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Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba: The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-95)
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Rap, Reggae, Rock, or Samba:
The Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985–95)

The notion of the global village and of the globalization of pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s has been perhaps overtaxed; the word "globalization" itself keeps losing its edge and thus needs to be re-sharpened periodically. In tackling the Western impact on world music in the 1980s, Bruno Nettl reached the indisputable conclusion that our century has been a period of musically "unprecedented diversity" (1985, 3), given the "intense interchange of musical ideas." The result of this intense interchange has undoubtedly modified the ways people think about themselves at both micro and macro levels. Veit Erlmann put the simple questions this way: "how do we think [about] the place of music in a world constructed by socially situated and yet transnationally, interculturally connected actors? How do we account for the fact that we can no longer meaningfully talk about the music of a West African village without taking into consideration the corporate strategies of Sony, U.S. domestic policy and the price of oil?" (1993, 4). Erlmann has been one of the most sophisticated articulators of global-local dynamics, which he calls "the dialectics of homogenization and diversity and the politics and aesthetics of difference." Suffice it to stress here that indeed the intrusion of alien elements into a cultural system is not by definition a destructive process, and that the possibility of a total, homogenizing system of musical production exists in multiple environments determined by the various local cultural/musical practices. Thus, globalization and localization are not mutually exclusive, and the multitude of musical products resulting from their relationship is what must retain our attention. In addition, globalization must not be conceived solely as a homogenizing process, for the numerous popular music subcultures cannibalized by it, and certainly stimulated by it, continue to assert their own different practices and ideologies. The generalized suggestion that reggae, funk, and hip-hop, for example, and the styles associated [End Page 79] with them spread in uniform fashion from a center (the Anglo-Saxon world) to various peripheries (Third World areas) is grossly inadequate. Equally problematic is the attempt to establish a strict correspondence between certain genres of music and the identity (social and ethnic) of a youth group or subculture (e.g., Stokes 1994), as if such a group or subculture could be identified with one specific musical style or genre. Anthony Seeger warned against such an assumption in his essay "Whoever We Are Today, We Can Sing You a Song about It" (1994).

For the last fifteen years or so, Brazil has seen a social fragmentation (predominantly urban) and a parallel growing diversity in its popular music expressions. In 1985 Brazil returned to a democratic government after over twenty years of military authoritarian rule during which censorship was rampant and yet the popular music of the country developed in unprecedented fashion. The democratic return has meant freedom of expression and relative economic stability (especially in the 1990s and until the recent devaluation of the real), which prompted consumption of imported goods with the opening of the huge local market for imports. In the 1960s, after the emergence of the trend internationally known as bossa nova, the acronym MPB began to be used to designate new varieties of urban popular music, among which the most controversial was the short-lived Tropicália movement, with the great figures of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Capinam, Rita Lee and Os Mutantes, and singer Gal Costa. These artists/musicians/poets, together with Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, and a few others, represented the most sophisticated cultivation of popular song in the history of Brazilian popular music, and the most overt and active involvement in politics and cultural changes as witnessed in their modern urban experience.

To celebrate twenty-five years of Tropicalismo, Veloso and Gil launched their CD Tropicália 2 in 1993 as a sort of nostalgic remembrance of the various components that informed their earlier experiments. On the CD we find Veloso's "Rap popcreto," a rendition of Jimmy Hendrix's "Wait until Tomorrow," Gil's "Cinema...