A martial art created by African Brazilian slaves and disguised as a dance. A theatrical mime show created around sound effects and an imaginary ball. An improvisation on the didgeridoo. All of these were a part of Orchestra director and percussion expert Dr. Christopher Fashun’s recent concert, “Percussao e Mais!” (Percussion and More!), a showcase of what he learned during a Fulbright study in Brazil last summer. The event had less the formality of a concert and more the feel of a fun-filled exhibition. There was a very interactive feeling between the audience and the performers; Dr. Fashun and other guest artists directly engaged the audience throughout the show, at one point engaging them to participate in a call-and-response song.
The distinctive pieces highlighted the originality and variety of Brazilian music. When speaking of the Brazilian approach to music, Dr. Fashun said, “It’s continually evolving. The Brazilians are masters at cannibalizing their own music and music from other countries and making it work. They think of themselves as artists, not simply musicians. They synthesize all the arts into their music.” This synthesis of art forms resulted in a distinctive variety of styles. A notable piece was “Cançōes e ritmos da capoeira” (Songs and rhythms of Capoeira). Capoeira was originally a kind of martial art, but has grown to include an original style of music. The martial art was developed by African slaves in Brazil as a means of self-defense and resistance. Gradually, slave-owners began to catch on and made practice of the martial arts a crime. Slaves continued practicing capoeira, but disguised it as a form of dance. While those who were training “danced,” others would play traditional African percussion instruments and chant in a call-and-response fashion. This style of music eventually came to be associated with the term “capoeira,” which is still widely practiced today. Sadly, Dr. Fashun did not perform any martial art style moves. However, the audience was lucky enough to witness him perform a piece of capoeira music with Contramestre Leandro Lemos, an actual professor of capoeira living in Michigan.
Speaking of unique art forms, audience members were surprised when Dr. Fashun interrupted a talk he was giving about a piece to ask if the audience heard a sound like that of an airplane. The audience soon began to hear the sound he was describing, steadily growing louder. Fashun pretended to follow it across the stage. There was suddenly a sound like an object being dropped from a great height, and Dr. Fashun reached up his hand as if to catch something. What followed was an elaborate act that seemed a mixture of a dance and a mime show, wherein Dr. Fashun pantomimed trying to keep hold of an imaginary ball, moving in rhythm to a variety of sound effects such as pops, barks, and zooming noises. Instead of a percussion instrument, the body was used as percussion. The piece combined rhythm, dance, and theater in ways that made the audience laugh out loud.
Other pieces reflected cultural aspects of Brazil, such as “Da Liçenca (Excuse Me), a drum duet meant to reflect religious syncretism, and “Memories of the Seashore,” which Dr. Fashun played on the marimba in conjunction with a slideshow of pictures depicting Brazilian beaches. Speaking about his 4-month experience in Brazil, Fashun said, “Living in a foreign country has changed how I live my life. To experience the joys of life with my Brazilian friends and colleagues in light of their daily struggles of oppression, lack of socio-economic opportunities, and social justice issues was such an empowering thing. It forced me out of my comfort zone everyday, which allowed me to take more risks in my own music making and how I live my life.”