Re-Contextualized Carnivals: A Brazilian Art Form in the Global Spaces of Festivalization
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Re-Contextualized Carnivals:
A Brazilian Art Form in the Global Spaces of Festivalization

Two recent public performances incorporating the carnival traditions of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, raise questions about the persistence of the city’s carnival as a marker of Brazilian national identity and the contested spatial dynamics of cultural performance in contemporary global cities.1 On August 5, 2016, the artistic portion of the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro culminated with a stylized version of that city’s competitive carnival parades, a cooperative effort that included the participation of twelve of Rio’s most successful samba schools. On August 26, 2016, Chicago Samba, a Chicago, U.S.-based samba school and performance group, led a procession of spectators and dancers between thematic stages on that city’s Navy Pier during a “world-themed night” of the tenth Chicago Dancing Festival, an event billed as “Planet Chicago.” Decontextualized from both the Roman Catholic religious calendar and the usual urban settings of carnival, each performance blended elements of highly organized samba school parades and Rio’s resurgent street carnival celebrations. On the one hand, these performances demonstrated that carnival is a [End Page 199] flexible and living art form consisting of sonic, visual, and embodied elements that performers and directors re-contextualize freely. On the other hand, the Opening Ceremony and Planet Chicago performances indicated significant links between identity politics, cultural performance, and the repurposing of strategic urban locations as entertainment zones in large cities throughout the world. Because carnival is both a genre of cultural performance and a mode of urban sociability, these performances bring into focus the issue of urban musicality—the social, spatial, and symbolic ways that people live musically in fragmented and concentrated urban settings. I argue that the re-contextualized carnival parades illuminate how cultural performances in festivalized spaces can produce global city sociability through depicting and producing such urban musicality, processes through which meanings are both created and erased. This essay examines urban musicality in the Rio de Janeiro and Chicago performances through two lenses. I show, first, how each performance engaged carnival musicality as a marker of racial and ethnic plurality—an aspect of contemporary global cities that city boosters are quick to promote—even as they elided the histories of migration and structural racism that led to contemporary cultural diversity. Second, I interrogate how the re-contextualized carnivals demonstrated references to and continuities with grassroots carnival practices, exhibiting how cultural performances within the curated spaces of festivalization are not simply commercialized spectacles but rather constituent elements of urban cultural scenes permeated by global policy ideas and capital.2

In recent years, government administrators in Rio de Janeiro and Chicago have embraced globally circulating policy ideas about “creativity” and “creative economies” as strategies for economic growth and urban redevelopment. Hosting international cultural and sporting mega-events, redeveloping abandoned and/or underutilized infrastructures as leisure and cultural spaces, and branding neighborhoods as cultural and entertainment districts are some of the projects that have characterized a turn toward the “creative” as a supposed panacea for myriad economic and social challenges in cities throughout the world.3 While Rio de Janeiro and Chicago already have large cultural events that characterize local [End Page 200]

public culture (e.g. music festivals, parades, sporting events), city administrators have recently devoted more attention to profit-generating and international events than their grassroots and/or local counterparts.4 For instance, both cities bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, and both host taxpayer-subsidized, for-profit music festivals (i.e. Rock in Rio and Lollapalooza) that cordon off public spaces for private use. These practices respond not only to economic pressures but also to broader urban marketing concerns. Rio de Janeiro and Chicago share similar challenges in that both are characterized by highly legible racial and social inequalities. Furthermore, discourses about persistent violence in both cities circulate in the national and global media, and efforts to reduce violence and address its root causes have been largely unsustainable.5 In such contexts, efforts to use “culture as a resource” in generating new “creative economies” and sociabilities are usually more efficacious as branding strategies...