Festival du bois offers Brazilian sounds and Cuban rhythms

Francophonie, folk music and fun returns once again to Coquitlam’s Mackin Park with the 34th annual Festival du Bois, along with a healthy dose of music from around the world.

The Festival, Mar 24–26, features artists and dancers from a range of disciplines and backgrounds. Young and old will be on their feet celebrating culture from performers such as Vancouver-based Brazilian forró band, Forró do Cana, and a youth-oriented, worldspanning percussion workshop led by JUNO-nominated Robin Layne.

Vancouver-based Brazilian Forró do Cana band. | Photo by Adam P.W. Smith

Forró do Cana

The accordion might not be the first instrument that comes to mind when you think of Brazil, but it’s front and centre in the upbeat, danceable genre of forró.

As accordionist for the band, Steven Charles notes it’s an instrument that’s as versatile as it is challenging. But Charles says it’s been more than worthwhile to learn the essential elements of this genre, and to strive to do justice to the beauty and diversity of Brazilian music.

“We’re into many different Brazilian styles, but each of them are kind of a world on its own,” says Charles. “To do it authentically, you need the proper instrumentation, and to really get deep [into] the ornamentations and all that.”

Part of that learning process has been one of collaboration with the members of Forro do Cana having roots in either Canada or Brazil, or both. For Charles, it’s been an exciting experience learning from fellow band members and engaging in cultural exchange. More recently, the band has experimented with bringing a bit of francophone music into the fold, and in doing so, adding a bit of “canadian-ness” into the cultural, musical mix.

“I’ve learned so much from Mario [Silva, the band’s seven string guitarist] and Sarah [Magal, percussionist and vocalist], and the [others] in the band. I think it’s cool whenever those worlds collide,” says Charles.

And what’s most exciting is the chance to get out and perform with experienced forró dancers, as well as anyone else who knows the steps of the rhythm.

“It’s amazing the Brazilian community comes out to support us at gigs. You just start playing and immediately the dance floor is full,” says Charles. “That completes it, and the other half I think that’s most important is to be all together. And of course we want to shred. I want to shred on the accordion, but that’s secondary.”

Robin Layne

Layne says the music of Cuba had long been an influence on his musical interests and life. But it was a trip to the country in his twenties that really brought a new level of appreciation to understanding the music.

Robin Layne | Photo by Brit Kwasney

“You soak it up. So much of it is cultural understanding,” says Layne. “I feel that having an awareness of the culture beyond the music, that so many drumming traditions are also integrated into everyday life in a lot of places around the world. It gave me more perspective than studying at a university.”

Since that trip, Layne has continued to travel and study percussion around the world – with experts in Mexico, Guinea and Mali – bringing back that experience to share with others.

With the help of fellow performers Yoro Noukoussi and Liam MacDonald, Layne’s youth-friendly workshop at Festival du Bois aims to get kids excited about music from around the world. Drawing on his background in music education, Layne says getting youth interested in music is about having a chance to feel what it’s like to play music without going through years of study.

“That’s kind of my goal when I’m working with young people. Is just to, in a short period of time, get them to that feeling like, ‘Hey I played a song, I got to play music with other people,’” says Layne. “That’s the piece I’ve always found that has the power to connect and bring people together.”

And beyond sharing a love of music, Layne hopes the workshop will also convey the impact and importance of multicultural experiences.

“The idea with this show is about sharing multiculturalism, or the idea of learning from different cultures can influence your own,” says Layne. “The more we converse and can share culture, then the more we have this opportunity to learn and appreciate all the cultures around us.”

For more information about Festival du Bois, visit festivaldubois.ca

For more about Forró do Cana, visit forrodocana.com

For more on Robin Layne, visit robinlayne.com