Though less well known outside the Brazil than samba, forró, the infectious dance music originally from Northeastern region of the country, continues to be one of the most popular musical styles in Brazil today. With its distinctive instrumentation of accordion, bass drum, and triangle, the earthy sounds of forró is reminiscent of a hyperactive zydeco music, while the song lyrics give voice to the hardscrabble existence of people from the Northeast.
The story of forró begins with Luiz Gonzaga (1912–1989). Born in the sertão (“desert backlands”) in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Gonzaga drew on the rich folk traditions around him to create a new type of music that came to known as forró. A larger-than-life character with an ebullient personality, a gift for showmanship as well as a resonant baritone voice and virtuosic accordion playing, Gonzaga burst onto the scene in the late 1940s with a string of hits that made forró a national craze. Following generations of musicians—most notably Gilberto Gil—have built on Gonzaga’s legacy and reinterpreted forró for a contemporary audience.