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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 181-183

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Book Review

Brazilian Popular Music and Globalization

Brazilian Popular Music and Globalization. Edited by CHARLES A. PERRONE and CHRISTOPHER DUNN. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001 . Photographs. Notes. Index. xii, 288 pp. Cloth, $55 .00 .

The editors of this exciting volume recognize a long-standing Brazilian tension between incorporation of foreign musical influence and anxiety over national musical heritage and explore the place of this tension in recent popular music. How have Brazilian musicians negotiated globalization and emerged with creative responses that speak deeply about local concerns? How do consumers of popular music perceive processes of globalization, and how do they give meaning to their own choices?

In answering these questions, the contributors concentrate on four categories: the tropicalist movement of the late 1960 s and its recent resurgence; the samba-reggae of Bahia; the mangue beat of Recife; and the funk of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. As the editors acknowledge, these four categories do not cover the spectrum [End Page 181] of recent Brazilian music, but they make for compelling case studies. Liv Sovik and John Harvey demonstrate how the tropicalist qualities that seemed radical in 1968 (sampling, blurring of local and international influences, savage irony, criticism of the orthodox Left) have become mainstream. Christopher Dunn explores the post-tropicalist music of Gilberto Gil in the 1970 s, analyzing Gil's engagement with Afro-Brazilian political movements and the concomitant reinterpretation of the meaning of Brazilian culture. Together, these essays offer an appreciation of tropicalism's legacy that goes beyond the empty enthusiasm of recent celebrations to offer new critical perspectives. Similarly, Charles Perrone's analysis of the music in Black Orpheus (1959 ) and its recent remake Orfeu (2000 ), transcends the narrow debates over authenticity that have dominated previous treatments.

Several of the contributors write as if the only interesting facet of Brazilian music were its clever negotiations of transnationalism. While this is better than the opposite perspective--suggesting that any sambista who picks up an electric guitar has sold out to imperialists--it does not give us a sensitive critical scale with which to weigh the music. To begin, it leaves out all those who confine themselves to inherited or adopted strictures in an attempt to master traditional genres (although John Murphy's article on northeastern revivalists Mestre Ambrósio offers intriguing suggestions in that regard). More importantly, if clever transnationalism is the only standard, then the slick, pop reggae of Cidade Negra looks as meaningful as the oddly stirring musical vortex of Lenine, and surely that cannot be correct.

This weakness is most apparent in Idelber Avelar's essay on the emergence of heavy metal in Belo Horizonte in the 1980 s. Avelar convincingly argues that disenfranchised youth rejected the music of local hero Milton Nascimento because he had become identified with the establishment, turning instead to the nihilistic metal band Sepultura. Avelar presents this as "a genuine and creative response" engendering an "irreducible moment of truth" (p. 135 ), but it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that anyone who traded the profound, singular Milton for the repetitive, derivative Sepultura chose cultural impoverishment. Similarly, those authors who analyzed the bloco afro and cultural conglomerate Olodum might have used their insights into the growth of its managerial structure (the organization maintains 100 full-time employees) to shed light on the recent ossification of its music. There is a strange tendency in these essays to turn a critical eye towards everything except the music, which is treated with kid gloves.

Those essays that dig deeply into both the music and its attendant social phenomena are more balanced. Larry Crook's analysis of rhythmic structure in the music of Chico Science not only shows us creative globalization in action, but explains musicologically why the best Chico Science tunes are both driving and swinging. Livio Sansone finds contrasting meanings of funk dances in Bahia (self-consciously sophisticated, "high-society" recreation) and Rio (gangsta chic), building [End Page 182] his observations into a subtle analysis of shifting self-identification. Sansone's excellent essay reveals...


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pp. 181-183
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Archived 2004
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