Great Brazilian Music


Frevo, along with maracatu, is the most famous and popular folk music style associated with the state of Pernambuco – the second largest state in the Nordeste region. Frevo can be described as a speeded up, playful Pernambucan version of the marchinha. The frevo also has its own characteristic rhythm and melody formula, which includes influences from maxixe, capoeira and polka. The frevo is believed to have appeared sometime between 1909 and 1911 and is typically accompanied by a very complex and acrobatic dance, which includes around 120 different dance moves. The frevo dancers are dressed in colorful clothing, inspired by the folk costumes of Pernambuco and also use yellow, blue, green and red umbrellas, while performing their neck breaking dance steps at stunning pace. The word “frevo”is believed to come from the Portuguese verb “ferver” (to boil), which reflects the boiling atmosphere of the frevo dance and music.

The frevo is usually divided into three different kind: frevo de rua, frevo the bloco and frevo-canção. Frevo de rua is a purely instrumental dance music form, which usually contains a big segment of wind instruments. Frevo-canção includes an element of song, and is often slower than a frevo de rua. Frevo de bloco is accompanied by a so-called “orquestra de pau e corda,” which includes percussion, banjo, guitar and cavaquinho.

During the 1940’s, two musicians from Bahia, Dodô and Osmar, visited Recife and were fascinated by the energy and intensity of frevo music. The duo had, since the late 1930’s, also experimented with electrifying string instruments and in the late 1940’s, they actually invented an electric guitar. Though, of course, the electric guitar had already been invented in the United States a few years earlier, Dodô and Osmar knew nothing about that. At the1950 carnival in Salvador, Dodô and Osmar decided to climb up on an old Ford and play frevo music on their electric guitars. The move proved an instant success among the city’s carnival crowds. Dodô and Osmar returned to perform at the following year's carnival and were then joined by a third guitarist Temístocles Aragão.

For the 1952 carnival, the soft drink company Fratelli Vita donated a truck to the trio, which substituted the old Ford. Dodô, Osmar and Aragão stood upon the platform of the truck and played electric frevo, accompanied by a group of percussionists, while crowds of thousands danced around and after the truck, as it slowly made its way through the streets of Salvador. And with that, a new kind of carnival had been created. The format was copied by many other music groups and became known as a “trio elétrico” – an electric trio. In the original trio, Osmar played the self-invented electric guitar (later to be called “guitarra baiana”), which has a flatter and more high pitched sound than the common, international electric guitar. Dodô used a special, semi-acoutsic kind of guitar, called “violão-pau-elétrico” and Aragão played on a conventional acoustic tenor guitar. Osmar's lightning fast finger picking on his guitarra baiana became iconic for the trio elétrico genre and has since been copied by all other trios elétricos, who have marched through the streets of Salvador during the carnivals.

Though frevo is not very common outside of the street celebrations during carnival in Pernambuco, the music style has occasionally appeared on the mainstream Brazilian popular music scene. Famous artists like Caetano Veloso, Alceu Valença and Lenine have all written and recorded frevo-inspired songs.

Example of frevo music

Click to listen:

Frevo do trio elétrico, Caetano Veloso, 1973
Atrás do trio elétrico, Caetano Veloso, 1969


Frevo dancers in Pernambuco

Frevo dancers in Pernambuco