this samba album and doing a seated dance in my chair.)

If you’ve been following along for any length of time, it’s probably pretty obvious how much I love Brazilian music, but what’s maybe not so obvious is what it’s all about (it’s a big country with as much, if not more diversity than the United States). Most people are familiar with bossa nova, but there will actually be no bossa nova on my album! All of the music will be in either samba or choro styles (with maybe one baião).

Both samba and choro are vast genres with many subgenres, but today I’ll give a brief rundown about choro, especially because April 23 (the legendary composer/flutist/saxophonist Pixinguinha’s birthday) was National Day of Choro in Brazil:

  • Choro comes from the verb chorar, which means “to cry”. There are multiple genres of choro, though, and much of it is very upbeat, with a fast tempo.
  • Choro developed around the same time as jazz and ragtime in the US (early 1900s).
  • Choro's popularity has come and gone many times over the past century, but the scenes in Rio and São Paulo are alive and well, and plenty of people are innovating in the genre right now!
  • Like jazz, choro is improvisatory, and read from a lead sheet (or, really, should just be memorized, like the early musicians did), with a large repertoire of standards.
  • Choro’s most common instrumentation is flute/clarinet/saxophone as the melody instrument, a plucked instrument like bandolim (mandolin), cavaquinho for rhythm, the sete cordas (7-string guitar) as basslines; and pandeiro (a tambourine-like percussion instrument), but it can work with most instruments.

For a little more background on Brazilian choro, check out this Pop Matters article, which references an amazing documentary called The Sound of Rio: Brasileirinho (highly recommended!), and this WNYC feature on Choro Ensemble with Anat Cohen.

I’ve written 2 choros so far: Anelante, a choro serenata (slower tempo), and Gingando, a more upbeat choro, which you can listen to below:

If you want to get more familiar with some great Brazilian music, I used to write weekly posts featuring a different song each week, in various genres, and I made a playlist of all of them here:

Because things are really ramping up with my Kickstarter launching on May 29 and recording my album in July, I’m going to switch to a more sustainable blogging schedule of once or twice per month. (To avoid burnout, I actually have to walk my talk about wellness!)  

But, if you’re on my blog mailing list (separate from my gig mailing list), I’ll still be writing you weekly newsletters, so if you want to hear from me more often, sign up below:

What’s your favorite kind of Brazilian music, song, or artist? Or, if it's new to you, what do you wish you knew about? Let me know in the comments!