The north-eastern tip of Brazil is a land of contradictions. It has suffered from persistent economic backwardness, compared to the rest of the country, since the end of the sugarcane boom in the nineteenth century. Its semi-desertic climate is the driest of the entire country, and its coastline is ridden with swamps. Nonetheless, this region remains to this day the most important cradle of Brazilian culture, and a mother lode of artistic inspiration.
For time zone UTC-3, this week, let’s hear a unique product of that unsparing soil: “Transfiguracão,” by Cordel do Fogo Encantado.
Cordel do Fogo Encantado started up as a roving theatre troop from the city of Arcoverde, in the state of Pernambuco. While they slowly mutated into a pioneering alternative music band, the influence of drama and storytelling remained very obvious in the fierce poetic incantations of the singer, Jose Paes de Lira (“Lirinha”), gifted with the magnetic charisma and the powerful, raspy voice of a prophet.
“Passion is a parabolic, dilatated sea…” starts this very mystical song.
The band draws its name (meaning “Cordel of the Enchanted Fire”) from the local tradition of cordel literature — a popular genre of inexpensive printed pamphlets made by woodcut artists and sold in the streets, containing folk legends, songs, poems, etc.
In fact, the perpetuation of traditional elements from the culture of their native region is an ambition dear to the heart of Cordel do Fogo Encantado. Lirinha sings following patterns of embolada, a rapping form of folk music, and the complex, enticing rhythms to which he sings are unmistakably drawn from various genres born out of African and indigenous roots that are so characteristic of Pernambuco.
But make no mistake: this is music firmly rooted in the world of today, liberally mainlined with rock, funk and electronic vibes.
The band disintegrated in 2010, and its singer Lirinha started a solo career. Download his latest album for free on his website.
Read more on the fascinating musical heritage of the Nordeste, and on its recent transformations, on Sounds and Colours.