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  • River of Tears: Country Music, Memory, and Modernity in Brazil
  • Jack A. Draper III
River of Tears: Country Music, Memory, and Modernity in Brazil. By Alexander Sebastian Dent. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Pp. xiii, 297. Index. Notes. Musical Works Cited. Bibliography. $23.95 paper.

Alexander Dent's River of Tears is the first English-language monograph focusing on the important Brazilian country music genres of música sertaneja (MS) and música caipira (MC). Dent explains that these are popular regional genres hailing from the central-south of Brazil, although the label caipira better encapsulates an actually existing regional identity in this area. Dent explains that the original term for this type of music, dating back to the first recordings in 1929, was simply MC, but it came to be known as MS in the 1950s as the influences on the genre expanded beyond the caipira culture to include Mexican ranchera and North American country among others. Over the past few decades, traditionalists have emphasized a distinction between more modern country music (now labeled MS) and a form that maintains closer ties to the regional caipira roots (now called MC). Dent connects this bifurcation of MC/MS to larger trends in [End Page 144] Brazilian society, including the advent of neoliberalism and the era of redemocratization dating from 1985. His analysis is helpful in providing a framework for understanding the increasing importance of rural public culture and the evolution of rurality in a neoliberal era that privileges rapid development and foreign capital. The link Dent suggests between the evolution of MS and democratization is less well developed, however, since—like Brazilian neoliberalism itself—modern MS has its origins in the 1970s under the military dictatorship. Those contemporary performers who feel caipira culture to be most threatened by neoliberal modernization tend to gravitate towards the MC genre, while those artists more interested in innovation and transnational influences identify as practitioners of MS.

Dent calls the innovators "mutationists" and traces a genealogy of artistic mutation through mixture back to the modernist artists Oswald de Andrade and Mário de Andrade, who famously theorized the importance of hybridity and popular culture for both Brazilian art and national identity. Unfortunately, when Dent addresses Oswald de Andrade's oeuvre, he appears to be under the false impression that "the Brazil-Wood Manifesto (published in 1928) [sic]" (p. 88) is the same work as the Cannibalist Manifesto. In fact, Oswald authored both a Brazil-Wood Poetry Manifesto (1924) and a Cannibalist Manifesto (1928). The former has little bearing on Dent's argument, while the latter introduces the cannibal as a culture hero whose example of ingesting the foreign and merging it with the native, Oswald argued, should be emulated by Brazilian artists. Thus, mutation would be achieved through a cosmopolitan incorporation of foreign cultures into Brazilian art, a project that MS performers have taken up for country music. In terms of racial mixture specifically, Dent acknowledges that the hegemonic narrative of Brazilian nationalism emphasizes the mixture of peoples of African and Portuguese descent and the resultant hybrid culture, relegating indigenous cultures to a third and lesser influence. The caipira culture from which MS/MC take their inspiration, on the other hand, emphasizes the mixture between Portuguese and Brazilian Indian sometimes referred to as caboclo culture.

Dent devotes several chapters to a subtle analysis of the interplay between the caipira genres, developing the outlines of an intergeneric field of cultural production in which these rural genres mutually define each other. He stresses that in his fieldwork in the state of São Paulo, he discovered that the audience for both genres is quite diverse in its socioe-conomic status and its political orientations, and that many contemporary listeners are fans of both MC and MS. While the MC performers' attitude towards MS is primarily critical, the MS musicians pay tribute to the preservationist project of MC and continue to recognize caipira culture as the regional framework of their genre. Dent describes the clear distinctions between the two genres in terms of instrumentation and performance as well as lyrical emphasis. MC performers favor the traditional ten-string viola caipira paired with an acoustic guitar, while...


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