Friday, November 17, 2023

A forró primer, part 1 - Background, artists, and instruments

I’ve touched on forró and baião on the blog before, but after some questions from friends and students, I figured it was time for a more detailed dive into the defining characteristics of the various rhythms of forró, how to differentiate between them, and how we can apply them to the drumset.

First off, the terms themselves can be a little confusing.  “Forró” is a genre of music originating in the state of northeastern Brazil called Pernambuco.  It is a family of multiple rhythms and dances.  Where the confusion often comes in is that one of the rhythms in said family is called “forró”.  Here’s a little chart to clarify.







We’ll talk about each of these rhythms in the coming parts of this series, but let’s first look at a little bit of background.  The roots of the music go back further, but the rise of forró in popular Brazilian culture is typically attributed to the accordion player Luiz Gonzaga.

He is also credited with creating baião as we know it in the 1940s and 50s.  Other well known forró musicians are Dominguinhos, Jackson do Pandeiro, Trio Norestino, Humberto Teixeira, and nowadays, Mestrinho.

While forró can be played on a number of different instruments, and ensembles can range in size and variety, the most traditional forró ensemble is a trio, consisting of an accordion, a triangle, and a zabumba.  A zabumba is essentially a bass drum worn on a sling.  This is where most of our drumset adaptations come from.  The top head is played with a mallet, and is usually muffled in the center, and the bottom head is played with a very thin stick called a bacalhau, creating a very high-pitched snap.

Next time we’ll start looking at the actual rhythms and what we can do with them, but in the meantime, you can check out this live concert of Luiz Gonzaga with his trio.  This will give you an idea of what a traditional forró group looks and sounds like.  If you listen to the whole thing you’ll each each of the rhythms of forró at some point, and you can get an idea of how the zambumba is played.  If you don’t plan to watch the whole thing, you can jump to 19:26 where Gonzaga plays arguably his most famous tune, named after the genre he created, “Baião”.

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