Comprised of Adriana Giordano (vocals), Meese Agrawal Tonkin (flute), Rosalynn De Roos (clarinet), Jamie Maschler (accordion), Mike Withey (piano), Adam Kozie (drums) and Martin Strand, the Seattle, WA-based septet En Canto specialize in a sound that meshes several distinct genres of Brazilian music, including Forro, the dance music of Northeastern Brazil; samba, which is probably Brazil’s most popularly known and beloved genre; and choro within a repertoire that features both originals, as well as reworked and re-imagined covers of classic Brazilian hits. Interestingly, as the story goes the Seattle, WA-based septet can trace their origins to four years ago when the individual members were at a North American celebration of Brazilian music in the California Redwoods. What the-then future members of En Canto quickly noticed, every instrument and stage was dominated by men — the women in attendance were expected to sing, cheer or act demure. And what male maestros, audiences and fellow performers here and in Rio have quickly learned since En Canto’s formation is that the ladies in the band simply don’t do the demure thing. “We love this music because of its compositional brilliance, its original grooves, and its revolutionary nature. It has roots in post-colonialism, in cultural battles for class and racial equality,” accordionist Jamie Maschler explains in press notes “Why wouldn’t it also inspire gender equality?”
Primarily playing in North American venues, the Seattle-based septet have developed a reputation for being fiercely independent, challenging stereotypes within Brazilian music, while also helping audiences expand their comfort zones. As the band’s Adam Kozie explains in press notes “We make people dance. We routinely open our concerts to a room full of shy, awkward faces, and we close them to a sweat-drenched melee of bodies and smiles. We experience real joy when we play these songs, and people feel that, and they respond in kind, regardless of whether they understand the words or know the ‘right’ dance moves. It was the same for each us at one point when we first heard Luiz Gonzaga or Gilberto Gil—we were provoked and then captured by the music, and we feel honored to be able to offer our own interpretations of it.”
After spending a month in Brazil, the members of En Canto went into the studio to record their full-length debut Solto por Jeri, which translates from Brazilian Portuguese to English as Released to Jeri, a nickname for Jericocoara, Ceara, an old fishing village on the Brazil’s Atlantic coast, and a region of the country that adores Forro — the most popular genre of music and dance in Northeastern Brazil. Immersed in the culture that inspired the genre, the members of the band wound up in the middle of impromptu jam sessions, which then became writing sessions for the album.
“Elas,” which I have the unique pleasure of premiering here on this site begins with a slow-burning intro that has the band pairing Giordano’s gorgeous vocals with a breezy melody consisting of twisting and turning clarinet, accordion and flute notes punctuated with shuffling percussion that quickly turns into a salsa-like samba section consisting of gorgeous bop-era jazz-inspired piano, staccato percussion. The entire composition possesses a sleek, coquettish yet confident sensuality while subtly revealing the septet’s playfully and charmingly modern take on Brazilian music and on genres that are largely unfamiliar to North American ears. Granted, as a native of Queens, NYC, one of the most diverse places on Earth, En Canto’s sound is familiar as it evokes the streets of parts of Astoria, Jackson Heights and Corona as well as my folks record collections — in particular my mom is a huge fan of Brazilian music, so I’ve heard a fair amount of it as a child. Bout my hope is that Seattle’s En Canto and contemporaries will introduce folks to one of the world’s great dance music genres.