The women of frevo

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Holding a not-so-generous contract proposal, the Pernambucan maestrina Carmen Pontes, founder of the Orquestra de Frevo 100% Mulher, refused to agree to a new show. She wouldn’t conduct close to 30 instrumentalists on stage for inferior performance fees than those offered to orchestras made up of men. She decided that when she formed the group, in 2003, and the refusal was repeated two, three, several times. Lesser fees than those proposed to predominantly male orchestras continued – and continue – to appear. All of them refused.

Carmen, one of the few female frevo maestros in the state, embodies the same resistence as Lourdinha Nóbrega, maestrina of the Orquestra Só Mulheres, and composers Kátia Calheiros (Bloco das Flores) and Socorrinho Cardoso (Bloco Compositores e Foliões). Active in different frevo schools, they maintain frevo’s front line, written and conducted by Pernambucan women. “We are rare, but the numbers are growing, although there is a fair amount of discrimination. A big part of the contractors think that our work is a hobby, that we are housewives and entertain ourselves with music. They want to pay smaller fees, and we tell them no”, reveals Carmen, whose technical background includes diplomas from the Centro de Criatividade and from the Pernambucan Music Conservatory. In the next few months, she’ll finish her BA in music at UFPE. “It’s not a game, it’s a struggle”, she continues.

The poetess Kátia Calheiros recognizes these barriers, she waged a similar battle to surpass them. When her name was announced as winner of the contest that would elect the frevo theme song for Bloco das Flores, in 2015, it created a bad feeling in the meeting hall: men who she was competing against wouldn’t accept a woman winning. Kátia wrote, at the time, the composition Flores para Clarice, a tribute to writer Clarice Lispector. She continued composing frevo songs, she embed her name in the bloco and took up, one year later, residency at the frevo school. “We are seen badly most times. There’s a historical burden with it, since women were banned from Carnival in the past. At Bloco das Flores, one of the first to accept them, they paraded surrounded by husbands, sons and brothers. Today, while the procession of lyrical blocos is predominantly made up of women, they are rare as instrumentalists and composers”, Kelly evaluates. And she passes on the torch: the melody of her frevos is signed by her daughter, Pandora, a 12-yr old pianist.

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“It’s important that the number of women grows in the sector. When we founded Bloco Compositores e Foliões, we considered this.  To give a voice to those that had less of one.”, points out Socorrinho Cardoso, composer from Caruaru and president of BCF, created in 2010. Her first song, Ciranda das flores, opened up the way to producing one frevo per year on average. And it was in her own bloco that she found the space that her verses weren’t getting in other orquestras and frevo schools. “We need to open up space to women, bring them together. This year, we’ll give tribute to Nádia Maia, with the frevo O sabiá do Nordeste”, she adds, a few days before participation in the bloco at Roda de Frevo, next Wednesday, at 4PM, in the Praça do Arsenal, Bairro do Recife.

Among the main difficulties they face, aside from the unequal remuneration proposed by contractors, are the accumulation of housework and the lack of incentive from male colleagues, according to the groups’ female presidents and maestrinas. “The female musicians have to be mothers, take care of the home, work and, if there’s time, rehearse music. Encouragement from their partners and dividing up chores almost never comes. They end up giving up”, says maestrina Lourdinha Nóbrega, from the Orquestra Só Mulheres, ex-member of the group Pérola Negra and the band Comadre Fulozinha. In spite of this, in ten years of activities, she saw the OSM grow from 15 to more than 40 instrumentalists. “How many times have I played beside men and was paid less than them, knowing that my effort was just as good as theirs”, she questions. In the music world, women are used to being designated more delicate functions, such as flute and violin. We need to position ourselves within frevo, to take charge of orchestras and compositions.”  – Source: Diario de Pernambuco

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