Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante do Recife

Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante do Recife. (Photo by Jason Gardner)

Maracatu de Baque Virado — also called Maracatu Nação, the musical and specifically percussive style, and in some special cases the entire royal court procession that completes the cultural manifestation — has had a presence in Toronto for more than 10 years now.

The Toronto groups are led by players who learned the form through the Estrela Brilhante nation in Recife, Brazil, the city most identified with maracatu (and some other Brazilian projects derived from Estrela Brilhante and other maracatu nations). Hundreds of drummers, dancers and participants have learned and thousands have been thrilled by the heavy Afro-Brazilian rhythms and the colourful spectacle of maracatu presentations in Toronto.

Rainha Dona Marivalda and the royal court of Estrela Brilhante

Rainha Dona Marivalda and the royal court of Estrela Brilhante

Now, in a history-making visit, Estrela Brilhante is coming to the US for a tour and workshop series. Dubbed A Tale of Two Nations, the tour and the whole shebang is directed creatively by Brooklyn-based drummer Scott Kettner, who founded and leads Maracatu NY as well as the group Nation Beat, which will tour with the members of Estrela including Mestre Walter de França and several of the heaviest-hitting batuqueiros (percussionists) of the nation. (The project received some arts grant funding and some help from a certain airline for the plane fares, but Kettner, project manager Anne Kogan and Co. also raised over $20,000 with a Kickstarter campaign.)

Nation Beat blends the roots music of the southern US styles (like New Orleans second line) and those of northeastern Brazil (maracatu, coco, forró, ciranda).

The group previously collaborated with Estrela Brilhante in Recife in 2005, for collaborations that have been recorded and performed there. The results included these versions of Estrela’s traditional tunes produced with the Nation Beat treatment.

The 2013 tour marks the first time the Estrela nation — including percussionists, dancers, Queen Marivalda and members of the royal court — will perform and teach in North America, with tour stops in New York, LA, Arizona and Connecticut.

For our part, a good-sized group of Maracatu players from the Toronto groups are heading down to New York City for a weekend with Estrela.

The NYC tour stop takes place at home base for Kettner and for photographer Jason Gardner — who has traveled Recife and the Pernambuco region of Brazil for nine years and is launching his recently published book of photos, A Flower in the Mouth, which documents Carnaval in Pernambuco — along with Kettner’s multimedia talk at the Lincoln Centre. This presentation and exhibit launch event serves as a kind of warm-up for the same venue’s Out of Doors series, which hosts an open rehearsal and then the big Tale of Two Nations performance to kick off the weekend.

Once the shows are done, it’s time for the weekeend of workshops (and a party), featuring the dancers and drummers and royal court members of Estrela Brilhante and hosted by Maracatu New York at Kettner’s studio in Brooklyn.

(Photo by Jason Gardner)

As a student of Maracatu for some years now — mostly learning in the Toronto groups as well as on my trips to Brazil — I’ve watched and listened to Estrela first-hand in Recife and have met and played with members of the nation in other informal maracatu groups. I’ve learned the rhythms, songs, percussion breaks and (I’d like to think!) some of the “feel” of the Estrela Brilhante do Recife style of maracatu, as taught to me by my Toronto-based teachers and visiting Brazilian guest instructors, and in the context of maracatu groups in other cities of Brazil that I visited and player with.

But this represents my first opportunity to learn directly from the teachers that taught my teachers. To consider what I will learn, what this might do for my playing and my understanding of maracatu gives me both joy and (as anyone who knows me might expect) some anxiousness as well. Will the infamous Mestre Walter comment on something I do, or an error I might make? Will I find out just how far I have to go in this musical form? Will I give it all up and move to Recife? (Doubtful, but who knows.)

Only one way to find out. Here we go!

– Jonathan Rothman

Estrela Brilhante é Nação de Fé! 

No baque virado sou Nação Nagô!

The 2007 desfile (Carnaval parade) of Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante do Recife

The 2007 desfile (Carnaval parade) of Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante on Avenida Dantas Barreto in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Jason Gardner)