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Choro Paper

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Essay title: Choro Paper

The Choro

Traditionally, when people think of Brazilian music the first thing that comes to mind is either the bossa nova or the samba. While these are two of the main musical genres that developed in Brazil, they represent only a portion of Brazilian music. Historically, the population of Brazil has been composed of four main groups: the Portuguese, the Africans; the indigenous people; and the various other European, Middle Eastern, and Asian immigrant groups, all of whom contributed numerous cultural influences to the society. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the various styles of music that come out of Brazil are extremely rich and diverse. Like many other Latin American countries after gaining independence, Brazil wanted a musical style that they could call their very own. This paper explores the development of the Choro, sometimes known as the Chorinho, which first emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1870s. I am going to explore the topic of nationalism, arguing that the choro was a direct result of a search for a national expression and identity by the Brazilian people.

I begin this paper with a look into the history of Brazil, as understanding the struggles and feelings of the people gives a sense into how the nationalistic feelings developed in Brazil. In the year 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil as a colony of Portugal. It was ruled from Lisbon until 1808, when French troops under Napoleon invaded Portugal, causing the royal family to flee to Brazil. The Portuguese court was soon introduced into Brazil, and with it came an open trade policy. Ports were opened to international commerce, which resulted in an immediate influx of European cultural influences, including the introduction of the piano.

The growth of the sugar cane industry, as well as the gold rush brought the influx of slaves to work on the plantations and in the mines. Slavery was finally abolished in 1888; however, due to the limited number of employment options for the former slaves, many of them continued to work in the fields. The economy was controlled by a few wealthy Portuguese, which contributed to the class segregation in Brazil. As well, many of the Portuguese men also had children with the indigenous and African women, which contributed to the multiracial society. This set up the social order of Brazil, as a society layered by social importance and race.

The introduction of pianos in Rio de Janeiro in 1834 contributed to the already existing social hierarchy of the country. While members of the upper class were mingling in their piano parlours, the bohemians were playing basically the same selection of tunes on the streets. These jam sessions in the street soon became a standardized ensemble featuring string and wind instruments of European origin, and percussion instruments from Africa. Some would say that this was the first major style of Rio de Janeiro. These street musicians, who were predominantly black, lower class members of the community, became known as choroes and their style of music became known as the choro.

There is some debate around the origins of the name “Choro”. The majority of scholars believe it came from the Portuguese word “chore”, meaning to weep; however, others believe it could have originated from the word “xolo”, traced back to the Afro-Brazilians, meaning dances or parties. Another explanation of the term suggests that its origins can be traced to the colonial Brazilian word “choromeleiro”, which in Greek translates to sweet music. Regardless of its origins the term slowly changed, from referring only to the ensembles, to defining the style of music the choraos played.

The term “choro” was used to represents a rhythm, but in practice described a combination of rhythms, instrumentations and musical forms. The small choro ensembles generally contained three main instruments: violoes (guitars), cavaquinhos (small, four stringed, guitar like instrument, similar to the ukulele), and ebony flutes. A tambourine like instrument called the pandeiro was also sometimes included

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