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Latin American Music Review 23.1 (2002) 60-78

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Performing São Paulo:
Vanguard Representations of a Brazilian Cosmopolis

Charles A. Perrone


Poète, prends ton luth . . .

—Alfred de Musset (1835)

Sou um tupi tangendo um alaúde . . .

—Mário de Andrade (1922)

In the twentieth century, São Paulo experienced successive waves of development schemes, modernization, and artistic response. In the 1920s, this site of ever-increasing industrialization and urban evolution witnessed the emergence of nationalist aesthetic thought in modernismo, or Brazilian Modernism. The inaugural publication and œuvre par excellence of the combative phase of this movement was Paulicéia desvairada (1922) by Mário de Andrade. This collection of avant-garde verse initiated, with musical flair, a city/artist-in-the-city thread in Brazilian lyric that passes through other principal modernistas and finds pointed expression both in the mid-century neo-vanguard of poesia concreta and in diverse output of the later twentieth century. 1

Brazilian concrete poetry solidified in São Paulo in the mid-1950s during the national policy of developmentalism. The technologically oriented and theorized aesthetic practice of concretismo could only arise from such a citified and industrial conjuncture. A telling crystallization of concretist concepts is the single-line agglutinative poem "cidade-city-cité" (1963) by Augusto de Campos, which had a curious prefiguration in Paulicéia desvairada and has enjoyed a series of interpretations linked to music and performance. 2 The concrete poets and the poetry particularized in "cidade," in turn, are essential referents in one of Brazil's best-known songs, "Sampa" (1978), by renowned singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso. He was the leader of Tropicália or tropicalismo, the cutting-edge multi-field movement that marked the late 1960s, during the expansion of communication media [End Page 60] within the early stages of the so-called "Brazilian economic miracle" that peaked in the 1970s. Veloso's celebrated composition appeared a decade after the noted musical reactions to São Paulo of fellow innovator Tom Zé. "Sampa" reconstructs significant encounters during the rise of the tropicalist effervescence and, illustrating the interdisciplinary reach of lyric in Brazil, relives in a distinctively allusive manner the theme of the young artist in a center of modernity.

Emanating from and reflecting upon the hub of São Paulo, Paulicéia desvairada, "cidade," and "Sampa" are high points of a cosmopolitan imperative in the modern Brazilian arts. In wider perspective, these three select creations are emblematic of movements—modernismo, concretismo, tropicalismo—that comprised major moments of rupture in the history of Brazilian culture by virtue of their radically fashioned questionings of "the relationship between the metropolis and the colony . . . in a search for cultural independence." 3 With due recognition of the differences in genre and epoch of each, the present study concerns the representations of São Paulo in this trio of works and the centrality of performative roles in them, including the relative treatments of notions of self within encompassing sound, textual and thematic structures. Examination of the three reveals key moments of the modern Brazilian arts and inventive profiles of a cosmopolis that values varied origins and produces forward-looking creative endeavors.

Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) was the consummate nationalist Modernist, at once preoccupied with tradition and renovation. He was by many measures the most complete Brazilian artist-intellectual. Dedicated professor of the conservatory, ethnomusicologist avant la lettre, institutional organizer, and a writer versed in all genres, Mário remains an axial figure in both Brazilian musical criticism and modern letters. One half of the twenty volumes of his complete works (Livraria Martins) are verse, narrative, or literary essay. His fiction and poetry consistently exhibit principles of organization and sensibilities from the world of music—folk, popular, and classical. As an assiduous student of song-text issues in Brazil puts it, specifically musical syntax and creative processes admirably "contaminate the literary space" of Mário's writings (Diniz, 5). The highest-impact item of his repertory, the unusual novel Macunaima (1928), was dubbed a "rhapsody," and there are multitudinous utilizations of...


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