Pernambuco – A Panoramic Musical Journey with the NYU Study Abroad Program
I’ve been traveling to Recife, Brazil since 1999 and each trip proves to be more inspiring. This year I was invited to curate music workshops for the NYU Study Abroad Program. The three week course included students from NYU’s Shanghai and New York campuses and was organized by my wife, Dr.
Michele Nascimento-Kettner. They had classes with her for 3 hours every morning on subjects ranging from race, gender, culture, literature, cinema and more. The second half of the day was dedicated to music workshops. We visited most of the major museums in Recife and took a few field trips including Casa da Rabeca and Caruaru, the capitol of Forró music. My goal was to show the students how diverse the musical landscape of Pernambuco is. I can still remember my first time being in Recife for Carnival and my head literally spinning at how many musical traditions are in this region of Brazil. I wanted the students to have a similar inspirational and educational experience. Upon concluding the three week program, the students’ heads were definitely spinning! They were able to experience a panoramic journey through the history and culture of Brazil as told by the percussion instruments, rhythms and musicians. The music workshops were a perfect compliment to Michele’s Study Abroad program and helped contextualize the topics that were studied inside the classroom with her.
The first workshop we had was with a very good friend of mine, percussionist Drica Souza. I met Drica in 2001 when I was living in Recife. We were both members of the Corpos Percussivos school led by Jorge Martins. She has been leading her own groups and teaching in Brazil ever since I met her. Drica knocked the ball out of the park with her workshop which focused on Maracatu de Baque Virado, Coco and other regional styles. The students learned the origins of these rhythms and got to play Drica’s arrangements on the traditional percussion instruments. It was amazing to see how fast they picked up Drica’s arrangements. Check out this video of one of Drica’s projects
The next workshop we had was with a good friend Helder Vasconcelos, a dancer and percussionist who was one of the original members of the band Mestre Ambrosio. Helder has developed a unique method of blending the traditional dances of Cavalo Marinho with modern/contemporary dance styles. Cavalo Marinho is a folkloric manifestation specific to the Zona da Mata region of Pernambuco which includes theatre, dancing and live music. It is considered the Opera of northeastern Brazil and a full performance can last up to 8 hours. Check out this video of a 2hr performance of Cavalo Marinho:
Here’s a video of Helder and his creative process of morphing traditional dances with a modern twist:
It was an honor to host the amazing percussionist Lara Klaus. Lara has played with many great Brazilian artists and is also a member of LADAMA, an all female group hailing from N and S America and was recently featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk. Lara introduced the pandeiro to students. The pandeiro is the Brazilian cousin of the tambourine and like all frame drums in the world, they share a similar history having their roots in Mesopotamia. Lara was able to teach the students the basic techniques of playing the pandeiro and they covered forró, coco and samba rhythms. Her workshop was very inspiring and encouraged the students to begin studying the pandeiro. Here’s a video of Lara singing one of her songs with her project:
“….The earliest frame drummers were primarily women, priestesses and musicians connected to religious traditions and the frame drum was a symbol of their position in the religious hierarchy of the day. The oldest named frame drummer in the historical records was the High Priestess Lipushua, who presided over the temple of the Moon God, Nanna in the Sumerian city of Ur around 2300 BCE.”
We were very excited and honored to have the great singer, songwriter and musician Silverio Pessoa join our NYU Study Abroad program. Silverio has been a huge influence on my music from his days with Cascabulho. Since leaving the band many years ago he has developed a prolific career ranging from collaborations with Occitanian musicians to touring all over the world and releasing albums. Silverio and I recently collaborated and composed a song together for Nation Beat’s latest album “Carnival Caravan”. Check out this short teaser:
Silverio’s workshop focused on the history of Forró music. His interactive powerpoint presentation explored the music and lives of Jackson do Pandeiro and Jacinto da Silva, two of the great pioneers of forró music. He brought surprise guest Luca Texeira (@teixeiraluca), an amazing percussionist from Morro da Conceição, a neighborhood in Recife that is known as a breeding ground for great percussionists and musicians. Together they weaved in and out of live performance and powerpoint presentation, contextualizing the music and lyrics of forró. The students were dancing, playing percussion, inspired and engaged for the entire workshop.
On the weekend of the São João festival we took a 2hr road trip towards the interior to Caruaru, the capitol city of Forró music where we met a good friend and percussionist Wagner Santos
(@wagnersantospe). Wagner invited us into a music school where he teaches called Casa das Artes Caruaru. He is part of the new generation of artists who are carrying the traditions of the early forro´masters. He has developed his own hybrid drum kit where he combines the triangle, woodblocks and the zabumba all in one. What used to take three people to play now only takes one! This is exactly how the drum set was invented in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century. Wagner gave a presentation on the history of forró and taught the students all of the rhythms from this genre on the pandeiro. He broke forró down into 5 rhythms; xote, baião, xaxado, arrasta-pé and forró. This workshop reinforced a lot of the information that Lara and Silverio passed on which helped the students be able to identify these styles from one another.
Here’s a video of a pandeiro duo with me and Wagner:
It was very exciting to host my good friend and one of my favorite Brazilian musicians Maciel Salu, a brilliant songwriter, artist and rabeca player. The rabeca is a rural fiddle that is mostly found in the state of Pernambuco and was traditionally used to play forró and cavalo marinho music styles. In the
past 20 years the rabeca has been used in contemporary styles coming from the northeastern region of Brazil. Maciel’s father, Mestre Salustiano was one of my good friends and mentors who helped me design the blueprint for my music with Nation Beat. He helped pave the way for many artists such as Maciel and myself who identify with traditional and contemporary music and thrive on hybridism.
Maciel discussed the origins and the hybridity of forró music and culture. He demonstrated different styles on the rabeca and pandeiro and discussed their cultural relevance to the people of the northeastern region of Brazil. One thing that stood out to me was when he referred to Cavalo Marinho music as the Opera of The Northeast. This is in reference to the connection of the theatrical and musical performance that takes place during a Cavalo Marinho event that usually lasts between 8-10 hours. Check out this video of Maciel performing with his group:
Wrapping up our music classes was another good friend, guitarist Carlos Oliveira. Carlos is a classical guitarist who is also steeped in Choro music and other styles. Carlos’ workshop was a nice way to finalize our trip as he discussed music from different parts of Brazil, specifically choro, Brazil’s first urban genre of music from the 1880’s-1940’s. Choro is a result of musical styles and rhythms coming from Europe and Africa and uses the Rondo Form: AABBAACA Check out this guitar lesson with Carlos:
Are you feeling overwhelmed with all of the material that you need to practice on the pandeiro? Are you wondering what you should practice today? In this blog I’ll share a Daily Pandeiro Ritual that will help you make progress and maintain your pandeiro chops.
Recently a student of mine stopped me in the middle of a class routine and said that she was feeling overwhelmed with all of the material. She dedicates 30minutes per day to her pandeiro practice routine and she’s been studying with me for 9 months. She has a folder filled with handouts from my classes and she doesn’t know where to begin. This is normal. I feel overwhelmed sometimes when I sit down to practice. But, I am able to clear away all of the “stuff” and get straight to the routines that I know will make a difference in my playing. Time is very limited for all of us. You need to identify the routines that help you the best and stick to them. Over time, a routine that took 20 minutes might only take 10 minutes to get through. Now you have 20 extra minutes to practice stuff you don’t know!
Here’s how I break down my practice time.
Prepare my practice journal.
Practice 15-30 mins on a rudimental/technique exercise with a Metronome
Practice 30-90mins on new ideas and/or challenging grooves
Notate everything in my practice journal including tempo markings
Continue my day with a healthy conscience
Depending on the day and the month I might practice for longer or shorter periods of time. The important thing to notice is that I keep a journal, use a metronome and I always start with the same exact routine, every time! The pandeiro is all about rote movements and internalizing these movements into our muscle memory.
The first thing to understand is that the pandeiro requires a refined technique in order to be able to play all those fun grooves that you’re dying to get into. Without a solid technique, your groove and feel won’t develop and you’ll constantly struggle with your sound and stamina. Focus on developing your left wrist and very clear tones with Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3. (more on that here)
Daily Pandeiro Practice Ritual
Now let’s take a look at a practice routine that you could incorporate into your Daily Pandeiro Ritual. Please feel free to modify and customize this routine based on your level of playing. As you improve you might want to add more to it and connect these routines with other ones. The more you customize the routine for yourself, the more connected you’ll be to it. The important part here is ROUTINE. Do it every day if you can! If you feel that the routine is too easy, try playing it faster until you reach your breaking point. Record the breaking point tempo in your journal and make it your goal to feel at ease playing at that tempo by next week. Then, repeat.
Here’s 1 routine that you could incorporate into your Daily Pandeiro Ritual. This is part of a Pandeiro Pyramid exercise that I developed. If you’d like to check out more Pyramid exercises for Pandeiro jump on over to the Pandeiro Course. This routine is making use of the bass tone with our thumb. You can check out a blog post about Bass Tones here.
Are you stuck trying to play a samba on the pandeiro? Whether you’re just now learning how to play the pandeiro or you’re an accomplished player looking to fill in some gaps or gather new approaches, this blog lesson is for you. I will share a practice routine that will guide you to playing a samba in 5 steps. It is important that you follow this guide step by step as each example plays a very important role in the construction of this version of samba. Each example builds upon the previous. Take your time. It’s not a race! Master each example on the pandeiro at various tempos before moving to the next.
Samba is unarguably the most popular rhythm and style of music from Brazil. There are many different styles of samba that come from Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and many other states throughout Brazil. Every group in every region of the country has their own unique approach to playing samba and the instruments associated with this music. If you want to call yourself a complete pandeiro player (whatever that means to YOU), you must have a holistic understanding of how to play samba on the pandeiro. And the more approaches you have under your belt, the better off you’ll be! The example below is a style of playing samba that I learned from the great pandeiro player Marcos Suzano. I’ve modified it over the years, however most of the original concept that I learned from Suzano have remained in place.
Keep in mind that this approach is all based on the “GRID Technique” which I discuss in this Choosing The Right Technique blog. If you’re confused by the term Grid Technique I suggest you go back to this previous blog post and begin with the technique exercises before getting into this lesson. Also, please keep in mind that these are exercises to help you develop the facility and technique needed to play a samba on the pandeiro. These patterns don’t define a samba groove as much as the swing feel does. You have to work on the swing feel as much as you work on the technique. It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that……. You dig!
Now, let’s start our 5 step samba practice routine. Step #1 is all Heel-Toe-Heel-Toe with an accent on the “e” of beat 1 & 2. This accent is IMPORTANT! Don’t ignore it. This accent will help you develop your samba swing feel.
Step #3 is important as you will add the surdo part with a bass tone played with the thumb. B=Bass with thumb. You will begin to recognize the samba groove on thihs step.
Step #4 adds a new pick up accent on the “ah” of beat 1. TS=Toe Slap. You will play with your finger tips in the center of the drum (zone 3) getting a light slap sound as opposed to the louder open hand slap tone.
Now lets finish our samba pattern with Step #5 where we’ll add an open bass tone pick up on the “ah” of beat 2. BT=Bass Toe (finger tips). Once you master this step you should be able to begin to imitate an escola de samba groove of the 2nd and 3rd surdo parts.
Remember to take your time and use a metronome with all of these examples. Feel free to write a comment with your feedback.
Finding a practice routine for pandeiro is one of the most challenging parts of improving your skills. If you’re just beginning to play the pandeiro, tempo is another major challenge. So of course, If your assignment is to learn to play a samba, you’re probably freaking out about the tempo (and technique and swing feel). But, there is a solution to help you get acclimated to playing samba and faster tempos without feeling overwhelmed.
Playing with a metronome is important, however playing with music is much more fun and educational. I suggest that you divide your practice time between playing with a click and playing with music. For instance, if you only have 30 minutes per day, split this practice time based on your necessity. If you need to focus on technique spend 20mins with a metronome and 10mins with a track. If you’re focusing on vocabulary and already have the technique thing happening, play with a click for 10mins and a track for 20mins. You need to design your practice routine based on your needs…but just make sure you do it!
Now, back to your solution for slipping into being able to play samba. Bossa Nova is a perfect style of music to start off with. The swing feel, accents and many of the clave patterns are very similar to samba. In fact, many people have described bossa nova as a slowed down samba. Of course, that’s not 100% accurate BUT, it’s close enough for our purpose; working on our tempo, feel and samba groove.
So, here’s a couple of bossa nova tracks that I thought were at a good “tempo di learno” for you to start off playing along to. You can use this pattern on both songs as a left wrist and accent exercise. You can also apply different tones to each accent if you wish to bring it to the next level.
Partido-Alto (High-Party) is a sub genre of Samba that was born in Rio de Janeiro and was influenced by the melting pot of cultures migrating to the port city during the turn of the twentieth century. Partido-Alto can be classified as a style of singing improvised verses or a specific rhythm. The singing style is usually divided into two parts;
Verses: The lead singer/s improvise their verses based on a theme and usually compete with each other.
Refrain: This is the response to the verse and is sung by the coro, or the entire group.
The origins of Partido-Alto reside deep within the diverse Afro-Brazilian cultures of Congo-Angolian heritage and was influenced by many styles such as Jongo, Embolada and more. If you’re interested in digging in deeper into the history, check out my friend Beto González’s article where he reviews a book by Nei Lopes called “Partido-Alto: Samba de Bamba”. Click here to read the article.
Also, do yourself a favor right now and watch this video to really get a birds eye view into the roots of Partido-Alto. Skip to 14:55 to see various singers stepping to the mic and improvising over a theme.
Here’s a list of a few quintessential Partido-Alto icons for you to check out:
Aniceto do Império
Clementina de Jesus
….and there’s many more. But this will get your started with the roots of the music.
Now that you have a very basic background on what Partido-Alto is, let’s take a look at a few variations for pandeiro. This is one of my favorite Partido-Alto songs that I always give to my students first, before they learn any other samba groove. This is a song by Aniceto do Império called “Samba de Partido Alto”. The tempo is perfect for beginners and intermediate players and the rhythmic parts in the pandeiro are very clear in the recording. Here’s a transcription of the outline of what the pandeiro is playing:
Now practice along to this song.
Here’s another one of my favorite classic Partido-Alto songs by Clementina de Jesus and Clara Nunes. This is also great for beginner and intermediate pandeiro players because of the tempo and clarity of the pandeiro part. Check out the pandeiro part and then play along with the song.
The third Partido-Alto that I give to my students after they’ve internalized the previous two is this song by Martino da Vila. Notice how it’s almost identical to the pandeiro part on the Clementina song above but it leaves out beat one and adds an extra note on beat 2 in the 2nd measure. Those small differences have a huge impact on the overall feel of the groove. Check it out:
If you spend the next 6 weeks playing along to these songs or any other songs by these artists, your pandeiro playing will definitely break boundaries and you will begin to internalize the Samba de Partido-Alto rhythm. Remember to take your time practicing. If these tempos are too fast, slow it down with a program or start with a metronome at a slower tempo and build up to being able to play with these songs.