Brazil has been in the news lately - for reasons that would make any sensible humanist flinch with alarm and disgust. Thankfully, on Friday 9th November Vancouverites were given a much needed reminder that the country’s renown extends far beyond its fascist president.
Presented by the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre, Aquarela do Brasil: An Explosive Celebration of Music and Dance was an impressive showcase of the broad emotional and stylistic spectrum of Brazil’s musical traditions. Featured in particular were the styles of choro, samba, bossa nova, and maracatu. "Aquarela" means watercolour in Portuguese, and it is a fitting metaphor for the multitude of different hues which blend together to create the “sound of Brazil”.
The stage was occupied by ten of the most seasoned veterans of Vancouver’s music scene under the leadership of the genre-spanning multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist Sal Ferreras. Ferreras’ passion, knowledge, and insight was evident in his loving curation of the evening’s music. As with last year’s Drum Heat, he conducted the seemingly unwieldy ensemble with effortless finesse. The musical numbers were punctuated with energetic performances by the talented dancers and drummers of Aché Brasil, an acclaimed local troupe of performers dedicated to the promotion of Brazilian culture.
The musicians were frequent Ferreras collaborators: Celso Machado on guitar, Tom Keenlyside on saxophone and flute, Jodi Proznick on the stand up bass, Miles Black on the piano, Rod Murray on the trombone, John Korsrud on the trumpet, with Liam MacDonald and Israel “Toto” Berriel on percussion. Additionally, a special guest musician happened to be in town from Japan: Lisa Ono, one of the world’s foremost interpreters of contemporary bossa nova, who lent her beautiful voice to the illustrious ensemble.
The musicianship was, predictably, impeccable. Each artist had the opportunity to amply demonstrate their admiration for the material and its deep roots. Celso Machado’s playful and unorthodox string-loosening approach to his instrument was utterly beguiling (at one point in the evening he spontaneously pulled out a stuffed toy monkey from his bag and tossed it into the very surprised audience), Liam MacDonald once more extracted a jaw-droppingly diverse range of sounds from the humble tambourine (incredibly, Celso and Liam actually managed to outdo their solos from last year’s Drum Heat), and Aché Brasil’s capoeira-infused acrobatics served as a wonderful visual counterpart to the concert’s aural journey.
In addition to highlighting the diversity and vitality of Brazilian music, Aquarela do Brasil clearly manifested the timelessness of this music. Having been utilized so heavily in cinema, animation, and other pop culture media over the last century, it is immediately evocative and strikingly familiar. Most people will not even realize until they hear it just how recognizable much of this music is. Featured compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim (who has no less than 257 film credits to his name on IMdB) and the inimitable Lalo Schifrin brought an unmistakably cinematic feel to the evening. The audience’s affection for the material was amply demonstrated by the eagerness with which they joined the band in song - if there was room in the intimate venue to dance, they surely would have leapt to their feet and done so.
Aquarela do Brasil was performed on Thursday November 8th and Friday November 9th, 2018, at the Vancouver Playhouse.