The centennial of the birth of Luiz Gonzaga, forró’s biggest star, helps explain part of the burst of interest, and the Lincoln Center show is a tribute to him. A dynamic performer who played accordion and sang in full Brazilian cowboy regalia, Gonzaga, who died in 1989, was also an author of compositions like “Asa Branca,” or “White Wing,” a song about a peasant driven from his land by drought, so popular in Brazil that it is sometimes called the country’s alternate national anthem.
To the American ear forró may seem to have some affinities with Cajun music, especially zydeco, in part because the accordion and the fiddle reign supreme in both genres. Scott Kettner, an American percussionist who leads the Brooklyn-based band Nation Beat, which specializes in music from Northeast Brazil, even talks about a “fusion of the Mississippi and the Capibaribe,” the river that flows through the heart of Recife, the city that is the capital of Brazil’s forró scene.
“While I was studying in Recife, I started to realize there were a lot of connections with the music I grew up hearing from Louisiana,” he said. “But it’s not just me who thinks that. When I played a festival in Lafayette a couple of years ago, the audience was dancing Cajun style to our forró. It was amazing to see how well they accepted it, and how familiar it all seemed to them, especially the button accordion stuff.”