pdf Download PDF

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 than as effective ways to address these systemic problems.6 Despite the popularity such initiatives seem to have enjoyed among city managers, popular protests and social movements have coalesced in opposition to the social transformations and public expenses involved in these projects, particularly in Brazil in response to hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Cultural performance plays a significant role in these efforts, alternately as a marker of local distinctiveness, a way of mobilizing particular kinds of sociability in a designated location (e.g. tourism or after-hours leisure in a business district), and as a representation of social inclusion in both festivalization projects and the city as a whole.7 The carnival traditions of Rio de Janeiro are an illuminating point of entry for examining how cultural performance works in globally informed festivalization projects. Carnival celebrations have historical and contemporary connections to problematic notions of Brazilian racial equality (i.e. the ubiquitous denial of structural racism embedded within ideas of Brazilian exceptionalism), as well as to popular struggles over the right to occupy public [End Page 201] spaces. While unseasonal performances, such as those in August 2016, diminish the immediacy of scholarly debates over the extent to which carnival inverts or reinforces social hierarchies, the symbolic and spatial aspects of carnival festivities are always in dialogue with their surroundings.8 Re-contextualized in spaces of festivalization, the Opening Ceremony and Planet Chicago performances engaged with issues of urban sociability and racial representation, while eliding histories of racial oppression and migration as well as struggles over rights to the city.

To track how a cultural form so closely associated with Brazilian national identity accrues different meanings in disparate spaces of festivalization, I briefly provide some background on carnival in Rio de Janeiro before offering an analysis of the international broadcast of the Opening Ceremony, which I watched on live television from the United States and several dozen times subsequently in a less edited form; this work also draws from my ethnographic fieldwork at the Chicago Dancing Festival, which followed eight years of occasional field-work in Chicago’s world music scene. By tracing shifts and continuities in the aesthetic and social meanings of the re-contextualized carnival parades, I demonstrate how the incorporation of urban musicality into global city festivalization projects can encounter interpretive limits as well as open potentially new aesthetic and social possibilities.


Public culture in Rio de Janeiro is replete with large gatherings, such as New Year’s fireworks, sporting events, and music festivals, but the city’s carnival festivities “are by far the most spectacular and most tumultuous.”9 In contemporary Rio de Janeiro, public carnival celebrations might be divided into two categories: the samba schools (escolas de samba) and the street carnival groups known as blocos. Held the week before Ash Wednesday, the samba school parades thrive as both a cultural performance tradition and an urban entertainment business. The parades are an amalgamation of dance, fashion, music, narrative, spectacle, and competition in which thousands of performers process in the early morning hours through the Sambadrome (Sambódromo), a linear structure consisting of a runway for the parades and bleacher seating for 72,500 spectators. Samba schools prepare throughout the year for processions lasting little more than an hour each, during which a jury scores visual, sonic, and narrative elements of [End Page 202] the performance. Allegorical floats, alas (“wings”) of costumed dancers, and an original song that the samba school performs in a loop for more than an hour all convey an annual theme. For instance, the Mangueira samba school won Rio’s 2016 competition with a parade about the Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia. Much like teams in soccer leagues, samba schools are ranked into divisions and subject to league reclassification based on the jury results from the previous year’s competition. The samba school parades are the carnival events that attract the most attention in the local and global media, which feature images of tens of thousands of spectators singing and dancing as colorful processions of intricate floats, costumed dancers, and musicians make their way through the Sambadrome.

During the same period, street carnival blocos, generally organized by neighborhood associations or by special interest groups, meander through city streets for weeks before Ash Wednesday, usually during the afternoons and early evenings. Unlike the explicitly performative samba school parades, blocos entail a community-based sociability that invites a broader range of commitments into the celebratory environment, particularly those commitments that are more informal, fleeting, and haphazard. Whereas the samba schools parade in the closed and permanent infrastructure of the Sambadrome, the blocos process through streets, squares, and parks, gradually taking over public spaces and blocking vehicular traffic. Many but not all participants wear homemade or store-bought costumes, consume alcohol in the streets, and choose whether to dance to live or recorded music that may or may not be audible at all points in the crowd. After becoming more muted during the military dictatorship (1964-85), street carnival blocos have more recently become larger and more numerous, with some attracting hundreds of thousands of natives and tourists, a trend that accompanies increased popular access to the city’s public spaces.10

Carnival traditions in Brazil predate the emergence of samba as a music and dance style. Commemorations of pre-Lenten carnival in Rio de Janeiro occurred during the colonial era, but practices resembling those of the present day began to consolidate in the middle of the nineteenth century, when upper-class carnival societies organized street parades with floats and costumed revelers. The participation of the lower classes in street carnivals expanded during the latter half of the nineteenth century.11 The musical style samba did not emerge until the early 1900s, and scholars have pointed to influences of [End Page 203] both Afro-Brazilian religious music (e.g. the music of Candomblé) and nineteenth-century popular dances styles (e.g. waltzes, maxixes, polkas) in the development of samba. At the time, samba was most closely associated with lower-class communities on the city’s hillsides and, by extension, to the participation of these communities in carnival celebrations. The first recording of samba, “Pelo Telefone,” was released in 1917, and the first samba school was founded in 1928, largely as a way to organize lower-class communities seeking government-sanctioned access to public spaces during the carnival season.12 Despite its associations with the lower classes, however, Rio de Janeiro’s samba emerged relatively quickly as the Brazilian musical style par excellence. Brazilian cultural administrators embraced the musical style in the 1930s as a sonic representation of the country’s supposed lack of racism toward black and mixed-raced Brazilians, taking advantage of the country’s incipient national radio network to broadcast music made in Rio de Janeiro throughout the country and abroad. In the context of the Estado Novo (New State) dictatorship (1937-45) under President Getúlio Vargas, samba served as a convenient emblem of the country’s “racial democracy” that foregrounded the comingling of the country’s African, European, and indigenous populations, obfuscating structural racism.13 On these radio networks, middle-class samba composers such as Noel Rosa and Ary Barroso rose to prominence with song lyrics that praised Brazil’s natural and racial diversity, a departure from the stock figure of the malandro (a type of street hustler) who had figured prominently in samba lyrics. Around the same time, local administrators in Rio de Janeiro envisioned carnival as an effective way of attracting international tourists to the city, understanding it as a unique—and valuable—urban cultural manifestation.14The international careers of performers such as Carmen Miranda in the 1940s and 50s further consolidated a notion of samba and carnival as representative of Brazil in the global imaginary.

Samba schools became increasingly institutionalized during the second half of the twentieth century as they expanded from carnival-related community activist groups to sprawling organizations with full-time staff and multiple revenue streams including, at times, illegal gambling. The Sambadrome hosted its first parades in 1984, and the Cidade do Samba (City of Samba) warehouse complex opened in 2006, providing permanent workspace for some of the largest schools. As a contemporary musical practice, samba is a “broad stream of musical activity” that includes many sub-genres, such as samba-canção, samba-rock, [End Page 204] and samba-funk, as well as the primary musical influence for styles such as bossa nova.15 The distinguishing musical element of the samba schools today is the bateria (drum line) that accompanies other musical textures such as singing and the cavaquinho, a small strummed chordophone of Portuguese origins. Baterias include a variety of drums (e.g. surdo, repinique, caixa) and hand percussion instruments (e.g. agogô, reco-reco, pandeiro), as well as a whistle blown by a bandleader to signal shifts in the performance. While many Brazilian musical styles have gained an international following, samba, in the broadest sense, remains the style most closely associated with Brazilian identity both within the country and on the global stage.


During a segment of the closely watched Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, samba and carnival parading once again served as a means of representing Brazil and Brazilians to the rest of the world. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games are cultural rituals that ostensibly mark the beginning and ending of the quadrennial athletic competition. Certain conventions have become standard elements of the events, such as their setting in an Olympic stadium, the entrance of athletic delegations in alphabetical order, and the lighting and extinguishing of the Olympic flame. One more variable aspect of these rituals is an artistic performance highlighting elements of a host country’s culture and history through dance, music, and visual displays. Given how the Olympic Committee’s organization of the games foregrounds and heightens national identities, it is unsurprising that these presentations often feature artistic practices, technological innovations, and social conventions associated with the host nation.16

Moreover, knowing that the televised Opening Ceremonies attract significant global audiences (estimates stretch into multiple billions of viewers), organizing committees devote exceptional resources to shaping the message of the ceremony. (Lower estimates of the cost of the 2008 Opening Ceremony in Beijing were around US $100 million.17) Staged in Maracanã Stadium, a storied arena renovated in conjunction with the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics, the artistic performance of the Opening Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro marked an opportunity to recast or reinforce ideas about Brazilian culture. Brazilian film [End Page 205] directors Fernando Meirelles (best known for the 2002 film City of God), Daniela Thomas, and Andrucha Waddington conceived and directed the presentation, constrained by a reduced budget resulting from Brazil’s ongoing economic crisis. Prior to the performance’s concluding carnival parade, the directors crafted a comparatively expansive narrative about Brazilian history and contemporary society, which are most commonly represented on the global stage by beach culture, carnival, slum violence, and soccer. An early segment of the performance depicted Brazil’s multi-racial origins, with performers depicting the indigenous, African, European, Middle Eastern, and Japanese populations whose histories are implicated in modern Brazil, complicating persistent notions of the country’s tri-racial origins.18 The contribution of slave labor to the country’s development was represented by black performers relentlessly climbing over rotating wheels. This performance acknowledged the brutality of slavery more explicitly than many nationalistic accounts of Brazilian history, which tend to minimize the particular cruelty with which the practice was carried out in Brazil.

Later segments drew interesting connections between the country’s rapid twentieth-century urbanization and its popular musical traditions, connecting two important social phenomena that are normally understood as distinct. To the sounds of an instrumental version of the 1971 Chico Buarque song “Construção” (“Construction”) about the death of a construction worker on a high-rise job site, dancers jumped across roofs of buildings that seemed to grow organically (assisted by advanced projection technology) from the floor of Maracanã Stadium, suggesting the breathtaking pace of urban growth in Brazil and the continuing social and infrastructural challenges Brazilians face. A performance of “The Girl from Ipanema” by the grandson of its composer, Tom Jobim, included images of mid-century buildings like those of Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone where the earliest proponents of bossa nova concentrated. A series of dance, samba, and hip hop performances on multi-colored boxes at one end of the stadium represented the hillside favelas where samba, Brazilian funk, and other musical styles originated. These performances portrayed an urban, contemporary Brazil, where continued struggles over social inclusion coexist with variegated and prolific musical cohorts. [End Page 206]

In the concluding artistic scene of the Opening Ceremony, however, this revisionist portrayal of a contradictory and culturally rich modern society receded into a rehashing of nationalistic tropes of racial democracy, musicality, and happiness. Following the entrance of the athletic delegations into the stadium, the artistic portion of the ceremony concluded with a stylized version of Rio de Janeiro’s samba school parades. This final scene incorporated ideas about samba, Brazil’s multiracial demographics, and broader notions of musicality, happiness, and the festive in Brazil that have long circulated in the global imaginary. The sequence began with Wilson das Neves, a percussionist and vocalist, wearing a white suit (white is an important color in Afro-Brazilian religions, samba, and other Brazilian popular traditions) and using a matchbox as a hand percussion instrument.19 Neves called out the names of several deceased samba composers, evoking the Candomblé practice of summoning the gods. After Neves called out for Ary Barroso, Caetano Veloso emerged performing Barroso’s 1942 patriotic samba “Isto aqui, o que é” (“This here, what it is”). Several seconds later, Veloso was joined by Gilberto Gil, and then by Anitta. Singer-songwriters Veloso and Gil are known as founders of the late 1960s Tropicália movement and continue to perform throughout Brazil and the world, frequently together. Anitta is a more recent success in Brazil, where songs such as “Show das Poderosas” (“The Powerful Ladies Show,” 2013) have attracted large audiences of young people. With athletic delegations flanking the long sides of the stadium floor, representatives of the twelve samba schools in Rio’s Special Group (the top division of samba schools) paraded down a corridor reminiscent of the parade runway of the Sambadrome. The athletes congregated on either side of the parade hinted at Rio’s less formal street carnival parties, although the international transmission of the event did not prioritize their participation. The twelve samba schools each wore monochrome costumes that differentiated the groups. The baterias of the twelve schools represented the largest contingent of performers. Each bateria was led by a female-male couple known as the Porta-Bandeira e Mestre-Sala (the Flag Carrier and the Head of the Hall), a traditional component of the samba school parades whose elaborate costumes recall an earlier era of elite, ballroom carnival celebrations. A group of musas, the both sparsely and elaborately dressed women who have mastered samba dancing and who are crucial to the production of contemporary carnival, followed the twelve baterias, as drummers and dancers also performed on top of the stage of variegated boxes representing the favelas (urban slums) of Rio de Janeiro. The performance alternated between two distinct musical textures, one in which Veloso, Gil, and [End Page 207] Anitta sang a melody with accompaniment, and another featuring the polyphonic baterias. During the polyphonic sections, a call-and-response structure between a drummer and the larger ensemble predominated. A bandleader was not visible in the televised performance, nor was it clear which of the baterias (if any) were located near the audio equipment used in the live transmission of the event. As Veloso, Gil, and Anitta ended the song, the samba schools exited the stadium floor, and the Olympic flame entered the stadium.

The choice of “Isto aqui, o que é” to close the artistic portion of the Opening Ceremony recalled national government efforts that began in the 1930s to brand Brazil as a happy, sexually prolific, and racially democratic country through samba. The song’s composer, Ary Barroso, is perhaps best known for the 1939 song “Aquarela do Brasil” (Watercolor of Brazil), which has been recorded innumerable times in Portuguese, as well as in English under the title of simply “Brazil.” “Aquarela do Brasil” and “Isto Aqui, o que é” exemplify the style of samba-exaltação (praise samba), with lyrics praising the beauty and racial diversity of the country.20 The lyrics “Isto aqui, o que é” are divided into two sections (see Figure 1). In the first, Brazil is described as a happy and musical place inhabited

Figure 1. “Isto aqui, o que é” Ary Barroso (1942)
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Isto aqui, o que é” Ary Barroso (1942)

[End Page 208]

by a strong and tenacious race of people. The racial exceptionalism implied in these lyrics is tied to concepts of racial democracy, according to which miscegenation among Portuguese, African, and indigenous people allegedly had created a stronger Brazilian race. Brazilian intellectuals Gilberto Freyre and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda advanced these ideas in the 1930s, and the Vargas government embraced them as politically expedient.21 The subject of the second half of the song is a mixed-race woman (morena boa) whose attractiveness and dancing skills draw notice. The woman “drives [the narrator] wild” (“que me faz penar”) sexually, and is encouraged to put on her silver shoes and dance.

Unlike earlier moments in the ceremony, the carnival scene did not promote a new or progressive understanding of Brazilian race relations. In fact, the parade rehashed ideas about racial mixing in Brazil that many social movement leaders, academics, and others consider destructive regardless of their continued resonance in Brazilian society.22 The operative affect in this scene was happiness, referred to repeatedly in the song and enacted by the presence of thousands of performers and spectators participating in the ceremony. The parade was also an example of a cultural performance shaping a festivalized space, prominently demonstrating the most emblematic local tradition of Rio de Janeiro and also explicitly transforming, or attempting to transform, the Maracanã stadium into a local party. Moreover, the image of a local performance tradition entering into and parading through the most iconic of the restricted and securitized spaces of the Olympic Games seemed to suggest, at least at first, that the wider population supported hosting the event. For global viewers, this moment of heightened popular participation perhaps obscured the considerable public debates about public spending, social inclusion, and the environmental impact of hosting the Olympics that preceded the Opening Ceremony.

The legibility of this shift from a more critical recounting of Brazilian history to its ideological foreclosure as a conflict-free democracy depends largely, however, on a recognition of the political and economic conflicts at stake in such musical representations. Francesca Sborgi Lawson has noted the difficulties of translating performance cross-culturally in the context of the nationalistic cultural performance spaces of Opening Ceremonies of Olympic Games.23 Highlighted cultural practices, which may have rich semantic meanings immediately accessible to national audiences, may be completely lost on international viewers. In the case of the Opening Ceremony, the questions of racial identity and public [End Page 209]

access were likely inaccessible to international audiences unfamiliar with Brazil, even with the assistance of contextual information fed to national broadcasters by the organizers. If non-Lusophones did not understand the lyrics to the song or otherwise have a background in Brazilian history sufficient to interpret the performance critically, they did see images and sounds of Brazil that are prevalent in the global imaginaries of Brazil: collective dancing, colorful costumes, and a multi-racial line-up of musical artists. The carnival scene of the Opening Ceremony did little to disrupt these ideas, demonstrating how the nexus of carnival musicality and ideas of racial democracy has persisted for nearly a century as a strategy of representation in spite of dramatic social transformations in Brazil and ubiquitous evidence of structural racism in the country.


In contrast, Planet Chicago, one of six events that comprised the weeklong 2016 Chicago Dancing Festival, distanced carnival from its connections to problematic notions of Brazilian nationalism, instead foregrounding the aesthetic possibilities of multiculturalism in an urban setting characterized by immigrant communities from throughout the world. The event took place on Navy Pier, incorporating the carnival traditions of Rio de Janeiro as part of a collection of live dance performances. A municipal gathering place on Lake Michigan that has been repurposed several times since it was constructed in the early twentieth-century, Navy Pier in its current form serves as a public park, shopping mall, convention center, and museum space. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Illinois. On August 26, 2016, a Friday evening in late summer, thousands of visitors strolled outside, dined in outdoor restaurants, rode one of several amusement park rides, and lined up for boating excursions on Lake Michigan. A unique aspect of that evening was the two-and-a-half hours of [End Page 210] performances that took place on five stages along a heavily trafficked half-mile stretch on the southern edge of Navy Pier. Chicago Samba, a Chicago-based samba school, led a series of musical processions that guided several hundred audience members between the stages. The processions of a bateria and costumed dancers leading audience members through Navy Pier’s usual summer programming resembled a mixture of a samba school parade and street carnival. The five fixed stages featured the performances of Chicago-based dance companies. Several focused on international traditions, such as the Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, which performs African and African Diasporic dance traditions; the classical Indian dance company Natya Dance Theatre; and Gingarte Capoeira, a group that practices the Afro-Brazilian martial arts tradition of capoeira. Two youth-oriented dance programs that draw participants from throughout the city—Forward Momentum Chicago and the Chicago Human Rhythm Project—joined these internationally focused dance companies with

Figure 2. Planet Chicago. Chicago Samba dancers ascend a staircase at Navy Pier on August 26, 2016, as the Planet Chicago procession arrives at a stage (far right) where the Natya Dance Theatre is about to perform. Image courtesy of the author.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Planet Chicago. Chicago Samba dancers ascend a staircase at Navy Pier on August 26, 2016, as the Planet Chicago procession arrives at a stage (far right) where the Natya Dance Theatre is about to perform. Image courtesy of the author.

[End Page 211]

their own performances. Beyond the diversity of the dance companies involved, the title “Planet Chicago” suggested the possibility that the city’s global and native populations might be represented in one night. This series of dance performances thus aestheticized cultural difference as constitutive of urban life in Chicago, pointing toward collective performance as a way of smoothing over ethnic divisions, socioeconomic challenges, and educational disparities.

Chicago Samba’s performance at Planet Chicago demonstrated how carnival is a flexible musical and spatial practice, with performers adapting its sonic, visual, and embodied elements to contexts such as Navy Pier. At 5:30, the group Forward Momentum Chicago, made up of children who participate in public school and parks dance programs throughout the city, began a dance presentation in front a new fountain at the recently renamed Polk Brothers Park, a plaza on the western end of Navy Pier, between a bus terminal and off-ramp from the nearby parkway known as Lakeshore Drive. An audience formed in a half-circle around the children while outdoor speakers played music. After the children’s presentation, an announcer directed attendees to follow the musicians and dancers of Chicago Samba toward the eastern end of the pier. The ten-member bateria of Chicago Samba began to play, and several of the ensemble’s eleven dancers edged out in front of the musicians. As a group of dancers led the way, the bateria and a crowd of several hundred people followed down a half-mile stretch of Navy Pier toward the evening’s second stage. Some in the crowd ventured a dance and many others simply walked. People attending the Planet Chicago performance and passersby alike took photos and videos of the spectacle, stopping some of Chicago Samba’s elaborately dressed dancers. Along the Pier, diners at outdoor restaurants and spectators at cocktail parties on the decks of ships docked at the Pier seemed disoriented by the unexpected festivities.

Chicago Samba is a group whose size varies depending upon the performance context. At Planet Chicago, the group included some twenty-one performers, divided among eleven dancers and ten percussionists. The percussionists of the bateria wore all white and sequined top hats, while the dancers wore elaborate costumes that recalled the samba school parades of Rio de Janeiro. With the exception of dancer and samba instructor Edilson Lima, all of the dancers were dressed as musas, wearing color-coordinated bikinis, feathered headdresses and back pieces, and boots or high-heeled shoes. Lima wore a headpiece, white [End Page 212] slacks, and a shirt from the Beija-Flor samba school (a frequent carnival champion in Rio de Janeiro).

As the procession led spectators between the stages, the live music of Chicago Samba involved two main textures. One was a call-and-response section, in which bateria leader Mo Marchini played a solo on the repinique drum, followed by a unison response from the ensemble. In the other, the whole ensemble played one of several syncopated, polyphonic rhythms that repeated throughout the night. As is common in this musical practice, Marchini blew a metal whistle to indicate a transition between these sections. At different moments, the performers halted the forward motion of the parade, with the bateria remaining stationary and the dancers moving away from and then returning to the area close the bateria. These moments created spatial interest during the more static sections of the procession, as dancers expanded and contracted the performance space. After several minutes, Marchini would blow the whistle, the rhythm would change, and the procession would resume its forward movement. Although Navy Pier itself has spaces at a variety of elevations, most of the Planet Chicago attendees were on the same level as the musicians and performers, meaning that the group was more audible than visible for many spectators following at the edges of the procession.

In many ways, the event felt like a street carnival bloco, with flexible participation and unclear borders as the festivities moved through an urban context. At one point, the members of Gingarte Capoeira lined up and played the berimbau and hand percussion instruments behind the bateria, illustrating how street carnival can flexibly incorporate different people into its unfolding. In other ways, however, the procession’s presentational elements separated it from the street carnival blocos: the lack of embodied knowledge of samba among most of the crowd, including the people who had been attracted by a dance performance; the strict time schedule, with Chicago Samba and the other dance companies maintaining a pacing that almost exactly coincided with a pre-circulated timeline of the performance; and the absence of alcohol or more general ribaldry among the crowd, something that would have attracted the attention of the private security forces that were stationed along the Pier.

The visibility of Brazilian cultural traditions in Planet Chicago is significant, because while Chicago is a large, ethnically diverse North American city, its [End Page 213] Brazilian community is relatively small and spatially dispersed. Through their performances, Chicago Samba have developed into one of the most prominent markers and unifying elements of the Brazilian community in the city, attracting notice in the 2004 Encyclopedia of Chicago.24 Moacyr “Mo” Marchini, a former television producer in São Paulo, founded Chicago Samba in the early 1990s after he moved to the United States. In its earliest iteration, the group was a bateria that performed in the now-closed events space HotHouse in the Wicker Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side. Over the years the group expanded beyond a bateria to include a flexible ensemble of vocalists, guitarists, and dancers in addition to the percussionists. Today Chicago Samba hosts a number of self-organized events throughout the year at spaces like the Logan Square Auditorium to commemorate Brazilian holidays such as carnival and Brazil’s Independence Day. In addition, the group performs throughout the city and the Midwest at bars, clubs, theatres rented out for occasional parties, schools, and cultural centers. Performances incorporate a variety of musical styles and dance practices, which may or may not include dancers. Sometimes their sets engage only the performing forces of the bateria, as was the case at Planet Chicago. In other instances, the group expands to include vocals, strings, and winds, performing sambas and sub-genres like samba-rock and samba-reggae, as well as regional Brazilian styles like forró. Some of the group’s most prominent gigs in Chicago have been in the summer at public cultural events such as neighborhood festivals, the Chicago Pride Parade, the Chicago World Music Festival, and as part of the Grant Park Summerdance series, demonstrating both the group’s versatility and the adaptability of samba traditions in various settings. In this capacity, Chicago Samba is also the most significant local representative of Brazilian music in the city’s world music scene.

The Planet Chicago performance configured a vision of Chicago as racially and ethnically pluralistic, incorporating both international traditions and the participation of groups that typically do not have much visibility in or access to downtown Chicago’s municipal and private cultural facilities. The Chicago [End Page 214] Samba performance underlined the difficulties of translating the subtleties of Brazilian racial politics to a community that struggles with similar issues, but on much different terms. In the United States, the elision of the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” in public discourse, the relatively low and disperse Brazilian immigration to the country, and language difference all contribute to confusion over the place of Brazilians in contemporary United States racial categories. During Planet Chicago, neither the complex racial history of Brazilian carnival (to say nothing of the Afro-Brazilian martial arts tradition of capoeira) nor the strange position of the Brazilian community in the U.S. were made explicit. Instead, Planet Chicago served as a demonstration of festive, multi-cultural identity, something that has become a goal in many urban cultural performance contexts, as well as a potentially expedient marketing strategy for city boosters.25 The Chicago Samba processions also meant that a version of carnival sociability entered into the touristic and securitized space of Navy Pier, suggesting the possibility of the improvisatory and haphazard commitments of street carnival on the Pier. The possibility of a street carnival less regulated than Chicago Samba’s performance among Navy Pier’s mix of entertainment, leisure, and tourism spaces still seemed unlikely at the conclusion of the performance, even if the evening had slightly blurred the division between the city and its municipal amusement park.


In contemporary urban centers such as Rio de Janeiro and Chicago where municipal administrators have pursued projects related to so-called “creative development,” festivalization takes on many forms. The most dramatic (and expensive to produce) are mega-events, such as the Olympic Games and World Expos, that usually occur only once in a particular city. Large, annual arts and music festivals are another type of festivalization project that municipal governments have encouraged, with examples ranging from for-profit events like Lollapalooza to government-sponsored ones like Paris’s Nuit Blanche and São Paulo’s Virada Cultural. On the other extreme are popular celebrations, such as street carnivals, parades, and festivals, largely organized by local groups—although they are at risk of being adopted by municipal administrators in tourism campaigns.26 In all of these situations, tensions around competing definitions of identity and urban musicality come to the fore. [End Page 215]

The Opening Ceremony and Planet Chicago performances demonstrated how artistic traditions are re-contextualized in the curated and securitized spaces of festivalization, simultaneously depicting and (re)-producing urban musicality. On the one hand, the two performances were examples of cultural performances reaching interpretive limits in globalized festivalization spaces. The intricate sonic, racial, social histories of samba, for instance, may be too complex to reconcile with U.S. identity politics, discourses of multiculturalism in global cities, or global ideas about human rights and racial justice. In the case of Planet Chicago, the re-contextualization of carnival separated it from the immediacy of such questions, instead foregrounding the otherness of its sonic, visual, and spatial elements in a location with attenuated contact with Brazilian culture. This was an instance of cultural performance aestheticizing the multi-national, global, and culturally diverse aspects of a global city, as it elided the fraught histories by which different cultural cohorts ended up encountering one another in Chicago. Likewise, the Opening Ceremony’s carnival parade did little to change already existing ideas about Brazilian culture, or provide much critical insight for its global audience into intractable issues of structural inequalities in Brazil.

On the other hand, these performances also suggested new possibilities for urban musicality. The carnival parade in the Opening Ceremony may have offered a stylized version of a happily musical Rio de Janeiro, but it also exhibited the flexibility of carnival as an artistic practice adaptable to new temporal and spatial contexts. Both in Maracanã Stadium and on Navy Pier, the re-contextualized carnival parades promoted connections between musical styles and local cultural identities, participated in the social production of the urban infrastructures of festivalization, and offered additional, if fleeting, opportunities for musical labor and leisure. In these ways, re-contextualized carnival parades, like the pre-Lenten celebrations they reference, became elements of broader global city cultural and entertainment scenes that include a range of local and international [End Page 216] artistic practices. By both depicting and reproducing urban musicality, the re-contextualized carnival parades highlighted the power of cultural performances in global spaces of festivalization to both erase and generate meanings.

Daniel Gough

DANIEL GOUGH is an ethnomusicologist and Lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Chicago. With research projects examining cultural policy in Brazil and music making in global cities, his writing has appeared in the Latin American Music Review and the SAGE Encyclopedia of World Music. His dissertation, Listening in the Megacity: Music in São Paulo’s Cultural Policy Worlds (2015), is an interdisciplinary examination of how music performance has become entangled with the social production of contemporary urban modernity in São Paulo, Brazil. Daniel is also an avid clarinetist and contemporary music enthusiast.


1. For the purposes of this essay, I understand “global cities” as a useful, if problematic, construct with which to frame similar economic and social trends that urban centers throughout the world, including some in the Global South, have experienced. An analysis global city cultural forms, particularly those in festivalized spaces informed by globally circulating cultural policy concepts and financed by global capital, illustrates how cultural practices shift and persist in these environments.

2. In this sense, I draw upon critiques of Guy Debord’s oft-cited The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995). For such critiques developed in reference to carnival parades in New Orleans and the Olympic Games, respectively, see Kevin Fox Gotham, “Theorizing Urban Spectacles: Festivals, Tourism and the Transformation of Urban Space,” City 9, no. 2 (2005): 225–46, and John J. MacAloon, “The Theory of the Spectacle: Reviewing Olympic Ethnography,” in National Identity and Global Sports Events: Culture, Politics, and Spectacle in the Olympics and the Football World Cup, ed. Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), 15–39.

3. For an expanded discussion about “culture as a resource,” see George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003). Seminal texts for city managers in the turn toward the creative include Charles Landry, The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators (London: Earthscan, 2000) and Richard L. Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 2002). For a critique of these, see Rubens Bayardo, “Políticas culturalesy economía simbólica de las ciudades: ‘Buenos Aires, en todo estás vos,’” Latin American Research Review 48, no. Special Issue (2013): 100–128.

4. In Rio de Janeiro, street carnival is the most significant popular gathering, while Chicago’s equivalent is found in less mobile but equally boisterous summertime neighborhood festivals and block parties that occur throughout the city.

5. Erika Mary Robb Larkins provides an ethnographic account of the intersections of violence, racial segregation, and legibility in Rio de Janeiro in The Spectacular Favela: Violence in Modern Brazil (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015). There are many explorations of these issues in Chicago as well, including recently Natalie Y. Moore, The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016). [End Page 217]

6. For a historical account of these issues in Rio de Janeiro, see Christopher Gaffney, “Mega-Events and Socio-Spatial Dynamics in Rio de Janeiro, 1919-2006,” Journal of Latin American Geography 9, no. 1 (2010): 7–29. More recently, the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events contracted the services of Lord Cultural Resources, a Toronto-based cultural consulting group, to develop a steering document for cultural development in the city. See Chicago Cultural Plan, October 2012 (Chicago: City of Chicago, 2012).

7. Marina Peterson discusses how the curators of the Grand Performance concert series in Los Angeles’s downtown California Plaza worked to represent that city’s multicultural identity through free music and cultural performances in a semi-private urban plaza. In such projects, Peterson argues, “multiculturalism and civic culture work alongside, are part of, and help support—though are not reducible to—a neoliberal project.” See Marina Peterson, Sound, Space, and the City: Civic Performance in Downtown Los Angeles (Philadelphia and Oxford: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 9.

8. The most well known English-language analysis of Brazilian carnival traditions is Roberto da Matta, Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma, trans. John Drury (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). For a survey of the scholarly debate about carnival’s implication in societal structures and, more recently, a year-round entertainment business, see Beatriz Jaguaribe, Rio de Janeiro: Urban life through the eyes of the city (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), 111-13.

9. Jaguaribe, Rio, 105.

10. Jaguaribe has argued this point in Rio, 125.

11. Ibid., 114.

12. John P. Murphy, Music in Brazil: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 19-20.

13. Bryan McCann, Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 41-44.

14. Jaguaribe, Rio, 122.

15. Murphy, Music in Brazil, 7.

16. The Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics highlighted ethnic diversity, artistic practices like calligraphy, and the transformation of the country into a global power. The Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics included a scene about the formation of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

17. Francesca R. Sborgi Lawson, “Music in Ritual and Ritual in Music: A Virtual Viewer’s Perceptions about Liminality, Functionality, and Mediatization in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games,” Asian Music 42, no. 2 (2011): 3.

18. For a discussion of Asian and Middle Eastern identities in the context of the Brazilian nation, see Jeffrey Lesser, Immigration, Ethnicity, and National Identity in Brazil, 1808 to Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

19. A provocative account of the ways in which the color white has come to symbolize [End Page 218] Afro-Brazilian religious traditions such as Candomblé in the Brazilian public sphere can be found in Mattijs van de Port, “Bahian White: The Dispersion of Candomblé Imagery in the Public Sphere of Bahia,” Material Religion 3, no. 2 (2007): 242–73.

20. For a more extensive analysis of “Aquarela do Brasil,” see Lisa Shaw, The Social History of the Brazilian Samba (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 1999), 168-74. McCann discusses how the success of particular samba-exaltação compositions correlated with their lyrical content. While many sambas with lyrics that contained “invocations of a primordial link between folkloric samba and national identity” enjoyed commercial success, other sambas that addressed different strategic areas of government interest, such as industrial development and coffee production, did not. McCann, Hello, Hello, 75-6.

21. Pedro Meira Monteiro connects Holanda’s concept of “the cordial man” (o homem cordial) representative of Brazilian social relations to discourses of happiness (alegria) that have accrued to Brazilian social life in the global imaginary. See Pedro Meira Monteiro, “Foreword: Why Read Roots of Brazil Today?,” in Roots of Brazil, by Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, trans. G. Harvey Summ (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), xi-xiii.

22. For an account of how persistent ideas about racial democracy have stymied efforts to address racial inequality in Brazil, particularly those of Afro-Brazilian activists, see Michael George Hanchard, Orpheus and Power: The “Movimento Negro” of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil 1945-1988 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

23. Sborgi Lawson, “Music in Ritual,” 4-5.

24. Stephen R. Porter, “Brazilians,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago (Chicago: The Newberry Library, 2004).

25. See Peterson, Sound, Space, and the City.

26. See Matt Sakakeeny, Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013), 69-70. [End Page 219]