São Paulo – Alceu Valença, Elba Ramalho and repente singers. Now add Arab music instruments, a Brazilian singer and the Parisian environment. Put together, these mixed influences are a large part of Brazilian singer Caro Ferrer’s new work. “I’ve always seen the Arab influence in Brazilian Northeastern music. The Moorish people had been in the Iberian Peninsula and, naturally, when the Europeans discovered Brazil, this Arab presence arrived here,” the singer told in an interview to ANBA.
Having released her album “Brisa Mourisca” in November, she says the Arab traces are in the waythat repente singers and Northeastern singers perform. “One of my favorite artists, Alceu Valença, who I deeply admire, is the most Moorish among the Northeastern composers. Zé Ramalho has a quite Arab vibe in the way he sings and the viola he plays. It was about time someone talked about that,” the musician said.
For Caro, the vibrato, a string oscillation technique that the Brazilian Northeastern singers use on their voices is an Arab characteristic. “When you listen to Elba Ramalho and other singers, they have a vibrato that the Brazilian Southeastern music doesn’t. Another example is Zé Ramalho, who half talks half sings. Repente has a completely Arab origin,” she said.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Caro lived in Natal (RN) and Fortaleza (CE) and works with Northeaster rhythms since her first album. “All of my records have at least a baiao, a samba, a coco. When it was time to think about my fourth album, I decided to work only with Northeastern rhythms. I’m from Rio, but, as a musician, I don’t think it’s fair that people think that’s all there is in Brazil,” she mused.
Alongside the wish to immerse herself into the Northeastern culture, came the Moorish breezes she scatters into ten songs. “I decided to create the album with Arab instruments. It’s the first time I do that. All off the lyrics and melodies are mine,” she says. Among the musicians that work with the singer, more diversity: Pedro Barrios is Colombian, Rodrigo Samico is from Pernambuco, Brazil, and Lameck is Angolan but almost Brazilian according to her. There is also the French musician Hervé Morison she works with since 2010, and in this project he plays guitar, bandurria (picture above), which is like a lute from the old Persian region, and acoustic guitars of six and seven chords.
To get the Arab sounds, the artist chose to ornament the Northeastern percussion base (formed by zabumba, tambor d’água and congas) with foreign instruments. Among them, the goblet drum (tarabuka), more used in the percussion in the North Africa, according to Caro, and also the reqqes and carcabous present in the Arab percussion.
The album brings Moorish sounds to Brazilian rhythms such as cocos, cirandas, and maracatus. “I wanted tarabuka in some way. I wanted daffs. The percussionists brought reqs and other kinds of pandeiros I didn’t even know existed,” explained the artist, who also produced the record. While studying for the album, other inspirations included musicians such as Amar Chaoui and the Brazilan Zé Luís Nascimento, who specializes in Arab music.
The album “Brisa Mourisca” was conceived, recorded and mixed entirely in Paris and is more than just a musical study. The singer is also a researcher and tried to get a deep understanding of how Brazilian and Arab cultures are connected. “We should learn a little more about our origin in school. We are influenced by these desert peoples,” she said.
The curiosity about what she didn’t learn while growing up became a Masters in Brazilian Literature and Civilization from Paris Nanterre University. “I studied about Brazilian Northeastern music and how the Northeast came to be. About how their identity was created and how it became a region. The region has its own traits and one of them is a strong Moorish influence,” stated Caro.
Among the track records, there are song narrating the hardships of the working class and story of two people coming apart. The last theme is dear to the artist. “It’s about physical distance. One of the things that me me to the Arab culture, was the fact that the Northeaster are a migrant people. Both are migrating people and there has been a strong wave of immigration from Syria to France,” stated the singer, who saw similarities between movements around the world and in her birth country in the last few years.
“In Brazil, the prejudices that always existed against the Northeasters have been intensified during the manifestations to take the democratically elected president out of office (Dilma Roussef, who was impeached in 2016). I saw fascism coming out of the closet. A hatred against the poor, or against the less fortunate, against that part of Brazil. Projects such as (the welfare program) Bolsa Família and the technical schools were all around Brazil, but people somewhat just talked about the Northeastern region. I’ve also seen the return of the prejudice in the provincial French. There is an international wave, in the United States, in Australia, in Brazil, where a far-right government has just started,” she said.
As a way to show her position, Caro chose to mix both cultures, “While I was researching, these prejudices arose. I decided to mix them all together and show the Brazilian with the Arab. Show the Moorish influence in the Brazilian Northeast and pay tribute to both these peoples,’ the composer says.
Released in November 2018, the album yielded a tour through France throughout this year. However, the singer has still not figured out a way to bring her work or make the distribution. “I really wished to present my album in Brazil. I’m after a producer and a editor for this to happen, for Brazilians to know my work. My public is 90% French now,” says the singer, who has lived in Paris for 18 years and keeps composing only in Portuguese.
After debuting the album with Moorish sounds, the musician is already preparing the next endeavors. “I’m composing other baiões and coocs thinking about Arab instruments. I’m very happy with the result. I will keep working in that vein. The second edition of this project is already on the way,” she concludes.
Translated by Guilherme Miranda