Monday, November 27, 2006

The Portuguese Connection

While out shopping with my wife at the 1 Utama mall in Damansara yesterday, I got to watch a group of young enthusiasts or capoeiristas performing the Brazilian capoeira, an exuberant martial arts and dance form of Afro-Brazilian origin which I believe is fast becoming popular here. The beat and tempo of the music performed live by musicians playing the traditional berimbau, pandeiro and the atabaque (pronouced 'a-ta-ba-keh') and sung in Portuguese sounded very familiar: it was the ronggeng or joget long associated with traditional Malay music!

Bantus Capoeira Malaysia Troupe

The Portuguese in their mission to monopolise the Asian spice trade in the early 1500s, first colonised Goa on the west coast of India and subsequently were also the first Europeans to make an appearance in our waters. They have left a big imprint and influence on traditional Malay arts and culture, even the cuisine.

Many years ago, while dining with the family of a Goanese ship-mate* in Bombay, I was served a hot and fiery dish of prawns and asam belimbing in coconut milk which was exactly like the udang masak lomak cili padi my mother used to make. I had always assumed that it was a pukka original Negeri Sembilan dish. They even called the belimbing, blim blims in Goanese and I believe even belacan, often joked about to describe the quintessential Malay, is a variation of the word balchao, a Goanese shrimp preserve. Boy, it was a real eye opener indeed.

Now back to music. Perhaps with the strong cultural affinity we have vis-à-vis the Portuguese/Brazilians, I have always been an aficionado of the music of Brazil. Along with the samba, my favourite amongst the Latin jazz music genre has always been the haunting bossa nova of Joao Gilberto and the late Antonio Carlos Jobim, the man who wrote The Girl From Ipanema ...

* Capt. Walter Ferrao, now principal examiner for Masters and Mates in Adelaide, Australia.

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