Salustiano Manuel Soares, better known as Mestre Salustiano (Aliança, 1945 – Recife, 2008) was a man of endless talent (musician, actor, composer, artisan, teacher, etc). Born in the Zona da Mata in inland Pernambuco, and having worked as a sugarcane cutter, he was influenced by his father who played the rabeca, or fiddle. After being taught how to play as well as how to make his own fiddles (which were sought after), he started to explore his artistic side.
The Mestre loved to participate in the Cavalo-Marinho (similar to Bumba-Meu-Boi) and became one of the most well-known dancers of it in the region, thus receiving the title of Mestre, or master. He was considered a leading authority on popular Pernambucan culture and founded the maracatu rural called Piaba de Ouro, which ended up being invited to play in Cuba. Traveling was nothing new, for he took his music and art all over Brazil, to Bolivia, France and the US.
As if all the roles he assumed weren’t enough, Mestre Salustiano was a mamulengueiro (puppet-maker) and his puppets can be seen in the Museum of Mamulengos in Olinda. Just outside Olinda, in Tabajara (where 5 of his 15 children live), one can find more of his good deeds in the form of the Casa da Rabeca do Brasil, which is a cultural space he started and a continuation of the cultural preservation work he did previously at the Iluminara Zumbi, also in Tabajara.
In 2007, a year before he passed away from Chagas disease, he was honored for his 54 year career and received the title of “Living Heritage of Pernambuco”. He is also known as the spritual patron of the manguebeat movement and inspired the music of Chico Science, Nação Zumbi and DJ Dolores, among others.
What Mestre Salu really did for the cultura nordestina was to show people, through living it, presenting it and preserving it, that it was and is worth keeping alive. I’d even go as far as saying that the reason many Brazilians today are familiar, at least in some way, with the ciranda, pastoril, coco, maracatu, caboclinho, mamulengo, and forró is, whether they know it or not, because of Mestre Salu’s life work.