A Musical Adventure on a Brazilian Bus

There is a story that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. It’s a story about the power of music and the way it transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries in a truly magical way. This happened in 2005. I was 18 years old and had recently arrived in Recife, Brazil. I’d only been there about three weeks, so my grasp of Portuguese was still minimal, but that didn’t prevent me and my two American friends, Laura and Teresa, from navigating our way through the busy city.

On this particular Saturday morning, we stood waiting for a bus at the Afogados bus station that would take us to the sede, the downtown headquarters of the organization we worked for, where we’d spend the weekend hanging out together. We were happy but tired after a long week of studying Portuguese intensely and working through the many little issues that arise from living with host families. It felt good to get away for a little bit. I had my violin with me because I’d been asked to perform at a wedding the following week and wanted to practice in private, without the whole street showing up to hear me play.

Finally the bus arrived and we got on. The sound of live music caught my attention and I noticed three young guys sitting in the back of the bus, playing music as if they were on a stage and not on a dirty, scorching hot city bus. One played guitar, another tapped a triangle, and one sang as if his whole heart were in the music. It was forró, a typical Northeastern style of Brazilian music that is heard on every street corner (quite literally, I guess!), and causes any nordestino to start swinging their hips and look for a dance partner. Their enthusiasm for forró is positively infectious and, within three short weeks, I’d already heard enough to recognize its iconic sound with the bright-sounding triangle. Usually it’s played with accordion and zabumba, a drum, but obviously these guys were making do with a guitar that also sounded fabulous.

photo: grupoarrastape.com
photo: grupoarrastape.com

We made our way to the back to be closer to the music and settled in for the ride. As soon as the song ended, however, we were greeted enthusiastically by the guys who’d noticed my violin case.

“É um violino?” They were impressed; violins aren’t common around here.

“Where are you from?” one asked in heavily-accented English. “Germany? You’re German, aren’t you? Meninas alemães?”

“No! Uma canadense e duas americanas,” we corrected them, amused by their random guess at Germany.

Someone asked me to get out my violin and play for them. “On the bus?” I asked incredulously. “Sim! Everyone will love it. We want to hear you play.”

It seemed that every day brought a cultural shock of some kind, but this latest request topped them all for me – playing violin on a bus while driving through Recife. Oh well, it was an opportunity that might never come again, so I got out the violin, wiggled out to the edge of the bench so I’d have enough room in the aisle, and played a quick Cape Breton fiddle tune that matched the bounciness of the bus over potholes. It was met with applause and hoots from the three guys, whom my friends and I were noticing to be quite attractive indeed – or maybe it was just their joie de vivre and totally carefree attitude that thrilled us. After I tucked away my violin, they jumped into a rousing rendition of Coração, a song that I recognized as being enormously popular.

And that’s how we spent the next twenty minutes, listening to a cute guy sing passionately to us about how sad he was that he was dating the wrong girl, and the one he really wanted was dating the wrong guy, and all they truly wanted was to be together. Ah, Brasil! We learned that the singer’s name was Ítalo and the triangle-player was Cássio and they were both medical students. The guitarist was Felipe and he studied music at the federal university. Together with a fourth member, they had an informal forró band that did shows around the city.

The time came for us to get off and the singer scribbled a number on a piece of paper: “Call us sometime and we’ll get together to play more music.” Teresa, the calm and mature member of our trio, pocketed the paper with a warning look in my direction. She didn’t want me to commit us to anything too crazy, which she’d already learned I had a bad habit of doing. I, on the other hand, likely benefited greatly from her subduing effect on my overly adventurous spirit. We left the bus with a bounce in our step. What a great time we’d just had and, while we had no intention whatsoever of calling those guys, at least we had another great story to tell.

We never called the guys, but a few weeks later Laura was walking down the street when a car pulled over and Ítalo jumped out, greeting her excitedly. He gestured at a house and said, “I live there!” It turns out we were almost neighbours. He was having a birthday party that night and wanted us all to come. And thus began a friendship with those guys and their families that lasted for the rest of our year, and still continues via Facebook, eight years later. And it’s all because we got on a certain bus with a violin on a specific day. I love how life works out that way.

Related Posts on Feisty Red Hair
Danda, My Portuguese Teacher
Saying Goodbye to the Sede
How the humble “tapioca” brings out all my nostalgia for Brazil

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