The drought becomes music with Cordel do Fogo Encantado

The band from the countryside of Pernambuco tours Brazil making tag-free music, gathering illustrious fans and getting ready to tour around Europe in July

Silvio Essinger
The best news in the music scene in 2001 comes from the town of Arcoverde, deep in the countryside of Pernambuco, about 160 miles from the capital, Recife: Cordel do Fogo Encantado, now touring Brazil in a totally independent enterprise, has been packing theaters wherever it goes, presenting the repertoire featured on the debut and homonym album 30'' excerpts . In July, the band will take its first European tour.

Cordel's trajectory is similar to that of Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, Mundo Livre S/A and Mestre Ambrósio. But with one difference: although they are taking advantage of the door previously opened by the mangue beat, the members have little in common with the movement. "The mangue beat appeared by the sea, from within Recife's urban chaos", says percussionist Emerson, 21, who was only 14 when landmark albums like Da Lama ao Caos (Chico Science) 30'' excerpts and Samba Esquema Noise (Mundo Livre) 30'' excerpts were released. "We have something to add to the mangue, because nothing new had come out from the arid interior", he explains.

Emerson, who regards Chico Science as part of a warrior descent that goes back to Jackson do Pandeiro and Luiz Gonzaga, believes that the example given by the mangue will go on in the new millennium: "Both in Recife and in the back-country, a lot more people are making music, today." And Cordel do Fogo Encantado comes into the scene with music structured upon the assimilation of the musical tradition of the interior - the indigenous toré, samba de coco, reisado, embolada and popular poetry made by the likes of Chico Pedrosa, Manoel Filó, Manoel Chadu, Inácio da Catingueira and Zé da Luz.

Theatrical origins
The band was lined-up in 1997 by Emerson, Lirinha (vocals, tambourine and lyrics) and Clayton Barros (guitar and vocals) . In the beginning, Cordel made a theater play, traveling all over Pernambuco to present it. In 1999, Lirinha and Clayton went to try their luck in Recife, and the band ended up participating in the Rec Beat festival, which happens every Carnival and is produced by Antonio Gutierrez (aka Gutie).

The musicians met percussionists Nêgo Henrique and Rafa Almeida by the hand of Mundo Livre S/A. The two are from Recife's suburbs and brought to Cordel the influence of African music, a most repressed style in the back-country. Later on, Emerson returned to the band, when Cordel became less about theater and more about music, and the group started its journey around Brazil.

With ages ranging from 18 to 24 years old, the musicians began the recording sessions last September, on Gutierrez's label, RecBeat, and produced by Naná Vasconcelos. Using assorted percussion instruments and only one harmonic instrument, the band pleased Naná. "He didn't change anything about our music, he just added to it", says Lirinha. Released on February, the album sold five thousand copies with no promotion schemes. "The first one thousand CDs were gone in two weeks", says Gutie. By the way, the CD can only be purchased at or .

Music under construction
Lirinha tries to explain Cordel's success: "We try and make music that is more about innovation than celebration." Emerson goes further: "Our music is still under construction, it can't be tagged because it doesn't sound like anything you know." He rejects the influences that are commonly attributed to the band. "Mestre Ambrósio is from the city. Quinteto Violado is more attained to tradition."

After working with Naná Vasconcelos, the band started to take technology in. Clayton was already using effects in his guitar, but Cordel will soon be using a sampler. "Naná always says that tradition limits the musician's creativity. Things might come up with a sampler", Emerson expects. But he believes that, even without the technology, Cordel's music can be regarded as avant-garde. "There's a Chico Science sentence that we like a lot: 'To modernize the past is musical evolution'".

The back-country is felt in Cordel's music and lyrics. "The lyrics are about the reality in the region. About how the rain is important to modify life", says Lirinha. Anyway, the musicians have hit the road a long time ago. And outside of Brazil, they know that they should count on the groove a lot more than on theatrical elements. In live performances, Cordel frequently sounds heavier than many rock bands. "We're coming for good!", says Lirinha.