Clarice Assad


(2011) Obrigado

For Mandolin & String Quartet | c.20 mins
Commissioned by the Concordia Chamber Players Ensemble


Mandolin + String Quartet

Program Notes

“Obrigado” in Portuguese means “thank you.” The idea for this piece came from a desire of mine to explore the music, chants and rhythms of an Afro-Brazilian religion called Umbanda. The music consists of simple melodies, with no harmonic support, which is accompanied by vigorous, complex rhythmic patterns underneath. I was introduced to this music as a child, and some of it, especially the rhythms, make up a significant part of my earliest musical memories.

As I wrote the piece, I found myself being deeply lured into the very source of this faith, which seems to have first appeared in the early African Yorùbá mythology. The Yorùbá religion (originated in Southern Nigeria) is extraordinarily rich, abundant in spiritual philosophy such as life after death and reincarnation. Overall, it carries beautiful messages of substance over matter, intangible values, and it honors the transcendent. Religious practices were common in the worship of divinities called Orishas (in Portuguese, orixás). An orisha is an entity, that acts as an ‘intermediate’ force between people and the supernatural. They can also be viewed as deities, because they can control certain elements in nature.

I have a vague idea of what Yoruba music sounded like in its original form before it was introduced to many parts of the world as a result of slavery in the Americas as early as the 16th century. But it is not wrong to assume that african drumming and its intricate, complex polyrhythm played a huge role in the construction of the mixture it produced while in contact with other cultures and musics of the world. In Brazil, for example, samba and olodum were born out of ‘mother rhythms’ called after African regions such as Angola and Nago, respectively. 

In writing OBRIGADO, I carefully listened to over one hundred chants and chose the ones I resonated the most with. The work is written in 11 movements and loosely follows the traditional religious practice of a Brazilian umbanda ceremony. From its opening chants, through the honoring of each of the most important Orishas until the final closing anthem , which sends out a powerful message of gratitude for the gift of life –

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