Pernambuco – A Panoramic Musical Journey with NYU Study Abroad in Brazil

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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.

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Casa da Rabeca-Mestre Salustiano

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.

Click here to learn how to play percussion online with Scott Kettner at WorldDrumLessons.Com


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:


Women and Frame Drums

“….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.”


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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

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Wagner Santos Workshop

(@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

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Maciel Salu with NYU Study Abroad

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:

Want to join us in 2020?  Check out the NYU Study Abroad site to learn more.

2020 Program Dates

Student Arrival: Monday, July 6*
Student Departure: Monday, July 27*


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