GARANHUNS, Brazil – Garanhuns, a city off the beaten track in northeastern Brazil and the hometown of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, hosts a huge festival each year that showcases Brazilian folklore, which boasts elements of African and European culture.
Maracatu drums, string literature and empanadas, or meat pies, as well as wine, can be experienced by visitors during the 10-day event in the streets of Garanhuns, which will host its 29th Winter Festival from July 18-27.
African and indigenous traditions, high-octane heavy metal concerts, clowns and the dynamic rhythms of the region’s traditional dances all share the stage in Garanhuns, where Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010, was born.
The region in northeastern Brazil where Garanhuns is located has been dubbed the “Suiça Pernambucana” (Pernambucan Switzerland) because of its pleasant summer weather and cold winters.
Garanhuns, which is home to about 130,000 people, is located some 230 kilometers (142 miles) from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco.
Each year, the city transforms itself into a destination for the senses, with visitors able to enjoy more than 500 attractions spread out over about 20 venues.
In one street, the public is quickly mesmerized by the beat of the maracatu, a folkloric dance that traces its roots to colonial Brazil, combining dancers wearing colorful costumes with flashy adornments.
The traditional dance blends elements of African, Portuguese and indigenous culture.
While the catchy music convinces even the most reserved visitor to dance a few steps, the aroma of roasted meat, coconut macaroons, hot wine and chocolate permeate the area.
“I love the frevo and the maracatu, it’s impossible not to dance. The culture here in the northeast is very rich and we have to show it to the world. We came here for a big party,” teacher Flaviane Rodrigues, a regular visitor to the festival who made a more than three-hour trip with her family to Garanhuns, told EFE.
“I like the music and the circus, but what I really love are the hot dogs and the sweets. My favorite is cocada,” a treat made with fresh grated coconut, Flaviane’s son, Pedro, said.
Performances of the frevo, with dancers wearing masks, adornments and carrying colorful umbrellas, are offered along with classical music concerts and rock concerts at different venues in the city.
After dark, it is time for dancing, music and the forro, the traditional dance of the northeast that has conquered Brazil and the world.
Visitors refuse to let the heavy rains and cold wind deter them, taking shelter under umbrellas and sipping hot chocolate, eating fondue and drinking wine and Cognac.
“That’s why the people come, to enjoy the cold, the rain and escape the heat in the rest of the region. The coats, hats and gloves are part of the unique experience that is the festival,” psychologist Tarcisio Dutra said.
Garanhuns’s unusual climate is its main “charm,” Dutra said, noting that the area’s weather was in sharp contrast to the image of northeastern Brazil as a land of beaches and eternal summer.
The Garanhuns Winter Festival, however, is not just a big party, providing access to training and education, and exposing visitors to a wide variety of ideas to fight prejudice.
“The festival shows the culture of the most discriminated against people in Brazil, who are the blacks and the indigenous. With the administration (of ultra-right President Jair) Bolsonaro, indigenous culture is on the verge of extinction,” said N’golo Rafael Domeniqui, of the Carijos community in Recife.
Dancer Virginia Lucia, a member of the maracatu group Raizes de Pai Adao, said that during times of “cultural drought,” it was essential to disseminate the “diversity” of Pernambuco and Brazil.
“We have to get our richness out there internationally. We have to incentivize cultural policies and present the vast culture of our state and our country,” the dancer said.
Singer Maria Rita, the daughter of iconic artist Elis Regina, will close the festival on July 27.
Until then, thousands of visitors will have an opportunity to walk the streets of Garanhuns, discovering the roots of some of Brazil’s richest popular traditions.
“Our festival is already a symbol of Pernambuco and everyone in the city works hard all year to become hosts during a really magical time,” said businessman Andre Gonçalves, who was born, raised and lives in the city.