We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. Click here to find out more. Allow cookies

arrow Register here

Forgotten password?


Day 27: Recife

click to enlarge 
file size
Evening in Olinda. Everyone's out on the street.
Michael Palin - BrazilLying at the far eastern tip of Brazil, Recife has the advantage of being just about the closest the continent comes to Europe or Africa. With better port facilities than Olinda, Recife grew to be the outlet for the huge wealth, mainly of sugar and cotton, from the state of Pernambuco. The export hub has now moved sixteen kilometres down the coast to the burgeoning modern port of Suape, but Recife remains the fourth-largest city in Brazil.

Like São Luís it's another city built where rivers reach the sea. In this case across the point where the mouth of the Tejipió, the Jordão (Jordan) and the Pina empty into the wide Bacia do Pina. There are so many secondary waterways in this river system that Recife has been dubbed, wholly optimistically, the 'Venice of Brazil'.

This morning, I'm looking down on the Venice of Brazil from the twentieth floor of one of a group of four tower blocks known as the Hollywood of Recife. Though outwardly undistinguished, these hefty waterside apartment blocks on the Rua da Aurora are home to some of the creative talent that is reviving this once-unambitious city. In recent years Recife, a city which grew rich on sugar cane, has become the scene of new and adventurous cultural work, especially in music.

I've been brought here by Paulo André, a tall, bearded music promoter in his late thirties, who has done as much as anybody to put the Recife and Pernambuco sound on the map. Not only in Brazil but internationally, at world music festivals in Central Park New York and Womad in London.

We're in the apartment of a slim, unostentatious young man called Helder Aragão de Melo, who under the deliberately provocative nickname of 'dj dolores' has become famous across Brazil for his fusion of the trombones, rabeca fiddles, drums and guitars of local music with electronic sampling.

'Music is the invention of the slaves,' dolores explains. 'In all America the music base is African, from samba to blues to reggae.' And Recife, where the bossa nova originated, now has some of the best of the emerging national talent.

He and his band Santa Massa are playing Brasília this evening before going on to São Paulo. He says that, unlike the UK, there no outlets on the radio for experimental work like his. Television plays soap operas all day long, so if he wants to be heard he's no alternative but to take his band round the country. With typical Brazilian generosity he makes time before he leaves for the airport to show me how he creates his music, simply by opening his laptop.

'The laptop,' he enthuses, 'is like the new drum for this generation. The bass in the music, the beat. They are creating their own musical identity using this. You can have it with you all the time and you can make music everywhere.'
click to enlarge 
file size
Everone's in the Bodega de Véio, the shop, bar and café that music promoter Paulo André has introduced me to.
Choose another day from Brazil


  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 27: Recife
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Recife
  • Book page no: 116

Bookmarks will keep your place in one or more series. But you'll need to register and/or log in.


  • Eating
  • Day 5 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 3 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 6 
  • Pole to Pole