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The origins of forró are debatable. The most familiar story, and indeed the version offered to me by many, involves the English of all people. As the tale goes, a group of English settlers in Pernambuco (another Northeastern state) provided a tavern that hosted dances welcome to everyone in the area regardless of class or gender. They called the designated dances, "For All", which was adopted by the Portuguese speakers as forró (pronounced fo-HO with a soft O-sound). This was the tale told my most forró musicians of the Twentieth Century. The other explanation was offered by a cultural historian named Luís da Câmara Cascudo. Cascudo suspects that the term comes from an African word, forrobodó, which would mean party, or high jinks.
Regardless of the origin, the spread of forró undeniably occurred in the 1940s when legendary Luiz Gonzaga, the son of an accordionist in Pernambuco, moved to the South and recorded the songs so beloved in the Northeast. The lyrics of most traditional forró recordings have a distinct theme of struggle, drought, pains of the heart, as well as praise for the vida sertaneja, or life in the interior. This poetry depicting the tougher life is put to lively, celebratory music to which its listener is defenseless. It is a happy, dancing music, danced in pairs and especially played during the Festas Juninas (June festivals). The purpose of forró is not unlike that of the blues in the United States, when the plaintive lyrics are worked out by the infectious beats of the music.
Today forró is making its way into Brazilian pop culture. Radio stations all over the country are alternating pop-rock and samba tunes with the exciting and clever tunes of the progressively better looking forró bands and trios. Fan clubs are filled to the max for popular musicians such as Falamansa, Chama Chuva, and Colher de Pau. Most of these bands hail from Bahia and other Northeastern states where the music is most certainly on fire. Quittepopular is Gilberto Gil's "Esperando Na Janela" (Waiting at the Window), and the forró version of "I Will Survive".
It is difficult to find a place or time in Salvador where you cannot hear Forro. It is merely the perfect spot to experience the unadulterated spirit of the sertão, of Bahia, and of bucolic Brazil right in the middle of a city. These days, what is found in Salvador is what the rest of the country, North, South, urban or rural, cherishes on the soundwaves. Forró is now almost as popular as when Luiz Gonzaga introduced it all those decades ago. Perhaps it is a quest for what is true, tangible, and significant in young Brazilian identity. To remember the past, use it, and add to it with modern ideas is one of the most emotional ties a person can have to his land. In such an increasingly urban society, a connection to the music to call your own is in itself a connection to the people you share it with.