An accordionist saga in New York City
Just like Luis Gonzaga and Dominguinhos did in the past, leaving the hinterland of Pernambuco to take their music to Rio de Janeiro, Felipe Hostins departed from Blumenau - in the south of Brazil - to play in New York City.
Though Hostins has become one of the main forró accordionists in town, his professional journey has not started with this musical genre. Like many musicians born in Santa Catarina, he first learned rhythms that are typical from the southern culture in Brazil, like sertanejo de raiz, chamamé, and other ones of gaucho tradition, which are also played in Argentina and Uruguay. The musician inherited the gift of playing the accordion from his grandfather: “I was sort of forced into playing when I was three years old. My grandpa decided that I was going to learn how to play in order to keep the music alive in our family parties. Then, he got me a tiny accordion and sat me on a stool in front of him – each one with their instrument. He strummed and said I had to replicate what he was doing. So I learned like this, by looking and playing by the ear.” Hostin jokes: “Of course that, in the beginning, there was a huge belt by my side and if I didn’t play… I would be in big trouble! But I after that phase, I started enjoying it.”
Together, grandfather and grandson nurtured their love for the accordion by listening to old records of local Southern music. The encounter with forró was nearly an accident. Amongst his grandfather’s records, the musician found Feira de Mangaio – one of the most popular forró themes to the present day – which instantly became his favorite song: “I didn’t even know what forró was, but I was possessed by that song and always listened to it. Then, little by little, I started discovering other forró records by Luiz Gonzaga and Nhozinho do Acordeon.” The offers to play forró in the South of Brazil were, however, very scarce. Hostins started his professional life by playing sertanejo universitário and kept forró as a hobby. Since Brazilian Southern culture privileges sertanejo de raiz and sertanejo universitário, the musician found few opportunities to play forró, but did it whenever he could. Since then, his true passion has a clear definition: “Sertanejo is my job but forró is the joy of my life. I think I feel the same energy of those dancing when I am playing.”
After ten years working with great sertanejo bands, Hostins felt distressed in the face of limits to show original works in Blumenau and decided to leave Brazil to pursue this goal in the United States. He then sold his accordion, packed his dream on a suitcase and landed in Las Vegas, where he expected to find gigs. Like many professionals who arrive there, he lived the hardship of being an immigrant for a while and felt hopeless in the lack of opportunities to play. Resolute to return to Brazil, he had a turn of fate when he received a phone call from a producer of Latin American music in New York City, who invited him to come over: “Don’t you want to give it a try here? We need an accordionist in the city.”
New York City, conversely, offers musicians more opportunities to play forró and show their original works. The fact is that, apart from the houses that play forró weekly – Nublu and Miss Favela – special events abound through the city, such as the ones in which Hostins played with Cyro Baptista and Forró In the Dark at the Lincoln Center, the Accordions Around the World at Bryant Park and with Trio Osnelda at Plaza 33. In terms of musical styles, the city’s ears love the purity of classics. Here prevail rhythms such as baião, xote, and xaxado, played by Luiz Gonzaga, Dominguinhos, Elba Ramalho, and côco by Jackson do Pandeiro. As of now, the musician says he is happy to see a boom in the community of forrozeiros in NYC: “I can tell the difference. Now we have instructors and more dancers. Last week we had a full house at Nublu! We have potential here.”
Like did Luiz Gonzaga, who went to Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s to pursue his career, Hostins came to New York City to show his unheard work. He also plans to raise awareness about forró culture and – of course – keep spreading joy among dancers. Between old and new strums, the accordionist unpacks, one by one, the dreams he brought in the suitcase from Blumenau. While he plays, they come to life with the forrozeiros in the city.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Silvia Alencar is a curious soul turned into a researcher, translator, and writer. She holds an MA in Communication and Semiotics at PUC – SP and pursues another one in Art History at Hunter College in NYC. When she is not geeking, she likes to cook, run, and dance forró until she drops.
Edited by Rafael Piccolotto de Lima.