Cowboys, country music reign in Brazil's heartland

Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:22pm EDT
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By James Matthews

GUAXUPE, Brazil (Reuters Life!) - From close up you can hear the rasping breaths of a 450-kilogram (990-pound) bull as it bucks and whirls under the bright arena spotlights and struggles to unseat its plucky rider.

Stand even closer to the rodeo and you might get a showering of grit scooped up by a large hoof and flung through gaps in the sturdy metal railings.

Guaxupe is a sleepy agricultural town in Brazil renowned for its yearly ten-day rodeo festival that brings together some of the country's most skilled professional cowhands and popular Brazilian country music singers.

The town is in southern Minas Gerais state, the heart of Brazil's coffee growing region, and home to the world's largest coffee cooperative, Cooxupe.

"It's the craziest week of the year," said Ana Paula Chagas, a resident and employee of Cooxupe. "We are mid-way through the coffee harvest and everyone has money to spend."

The rural festival in Guaxupe underscores the vast cultural differences across Brazil's enormous land mass. From abroad, the country is often stereotyped as a destination for sand, samba and caipirinhas, but it is also a land of tough working cowboys and millions of passionate country music fans.

The scenes in Guaxupe wouldn't look out of place in rural areas of the United States. At the Guaxupe festival, cowboys compete on broncos and bulls, and have to remain mounted during at least eight seconds for judges to grade their effort. Their concentration is palpable as they stretch, cross themselves and slap the animals' flanks in preparation for the giddy ride.

They are protected by leather overalls and a neck pad that prevents whiplash. As the animals are released from the pen, the riders' biceps bulge as they throw their weight around to try to stay centered.   Continued...