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The Color of Sound

Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil

John Burdick

Publication Year: 2013

Throughout Brazil, Afro-Brazilians face widespread racial prejudice. Many turn to religion, with Afro-Brazilians disproportionately represented among Protestants, the fastest-growing religious group in the country. Officially, Brazilian Protestants do not involve themselves in racial politics. Behind the scenes, however, the community is deeply involved in the formation of different kinds of blackness—and its engagement in racial politics is rooted in the major new cultural movement of black music.
In this highly original account, anthropologist John Burdick explores the complex ideas about race, racism, and racial identity that have grown up among Afro-Brazilians in the black music scene. By immersing himself for nearly a year in the vibrant worlds of black gospel, gospel rap, and gospel samba, Burdick pushes our understanding of racial identity and the social effects of music in new directions. Delving into the everyday music-making practices of these scenes, Burdick shows how the creative process itself shapes how Afro-Brazilian artists experience and understand their racial identities. This deeply detailed, engaging portrait challenges much of what we thought we knew about Brazil's Protestants,provoking us to think in new ways about their role in their country's struggle to combat racism.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xi

In 1996, I spent a year in Brazil researching the delicate interrelations between religious belief and racial identity among people who identified as Christians. While engaged in that project, I came across a small, budding movement of evangelical Protestants based in São Paulo who were inspired by their theology to struggle against racial injustice and to build ...

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Introduction: Something ’Bout the Name of Jesus: Racial Meanings in Evangelical Musical Scenes

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pp. 1-27

I am in the home of Angélica, a gospel singer in her late twenties. It is late afternoon, and the light in her living room is dying, but neither of us is able to get up to turn on the overhead light, because we are in the vortex of a musical whirlpool, swept in circles by the recorded voice of Rance Allen. Angélica closes her eyes as Allen’s silvery baritone belts, ...

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1 We Are the Modern Levites: Three Gospel Music Scenes

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pp. 29-57

In order for us to begin our journey toward the deep, buried ethnoracial meanings of three scenes of gospel music, we need to begin slowly and gently, by witnessing them from the outside. In later chapters, we will encounter these scenes from the inside out; but for now, let us encounter them as shapes seen from an external vantage ...

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2 We Are All One in the Periferia: Blackness, Place, and Poverty in Gospel Rap

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pp. 59-102

In late June 2003, I met Vilmar Junior, a twenty-two-year-old Pentecostal member of the Brazil for Christ church, dedicated rap MC, accomplished graffiti artist, and proud negro. We sat in a McDonald’s in downtown São Paulo, near the Praça da República, munching French fries. He sported dreadlocks, wire-framed spectacles, and a T-shirt emblazoned with a map of Africa. ...

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3 The Flags of Jesus and Brazil: Body, History, and Nation in Samba Gospel

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pp. 103-129

Marco Davi de Oliveira had recently published a book entitled The Blackest Religion in Brazil. He was a bearded young Baptist minister, and I was sipping hot coffee from a tiny plastic cup in his church office in São Paulo while he spoke animatedly about the struggle against racism. I had read his book, which argued that evangelical churches were a key strategic front in the ...

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4 A Voice So Full of Pain and Power: Black Gospel and Blackness

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pp. 131-158

When black gospel artists in São Paulo engage in routine practices to master their art, forces of racial identity are unleashed. I argue in this chapter that an array of practices that belong to the black gospel scene shape the racial consciousness of artists, strengthening feelings of blackness, developing ideas about black history, and sharpening beliefs about the role of black people in ...

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5 The Bible Is Full of Prophecies: Black Evangelical Musicians and Black Politics

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pp. 159-174

I have up to this point examined how the routine practices of different styles of black gospel music shape practitioners’ ideas about blackness. In so doing, I have limited myself to ideas about identity, history, and theology, steering clear, for the time being, of how such ideas translate into plans for the public sphere. The time has come to consider such plans, what ...

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Conclusion: Evangelicalism, Blackness, and Music in Brazil

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pp. 175-187

My aim in this study has been to tease out from the bundle of forces that form racial identity the specific strand of music-making. How, I asked, do the practices of music shape the racial identities of their practitioners? To investigate this question, I compared musicians from three different São Paulo music scenes, holding constant ...


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pp. 189-198


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pp. 199-213


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pp. 215-226

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About the Author

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pp. 227

John Burdick is Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. He is the author of Legacies of Liberation (2004), Blessed Anastácia (1998), Looking for God in Brazil (1993), and numerous articles about religion, race, and social ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814723135
E-ISBN-10: 0814709222
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814709221
Print-ISBN-10: 0814709222

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013