On November 12th, Ita Cunha and Edson Dutra came to Dongguan. The two pillars of Gaúcho music came on the invitation. What unfolded was an unforgettable night of music, dance and celebrations. John Acton was there to report.
Magic can happen anywhere, and oddly enough it doesn’t have to be true illusion or enchantment. The alchemy of wonder and splendour can whip you away to a far-off land. Far, far away, can be here for you, with a huge amount of hard work and an amazing ensemble. A huge co-operative collaborative welded together can do anything. Move mountains. Anything is possible.
The event, organised by P.T.G. Dongguan group, transported more than four hundred people from the region of the great Pearl River to the Rio Grande do Sul (Great Southern River). Centered around Gaúcho culture, themed on being noble, brave and generous, we’re no longer in Dongguan.
Auditoriums and venues don’t get much more cozy than Dongguan’s Tangla Hotel. The venue is not too large, not too small, versatile in function and capable of showcasing spectacular events. The lay of the lands around the gathering is invisible. Subtle, crafty tricks have skillfully taken the viewers to a land of devoted to lassoing horses and cattle-rearing. Things are much simpler now. Calabash gourds, a cup with a fluted drinking pipe (the bomba), emit fragrances of chimarrão. Dried leaves of yerba mate, a holly plant based drink, similar in taste to a recently harvested batch of green tea sit atop the cups looking almost like an overfilled pot of herbs.
Rarely do you get to see superstars of popular cultures mingle as one. Trophy-laden football coaches such as Luiz Felipe Scolari has had many chances to beam a smile. A set of fine teeth gleamed as a touch of his home, and many countrymen’s arrived in autumnal Dongguan. The matt grey skies of November were lit up by a bustle and beat of vibrancy intended for communal warmth. I was introduced to Felipe by the Klaus family. He told me, “This is my home state music and dance. It is most enjoyable and brings great happiness to my people.”
If a large contingent of my own Mancunians descended upon Dongguan, and held a party, in a worker-bee decorated red brick hotel room, what pieces of Manchester’s culture could we offer? The music could stem from some Oasis, Happy Mondays and Elbow. For the buffet, there’d be Lancashire hotpot, Manchester egg, black pudding from Bury, curries from the Curry Mile and a classic Manchester tart or Eccles cake for dessert. This would be served with a pint from Joseph Holt’s or Hyde’s breweries. Vimto for the kids. The entertainment would be a mixture of over-enunciation of vowel sounds, bickering over City and United. L.S. Lowry artwork computer graphics could illustrate famous points of Mancunian history alongside which pub is best (The Peveril of the Peak or Sinclair’s Oyster House, by the way). The whole night would be bobbins [that’s Mancunian for poor].
Amidst it all, decorative costumes, bestowed and unique in many shapes and forms waved like the frills of a great Dragon Dance against ever changing colorful lights. Billed as ‘a truly unique and special show’, the hype immediately kicked in.
Madrucador tells of horseback rides, steel spores shining and destiny. The song, in Portuguese, slips from singer Ita Cunha’s lips majestically. His decorous style of singing is honed, refined and seemingly effortless. If it wasn’t for his eyes gleaming and beads of coolness reigning in each action, this could easily be a crystal-clear music recording.
The sacred amplitude of tales told through song is here, filling the room. It helps to get up early each day and listen to great music, be that bird song or the radio. The set list for this singer, accompanied by a very young boy with an accordion, and Lucas Ferrara, baby-faced, barely a teenager, again with a proper accordion, and guitarists, Neuro Júnior and Matheus Alves, is impressive. The pulse of each song’s life is great. Mango Carneador is explained to me by one keen onlooker, Matheus. He tells of celebration in feeling at home. Infancia rattles across the impassioned crowds, connecting youth with experience. Dances erupt all around.
A girl I once met in a bar, approaches me, Bruna says, “I didn’t know that you knew Portuguese.” I reply, “I don’t, but I know music and love music.” She explains Xote Macanudo and melodies from the heart, created during times of revolution. I’m glad to be so welcomed and taught of brief glimpses into the history of Gaúcho culture.
All throughout Ita Cunha’s act there is real warmth and glow from his delivery. The lighting of the room is soft. Groups move to the dance floor gently, having digested their buffet dinners and sank the odd beverage, or two. Children run throughout the room, chasing each other, like they would in fields on farms. There is carelessness and care in equal measure. The gentle acoustics of the room penetrate your heart and mind. You are at the mercy of the rhythm.
Rivalry has no place in the room. The main city, Porto Alegre, is home to two major football clubs, Sport Club Internacional and Gremio Football Porto Alegrense. Here, their fans shake hands, share drinks and greet each other with much warmth. All bitterness is shed, save for the delightfully sour and sweet Caipirinha, a sugarcane based hard liquor.
Influenced by wave after wave of German and Italian migration, I can see the resemblance in the dances to both cultures, infused by Portuguese and Spanish flavors too. The rhythm rooted from neighboring cultures and tightly bonded to the rural lifestyle. Polca, Milonga, Chamame and Chacarera are perhaps better known, but traverse Gaúcho music as if it were a sister and brother at a family meal.
Intangible and heritage are words I see often on landmarks, around Dongguan. This custom of music, legacy and birth right is preserved for all to touch, smell, see, hear and feel. The bright colored flags, the costumes of loose-fitting trousers called bombachas, belted with a tirador, or a chiripá, a loincloth. The odd poncho, which would have doubled as a saddle blanket or sleeping gear and in winter, a respite from extreme cold. There are no rebenques (leather whips) or facón knives tucked into the Gaúcho costumes. I suspect an evolution caused by hotel security or health and safety affected the Fandango party. Boleadeiras sounds like a bad word. Look it up. You’ll be amazed at what you see. The women and children wear smart dresses, colorful, broad and full of exuberant spirit.
All around me, the audience is composed mostly of Gaúcho people. A table of Mexicans is in attendance, perhaps for Gaúcho’s resemblance to Mexican charro culture. Several tables of wide-eyed interested Chinese people look on, some in deep fascination and many clearly in awe. There is a real sense of multiculturalism and love of heritage about the room.
Many musicians stumble from one life to another. Dr.Edson Dutra graduated in Law having previously founded the group Os Serranos. He acted professionally and never flinched from his involvement in traditional music. DVDs and CDs have followed in a career spanning over 40 years. Like my musical hero Meat Loaf, Edson Dutra is into his sixties and displaying no hint of ending his musical appearance. Rio Grande do Sul is known especially for its grains, wines, ranching, and for its substantial industrial yield. Here in Dongguan, we harvest the fine compositions.
Having grown up with an accordion since the tender age of seven, his skills are as natural as walking down the road. Since then, hundreds of thousands of CDs have been sold. Citizen Joaquinense dominates the room, backed by his fine band of Gaúcho brothers. As a winner with a title of Citizen of Porto Alegre, he swaggers on stage with a down to earth attitude. He appears not to have won the multitude of plaudits that appear to celebrate his uniquely traditional brand of talent.
Across the world, in places such as Paraguay, Uruguay, Japan and now Dongguan, Edson Dutra captures a tender feeling and releases heart. Onlooking audiences don’t sit straight-faced and glumly on. They embrace, they hug, they sway, twirl, turn, pirouette, gambol, hop and caper. Skipping, prancing, frolics and cavorting is encouraged. Busting out a wiggle is requisite.
The music style, Fandango, is party music. It compels the action of dance. Inspired moves shape from each sound. A swing arm camera cruises overhead, recording this distinctive and exceptional event. From the dance floor to the stage to the décor, so much care and attention has been placed into making this wonderful evening. Photographers buzz around the room like industrious bees, hoping for the perfect smile to resonate at just the right moment in the flashing lights. Even visiting the men’s bathroom, there is singing as men stand at the urinals and expel toxic fluid, whilst hollering and hooting timeless songs. Outside a variety of cigars, pipes and smoking is contained. The conversation ranging from Gaúcho culture to simple daily life. A theme of simplicity has filled the day’s proceedings.
Rogério Bastos, an experienced and popular journalist, introduced the show, with a video of ‘Paixão’ (passion). Fine words followed from an important man, João Mello (President of the CBTG), sent via video, showing that seas cannot separate souls from home. After the show, Rogério Bastos said, “Exciting times. Unforgettable images that will be forever in our retinas and feelings that will stay in our hearts.”
In moments of song such as Querencia Amada, you can feel the roof beginning to lift off. The people’s paixão shows deep longing and emotion throughout this song. A real show of those who stayed to sweep the hall, long after many have gone home to sleep! The next day, PTG organiser Junior Amaral tells me, “Gaúcho music is going through a popular phase right now. Thanks to artists such as Edson Dutra and have swung the music style into almost every walk of life. It is a huge honor to have him here. Last night, he played until 4am. He had so much energy. The other musicians tell me he has never played so long. He was playing from the heart. It was so special. To attract a musician to China is not easy, they have almost two days of flying to stay here for around five days. It is a great honor for the PTG Dongguan Veia. How do we follow that?!”
Arguably the word grand was made for such nights. Hugely respected acts of music, greeting their people, a long way from home, bringing just a touch of it to Dongguan. Memories can be made on such moments. They can be treasured. The baton from generation to generation can be passed. As Tati Klaus said to me before the event, and journalist Rogério Bastos mentioned with heart, in his early speech, “We can give a little piece of our tradition to our children, raised in a far-off land.”
Her husband, Crodoaldo Batista de Araújo, shows pride in an event many had arranged, on a scale many dream of, and few can deliver. Well, PTG China Veia can deliver. I feel on this such occasion, they set the bar of successful events sky high.