CHULA... by Samba Chula João do Boi is without a doubt the f-i-n-e-s-t recording of Brazil's primordial samba ever made!
"Chula" is a Portuguese-language word denoting something worthless, of no value. It was applied by the masters to the music of the Bantus on the sugarcane plantations of the Bahian Recôncavo, coming to be innocently used by the slaves themselves and eventually metamorphosing into a term of pride. The rhythmic basis for samba-chula is that of the candomblé rhythm called cabila, or cabula, utilized in candomblé angola (candomblé is the West African religion transplanted to Brazil aboard the negreiros; candomblé angola was the first of the three candomblé nations to arrive on Brazilian soil).
Laced into the polyrhythms of the atabaques, pandeiros, and rebôlo are the patterns of the cavaquinho (a small, high-pitched string instrument), the viola (a double-strung guitar-like instrument, though smaller), and the violão (guitar); (specific instrumentation varies from group to group). The dancing style -- precursor to the more ostentatious style of Rio de Janeiro -- echoes that of candomblé angola ceremonies.
Towards the end of the 19th century there was a huge outpouring of freed Bahian slaves moving to Rio, looking for work. These people carried their music with them to the territory around another great bay (Guanabara), where their descendents, forced up into the morros (hills) would come to see this heritage rise from its lowly-esteemed position to proudly assume the mantle of the National Music of Brazil (more on this here). But not all freed slaves would make the journey south, and in Bahia the primordial samba, samba-chula, would live on, sublimating away over the course of a century-and-some-decades like vapor from dry ice until now almost nothing is left behind.
Of the few people left in the backwaters of Bahia who continue to sing and play this essential music (having learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from...), it can be safely stated that none express it with more vitality and charisma than the Saturno Brothers, João and Antônio, popularly known as João do Boi (John of the Ox, for the cows he keeps) and Alumínio (Aluminum, for the way he shone, literally, as an energetic, sweat-drenched kid on the football fields of his youth).
It'd be great to board a time-machine and pay a visit to 1930s Louisiana or Mississippi or Alabama, stepping up to a front porch on a humid summer's evening to clap hands to the rural American version of the above. But alas that time is gone and the time-machine is only a wistful figment of our imagination. Things have "progressed" more slowly here, but soon enough one will never be able to see or hear again what now requires but a journey into the Bahian interior to bear witness (or dance) to, if one knows where to go, and on what night...
released March 1, 2010
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