Brazil’s Kenny G in a Canoe
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Dedication is playing smooth sax aboard a spinning canoe in rain and sickness, 5,000 times in a row.
Few people know exactly where they will be and what they will be doing tonight when the sun hits the horizon. Jurandy, though, knows for certain. Every evening for the last 15 years, the 57-year-old boards a small canoe and drifts out onto the Paraíba River. He brings little with him: just an assistant with an oar to propel the boat in smooth circles, a microphone headpiece and a shiny saxophone. By the time the sun disappears behind the burning sugarcane fields across the river, his work is done. The crowd cheers.
Jurandy do Sax (yes, named after his instrument of choice) is a unique performer from the town of João Pessoa in northeastern Brazil. He performs each night about a half-hour out of town, in a bustling tourist destination called Jacaré, or Alligator. It’s a strip of souvenir shops and floating restaurants along the banks of the river. TripAdvisor lists a sunset visit as the top tourist attraction for the city.
People come to see Jurandy do Sax: The place has literally built up around his show. “Jacaré attracts people for the beauty of the place, but you can’t disassociate it from him,” says Omar José Batista Gama, the local tourism secretary. For nearly 15 years, every sunset — in sickness and rain — Jurandy has cast off on his canoe and played. Tonight, he’s preparing for performance No. 5,225.
The thousands who come to see the free show crowd into restaurants and tourist boats, cameras in hand. Meanwhile, Jurandy gets ready in his dressing room nearby. His nightly uniform consists of leather sandals, white pants and a loose white tunic, topped with his signature braided ponytail. The effect is Kenny G meets religious guru.
For many, the experience can be quite emotional. The first time I saw his performance, I was with a friend’s mom, who was also seeing it for the first time. As the crowd hushed and the notes of Maurice Ravel’s “Boléro” sounded out through the extensive speaker systems along the riverbanks, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurd cheesiness of it all. I turned to my friend’s mom to make some sarcastic joke and noticed her face was wet — she was crying, along with many others riveted by the performance.
Jurandy understands. He says he often sees people who live lives of hustle and bustle become moved by the music. “They don’t have the habit to stop and feel something. But when they see the simplicity of the communion of music and nature, they feel a transformation.”
Is the tune familiar? Even if you’re not a classical music fan, you may have heard it in the movie 10 or recall Torvill and Dean’s ice dancing routine set to it.
But it’s not all smooth sailing these days for Jurandy. Over the past year, the state ministry of the environment has flagged the area for infringing on the riverbanks. “Without restructuring, the structures will eventually fall,” says Gama. A new project slated for August would pull back the restaurants sprawled horizontally onto piers and instead build them up vertically. “We might have to stop the performances to allow for this change,” he warns.
Jurandy has a difficult time swallowing that concept. “I will keep playing even if there aren’t restaurants,” he insists. “The energy of the place is irresistible.”