Origins and evolution of forró in the São João festivities

Feast of St. John in the Northeast
Feast of St. John in the Northeast

The forró style has gone through three major phases since it emerged in the 1940s. Evolution causes dispute, but formats can coexist, critics say.

This week begins the main moment of the forró marathon at the São João festival in the Northeast.

With the approaching of the official night of celebration of the saint, next Friday (24), it is almost impossible to hear any kind of different music at this time in cities that are becoming the main focus of the party, such as Campina Grande (PB) and Caruaru (FOOT).

But saying that everyone plays forró doesn't necessarily mean that the music is the same.

Over the seven decades since it emerged and spread through the hands of Luis Gonzaga, the musical style that is the symbol of the Northeast underwent transformations in its form.

It stopped being purely regional music played with accordion, bass drum and triangle, it adapted to modernity, incorporating elements of pop, axé and tecnobrega. Younger forró bands have a production comparable to the great pop concerts in the world. One of these groups, Calcinha Preta, even performed in 360 degrees, like those of U2.

The transformation generates controversies and disputes. The culture secretary of Paraíba, singer Chico César, criticized the more “modern” bands, which he called “plastic forró”.

in the same tone, Dominguinhos, faithful to the original forró, has already claimed that the new bands have changed their style so much that “you can't say that that's forró”.

Origins and evolution of forró in the São João festivities

Despite the evolution and contrasts, the different styles of forró can "coexist", according to Expedito Leandro Silva, author of "Forró no Asfalto: market and cultural identity", which deals with the evolution and urbanization of the musical style that is the hallmark of São João in the Northeast.

“The first does not cease to exist, and the second continues to modernize and accentuates its differences from the original”.

Researchers on the subject usually divide the style into three major phases: traditional Forró (also called pé-de-serra), Forró Universitário and Forró Eletrônico. They are marked by urbanization, technical improvement and adaptation of the style to the market at different times.

Forró evolution


Traditional Forró or Pé-de-Serra
Traditional Forró or Pé-de-Serra

As soon as it appeared, forró was an authentic artistic creation of the rural universe of the sertanejo, and had in Luiz Gonzaga its main promoter and representative.

The music was usually played with only three instruments and the lyrics brought nostalgia, regional themes and a strong country accent.

The pe-de-serra is still present in its classic form at the great party in the Northeast. Whether through the hands of nationally renowned artists, such as Dominguinhos, or more local names, such as Santana, there are still those who keep the original style alive.


University Forró
University Forró

The first big changes came in 1975, when popular musicians at the time, such as Alceu Valença, Zé and Elba Ramalho and Geraldo Azevedo, embarked on forró, adapting the style to the time and form they were already playing. It was the University forró, which had its name taken from the young and urban audience to which they appealed.

The style was resumed in a similar style two decades later, when groups such as Falamansa and Trio Rastapé became popular nationally with the “pé-de-serra adapted to today's world”, as explained by Ricardo Cruz, from Falamansa.

“The similarity between us and Alceu Valença and Zé Ramalho exists because we followed the same movement of looking for original, traditional sources, such as Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, allying to the moment in which we are living”.

In my case, it's contemporaneity, mixing the “pé-de-serra” with influences from reggae, rock and MPB. We seek to make foot-of-the-saw together with our daily life, our reality”, he said.


Electronic Forró
Electronic Forró

Despite the continuity of the traditional forró and the accent change without major transformation of the university student, in the 1990s the style underwent its greatest transformation.

That's when he incorporated new instruments, dancers, more colorful clothing and elements of country, romantic, cheesy and even axé music to create electronic forró.

Also called stylized forró or even “oxente music”, the movement began at the beginning of the decade, with groups like Mastruz com Leite and Magníficos, and has become bigger and more transformative over the years.

The change in recent decades has been so intense, reaching groups such as Aviões do Forró and Calcinha Preta, which, according to researcher Expedito Silva, have so changed the original proposal that they are closer to tecnobrega than to forró itself.

The founder of the band Magníficos, one of the first of the stylized forró, explained that what they do is popular romantic music mixed with forró. “It's as if we took a song by Roberto Carlos, for example, and played it in a forró rhythm”, said José Inácio, known as Jotinha.

The band Magníficos, actually, started with traditional music, pé-de-serra, but decided to change.

"Luis Gonzaga influenced us a lot, but we adapted the traditional to the romantic. We like and respect, but that's not what we want to do. You have to follow the evolution of things”, he said.

According to Silva, who studied the evolution of forró, the main difference between the classic and electronic style is that new bands deal better with the market, sell more. “The style is preferred by younger people, who identify more.

What happens is that those who like forró, especially in the Northeast, don't confuse electronic with traditional. He sees the stylized as leisure, entertainment, pastime, but he respects the traditional forró”, he said.

Origins and evolution of forró in the São João festivities Tourism and Travel Guide for Bahia, Salvador and Northeast

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