The Brazilian recording star Luiz Gonzaga made a career of singing about the drought-plagued northeastern Brazil countryside, where he is still revered as emblematic of the region.
For individuals who predict the weather based on natural patterns in the northeastern backlands, Gonzaga’s music continues to lend credibility, clarity, and local significance to the practice known as rain prophecy.
For example, his Acauã clearly conveys the meaning of the laughing falcon’s cry for the region’s inhabitants: it augurs and “invites” drought. “In the joy of the rainy season/sing the river frog, the tree frog, the toad/but in the sorrow of drought/you hear only the acauã.” The song ends with Gonzaga mimicking the bird’s call, evoking a sound that arouses powerful emotions in the region’s inhabitants.
When northeastern rain prophets cite Gonzaga’s songs, they add credibility to their own expertise, framing it in a context that most Brazilians can comprehend. Enhanced by his national fame and legendary status, Gonzaga’s voice continues to play a significant role in the maintenance of traditional ecological knowledge.
This according to “Birdsong and a song about a bird: Popular music and the mediation of traditional ecological knowledge in northeastern Brazil” by Michael B. Silvers (Ethnomusicology LIX/3 [fall 2015] 380–97).
Today is Gonzaga’s 110th birthday! Above, Gonzaga performing in the traditional costume of the northeastern rancheiros, in 1957 (Arquivo Nacional, public domain); below, his 1952 recording of Acauã.
BONUS: Gonzaga performs Acauã in a film intended for television broadcast. In his introduction he compares the local significance of the laughing falcon’s call with that of the purple-throated euphonia, which heralds rain.