Singing gauchos

About a week after Sophie left, another accordionist that collaborated with my theatre company came to visit. Gwennie worked with me in Fronteiras Explorers last year, when she first came into contact with the gaucho culture of southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. She became highly interested in this, as someone who works with Scottish folkloric dance and music back in the UK, and wanted to come back to my home state to do a bit of research on the gaucho folk music festivals we have. Her folk group, The Nest Collective, have a radio show in London and her aim was to do a radio special about gauchos, highlighting an aspect of Brazilian culture that is little known abroad – seriously, hands up who doesn’t automatically think of samba, capoeira and carnaval when they hear ‘Brazil’. Our own bloody fault, but yeah… I thought so.

Anyway, she flew to Porto Alegre, where Patricia and I met her. We also met her friend Phil, a photographer that also had an interest in doing some work about gauchos. Phil had decided to take the BUS down from Rio, and after 27 long hours, we picked him up from the bus station and shoved him in the car for another 3 hours to São Lourenço do Sul, where a folk music festival awaited. São Lourenço is a small town south of Porto Alegre, sitting by Lagoa dos Patos, the largest lagoon in Brazil. Despite being historically important and culturally diverse, it isn’t a highly popular tourist destination. Few non-Brazilians know this, but there was a civil war between 1835 and 1845 during which my home state of Rio Grande do Sul declared itself an independent republic from Brazil. São Lourenço was a strategic point during that war, where Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (look him up, he’s a super cool dude) set up his shipyard to build the fleet that would be used against the Empire. In addition to this nautical history, the town also offers an interesting insight into immigrant cultures in this part of Brazil, including the amazing contrast between Pomeranians from Germany, encouraged to migrate to find work in the New World, and Africans brought by the slave trade.

The festival itself, Reponte da Canção, is a long-running event and one of the largest in the area. We watched all three nights of the festival, spoke to a few musicians, organisers, local government representatives, and TV hosts. We were interviewed by the TV guys too, you can watch it here (warning: it’s all in Portuguese). Throughout the weekend, the project became to unfold into several projects, as we discussed the many layers that there are to gaucho culture and traditions – don’t worry, this is way too long a discussion for a blog post and I won’t bore you with that, but feel free to get in touch if that is something you’re interested in.

After São Lourenço, we headed back to Porto Alegre to dig a bit further. We took Gwennie and Phil to the Gaucho Institute of Folklore and Tradition, and to a nearby farm to see some gauchos in action. Phil wanted to see even more action, though, so we ended up heading north to the region of the Italian colonies up the mountains, to the even tinier town of Flores da Cunha for a rodeo (special thanks to Pati and Mateus for being delightful hosts over there).

The state of Rio Grande do Sul is bigger than Scotland. There were other things we wanted to do but didn’t have the time, like going to a mate/chimarrão festival. We managed to gather enough material for a couple of decent projects though, and you can see the first of these here, just published by the BBC. I think we did alright taking the road less travelled there, aye?

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