Brazil. The name might bring to mind the Amazon, the jungles of South America, exotic wildlife. You might think of a different sort of wild life, the revelers who dance through the streets of Brazil’s cities at the time of Carnaval just before Lent begins. Maybe, on the other hand, it’s sport, from soccer to surf, that comes to mind. Perhaps, it’s the music: samba, bossa nova, choro, tropicalia.
On his first visit to Brazil, Andrew Finn Magill recalls “just staring out the window at the colors. Brazil had only existed in my imagination at that point and I remember experiencing it silently from that car window for the first time and just paying attention to every detail: the colorful houses in the favelas, kids playing basketball, surfers, the black and white stone sidewalks.” This remains one of his favorite memories of the country.
Magill is a musician, a fiddle player and composer. Though he was familiar with bossa nova and some other Brazilian music, that was not his main focus.
He is from North Carolina, where his parents are traditional Irish musicians and his father is the head of The Swannanoa Gathering. The Gathering presents programs over the summer months where people may take weeklong classes and hear and participate in concerts featuring Celtic music, old time music, songwriting, and other areas. Magill has a grounding in folk and roots styles of music, and jazz as well. He has an international touring career in these styles. He has released the albums Roots Roots and Branches in which he explores his connections with Celtic music.
Then “I fell in love with a girl from Brazil,” he says. Their marriage saw him moving his home base to Brazil, where it was natural for him to seek out the music scene. That is something you can do as well, as a player and as a listener.
“When I moved to Rio de Janeiro I first began learning choro, which is played by musicians sitting in a circle called a roda –literally ‘wheel’ in Portuguese,” Magill says. “These rodas happen in bars, restaurants, people’s homes and sometimes even in impromptu ways in the street.”
Choro is a form of instrumental music which originated in Brazil. The tunes themselves are a sort of roda, usually played in three parts to a fast rhythm. Fiddle is not always one of the traditional instruments of choro, but still Magill found a welcome from fellow musicians.
“Sitting in a roda drinking beer and trading tunes with other musicians immediately felt familiar after growing up playing in Irish music sessions,” he says. “The first roda I think I attended was at Bip Bip in Rio de Janeiro. It’s now famous in all of the guide books as being the destination roda for people visiting. I remember sitting next to 12 other musicians in a tiny space that could barely contain half of that. The energy was electric, the tunes amazing and there was a large crowd listening gathered outside. That kind of did it for me.”
What it did, among other things, was inspire Magill to deeper exploration of the music of Brazil, and to composing in the styles he learned.
Two album releases have come out this, too. More of those in a bit, but first: What tips might Magill have for those coming to visit his adopted country?
“Brazil is so different depending on where you want to go,” he points out. It is, in fact the fifth largest country in the world (only China, Russia, the United States, and Canada are larger). It is home to tropical jungles, the mighty Amazon, dry plains areas, remote rural villages, and bustling cities.
“No one should come to Brazil without coming to Rio de Janeiro, which is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Magill continues. “Brazil has so much to offer though culturally.
“The beaches in the northeast are amazing and there is a huge eco-tourism industry here. Some places I’ve really enjoyed: Porto Alegre, Foz De Iguaçu and its amazing waterfalls, Petrópolis, and A Região dos Lagos. I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg though,” he points out.
As for a practical tip “I would bring my own sunscreen instead of planning to buy it in Brazil. There are more brands in the U.S., higher SPF and it tends to be cheaper,” he advises. Brazil is a land of varied climates but sunshine is in abundance most places.
“If you’re coming to Brazil you should learn at least a few basic phrases in Portuguese,” he suggests. “If nothing else this will help you make friends faster and make Brazil more enjoyable!”
How did he do that? Maybe not how you’d think. “My favorite way to learn Portuguese was always reading comics and watching Brazilian sketch comedy. My favorite comic to this day is A Turma da Mônica which they sell at any news-stand on the street.”
Music, though, is at the heart of what Andrew Finn Magill is about, whether he’s enjoying his adopted home city, playing Celtic music on the road, teaching fiddle in North Carolina, or offering concerts celebrating the release of two new albums which feature his explorations of the music of Brazil. Brazilian Strings Trio brings Andrew Finn Magill and fellow expat musician mandolin and violin player Ted Falco together with renown Brazilan guitarist Nando Duarte for original music by each of three ranging across choro, xote, and more, with tinges of jazz style improvisation. Canta Violino! features Magill’s original music in forms including samba, choro, bossa nova, and other styles. “That said, there’s a healthy dose of jazz and American influence as well!” he says.
Listen to Magill speak about Canta Violino — in Portuguese with English subtitles.
The albums feature Magill’s original compositions and his playing, both of which are, as he explains, Brazilian with an accent. You may hear that accent, especially if you know Magill’s work in other genres. What you will certainly hear is an artist being true to his instrument and his ideas, and to his calling in how to follow those.
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