Forró is the generic name given to music from the rural areas of northeastern Brazil. Although the word may be used in a more strict sense, it usually refers to a fairly wide variety of styles of dance music with roots in European couple dancing. The word itself is commonly though not uncontroversially attributed to the parties held either by English railroad companies in the late nineteenth century or on air bases in the northeast during World War II, when English speakers promoted celebrations "for all." Others, however, maintain that it derives from forrobodó or forrobodança, words used to refer to celebrations centered around dancing.
The migration of northeasterners to the central southern areas of Brazil beginning in the 1940s gave the music more national appeal, if not a national identity. The style is indelibly associated with the career of Pernambuco-born accordionist, singer, and composer Luiz Gonzaga, whose radio broadcasts in the 1940s and 1950s made many outside of the northeast aware of the music for the first time. After declining in popularity with the rise of bossa nova and rock music in the late 1950s and 1960s, it made a comeback in the 1970s. For many in Brazil, the music is primarily associated with the saints' day festivals celebrated most distinctively in the northeast, such as the São João (St. John's festival). Although musicians more recently have employed electric instruments to play the music, it is still the accordion, bass drum, and triangle combination that gives the music its distinctive sound and propulsion.
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Andrew J. Kirkendall