Saturday, April 27, 2013

Goiânia: The Nashville of Brazil

After a brief sojourn in Brasilia, we headed out on the road.  First we had a little rehearsal session with a Brazilian guitarist named Jaime Ernest Dias, who Keola and company would be collaborating with for their big show on friday night.

After the collaboration session, we stopped at a Brazilian restaurant called Mangai, which had a full buffet of regional Brazilian delights.  It was an immaculate lunch of different Brazilian cuisines and fresh fruits and veggies.  We are all quickly becoming Brazilian gastrodiplomats.  We sat out on the covered porch and enjoyed the afternoon breeze over lunch.  I had an amazing plate of rice and feijoada with grilled veggies and fried manioc.  The highlight was a cooked banana covered in a nut crust.  We washed down our lunch with glasses of mango-esque juices (Family of Mango).

We are also quickly becoming huge fans of the Brasilia horizon.  The horizon is so vast here, and the clouds are soft and fluffy.  I have not seen such vast beautiful horizons since Texas or South Africa.

After the rehearsal, we started on our journey to Goiânia, where we would spend the next two days.    On the road to Goiânia, we first stopped in Gama- one of Brasilia's satellite cities, for a workshop on Hawaiian music, culture and history at CIL (a language center).  At CIL, students learned English, French, Spanish and Japanese.  We were working with a group of about 25 English students.  Keola, Moana and Jeff discussed Hawaiian music and culture, and gave an interactive learning session.  The highlight was the hula workshop, where Moana explained to the students how to use hula to "talk story" and share the beauty of the world around you through interpretive movements.  It was a fantastic engagement, the students loved it and were so interested in the dance.  After the program, the teachers had us in their lounge to share some delicious corn bread cake, and chat with some of the students.

After the workshop, we headed off into the day's fading light to Goiânia- some two hours away.  We arrived, checked in and had some dinner at hotel restaurant.  I had a local soup dish- a chicken soup with sour hearts of palm.

I woke up the next morning in Goiânia, feeling a bit stressed.  I took a walk down the avenue and through the park.  I stopped to watch a brilliantly yellow tree slowly drop its yellow flowers on the wind into a sea of yellow blossoms.  Color affects emotion.  I wandered a bit further into the park and stumbled upon a statue honoring Khalil Gibran, which I took as a fortuitous sign.  Turns out I was on Avenida do Lebanon, and this was a statue donated to honor Lebanon's anniversary.  Among its extremely diverse population, Brazil has a large Lebanese community that has contributed greatly to its social fabric (and cuisine!).  I spent most of the morning working, stopping for lunch at a little hole in the wall cafe for some pamonha- kinda like a Brazilian tamale wrapped in banana leaves.

Keola was feeling a lil under the weather, so Mama Hen scrubbed him from the afternoon program.  The rest of us headed over to the new Centro Cultural Brazil Estados Unidos (CCBEU) for a sound check, Hawaiian music and hula program.  Jeff and Moana ran the program on their own.  Jeff also got to meet the ensemble they would be collaborating with for the evening.  It was a popular local singer named Diego Falk and his band.  This had been a bit of a surprise to us, but Jeff rolled with it and had a great time jamming with the band.  They strummed along some favs like stuff from Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz.

I headed back to the hotel to retrieve Keola, who was thankfully feeling well enough for the program that evening.  The concert was a big hit.  For starters, it was the first program at the brand new CCBEU center.  Since the collab band was a surprise, we used some good public diplomacy to figure out the order of events for the concert.

Jeff began the concert, and wowed the crowd with his incredible guitar prowess.  I was so impressed, I have never seen anyone play a guitar like he does.  I will have to post some videos, it is just such a different style.  The hosts had found scenery of Hawaii on YouTube, and let it run on a screen behind the stage.  It made for a great prop, as Jeff was able to explain different part of Hawaii such as beaches close to his own home, and mountains where he grew up.  He also spoke of the Hawaiian paniolo (cowboy) culture, and its similarities with vaquireo (ditto) culture in Brazil and Goiânia in particular, and shared links to Portugal.  I have found that I have learned so much about Hawaii since the tour began.  I had no idea that Hawaii had a large Portuguese community, who brought the instrument that would become the ukulele; Brazil has a similar instrument called the cavaquino.

After Jeff's set, Keola and Moana came on for their own program.  Keola did a masterful job playing slack key guitar.  He strummed and tapped the strings, and made the guitar sing in ways that the crowd (and I) had never heard before.  He and Moana gave a wonderful performance that included everyone's new favorite instrument- the nose flute.  Moana gave interpretive hula dances that accompanied Keola's strumming, and helped draw the crowd in further.  Keola and Moana performed their set beautifully, and were then joined by Jeff to finished out their program.  The audience absolutely loved it.

After the full company set, Keola and Moana headed back to the hotel to rest, and Jeff stayed on to perform with Diego Falk's band.  They collaborated on "The Girl from Ipanema," and the crowd went wild.  Jeff joined the band for the rest of their set, and had the audience enthralled with his guitar skills.  I would venture to say that Goiânia may some day become the home of Brazilian slack key guitar.

The show ended a bit later, and we hung out with our new friends from the center and the band.  We wanted to see some of the Goiânian country music, so we caravaned across town but unfortunately the place was closed on a wednesday night.  Instead, we headed over to a bossa nova bar, and hung out, drinking caiparinhas and eating fried chicken croquettes with pecki.  I had been told about the fruit that is pecki prior that it is a yellow berry with a cactus structure inside.  It is served with chicken, and is a bit sour and a bit dangerous.  You can't actually eat the berry even though it is served on your plate because the cactus in the berry will scratch your throat and stomach.  Sounds like a gastrodiplomacy challenge to me, and I was quite keen to try the fugu of fruits.  Alas, the restaurant had only a yellow pecki sauce but no actual fruit. I got to dip the chicken croquettes in the yellow sauce, which was tasty but lacked the sense of danger of the actual fruit.

We sipped caiprinhas, watched Brazil play Chile in futebol, and chatted about life in Brasil and in Goiânia.  I asked my new friends about their feelings on the upcoming World Cup.  They mentioned a sentiment that I had heard a few times: that Brazil was behind and not going to be ready.  There seems to be a real trepidation that Brazil is not going to have everything done in time.  I explained to the Brazilians that the same thing was said of South Africa, and that everything turned out fine.

The next day we left Goiânia and drove back across the endless horizons (belo horizonte), back to Brasilia.

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