“Viva St. John!” is a hip-swaying journey through the history and key players of northeast Brazil’s indigenous music. Helmer Andrucha Waddington’s followup to his arthouse fave “Me You Them” is perfect fest material — there’s a huge worldwide cleffer sidebar awaiting a programmer — and could sing in specialized situations before settling into active ancillary.
With Brazilian music superstar Gilberto Gil as genial guide, Waddington returns to the setting of his narrative feature to delve deeper into the music’s path from regional tradition to national popularity. Pic reveals the influence of musician Luiz Gonzaga (“our Robin Hood”), who in the 1940s was successful in forging a new kind of folk sound, the “Baiao,” which bridged gaps of distance and race to spread folkloric music and dance traditions throughout the country. Tech credits are tops, with Waddington’s pleasingly traditional approach to the docu form — plenty of coverage, shrewd editing, no cheap effects — reverently allowing the music and its makers to speak for themselves. Title comes from the traditional feast of abundance, the St. John’s Day music festival held each June and documented in pic.