- Brazilian Popular Music and Citizenship ed. by Idelber Avelar and Christopher Dunn
This ambitious collection sits at the intersection of a number of disciplines, sending off shoots of inquiry into the fields of Brazilian social history, ethnomusicology, and cultural studies. The editors provide a coherent framework for these diverse perspectives, considering the intricate relationship between [End Page 158] popular music and changing understandings of citizenship in recent Brazilian history. The result is a book that serves both as an introduction to the pluralization of Brazilian music over the past several decades and as a careful reflection on its most compelling tendencies.
Citizenship has been a buzzword of Brazilian politics and academic inquiry over the past two decades. This is the first volume to study the ways in which conflicting notions of citizenship were tested through music. Far from serving as a mere buzzword here, citizenship becomes a key subject of inquiry, enabling authors to explore distinct yet parallel responses to the same political and economic transitions.
The introduction offers a concise and authoritative narrative of the historical development of ideas of citizenship in Brazilian popular music, closing with a theoretical investigation of the expansion of these concepts over the past two decades. This integrates the findings of the various contributors, and in doing so reminds readers of the central role played by popular music in understandings of Brazilian politics.
The chapters themselves cover an impressive range of musical practices, from canto orfeônico, samba de coco and música caipira to rock, hip-hop and funk. The authors recognize that practitioners of both the apparently traditional and the overtly new genres have responded in creative ways to the opportunities of redemocratization, economic transition and the decadence of the music industry as it existed from the 1930s through the 1980s. During that half-century, a few outlets in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo effectively dominated the national distribution of popular music. The radical abertura of the music industry in the past twenty years has made possible vibrant new claims to popular musical centrality.
Hermano Vianna’s essay on tecnobrega, forró and lambadão considers these issues most directly. In a series of vividly rendered episodes, Vianna captures the transitions in the music industry and their consequences in places like Belém de Pará, Manaus and Mato Grosso. Vianna persuasively argues that these areas can no longer be considered the popular music periphery, and musicians, djs, producers and dancers in these areas certainly do not perceive them in that way.
Carlos Sandroni considers the issue from a different angle, arguing that MPB has reached the end of its historical evolution: it is now a marketing label used by CD shops and radio stations to segment their audiences, rather than a genre unfolding according to its own internal logic. Sandroni details MPB’s demise with neither nostalgia nor glee, but with a keen critical sensibility that illuminates what MPB achieved in the first place. As with many of the chapters in the book, readers may disagree but will undoubtedly be led to reconsider perceptions and biases.
Have these transitions broadened popular musical citizenship? Frederick Moehn fruitfully applies Teresa Caldeira and James Holston’s ideas of “disjunctive democracy” to the hip-hop of Nega Gizza, the creative maelstrom of [End Page 159] Lenine and the sardonic material of singer-songwriter Max Gonzaga, finding that each of these artists offers keen insights into disjunctive democracy in different ways, while also offering refuge from the contradictions of the political sphere—Moehn invokes ethnomusicologist Josh Kun’s notion of audiotopias, imagined spaces of musical sanctuary, to explore this duality. Moehn finds not so much a broadening of citizenship as a productive and hopeful preoccupation with its limitations.
Several of the remaining articles explore the implications of this argument for interpretation of other musical manifestations. Dunn’s article on Tom Zé provides a welcome analysis of this artist’s continuing vitality long after his tropicalist emergence over thirty years ago. The world has caught up to Tom Zé, but that has...