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The twenty-first century is an exhilarating time to be a scholar. Not only do we benefit from increased access to sources, ever-expanding professional networks, and innovative publishing platforms, but those of us [End Page 128] who deal with music also can create, restore, and disseminate audio (and video) recordings with an ease and affordability that was unimaginable only a few decades ago. Resounding proof of these new opportunities is Cangoma Calling: Spirits and Rhythms of Freedom in Brazilian Jongo Slavery Songs, an essay collection edited by Pedro Meira Monteiro (professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures at Princeton University) and Michael Stone (executive director of Princeton in Latin America). This book pre sents a markedly interdisciplinary dialogue involving twelve scholars based variously in Brazil, the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada, while effectively taking advantage of an open-access online platform from which readers can download both a PDF of the complete text (including photos and song lyrics) and the accompanying audio recordings (as MP3s).
With its thirteen varied essays, Cangoma Calling seeks to engage scholars sharing a broad interest in the history of Brazil, Latin America, and the African diaspora. Revolving around discussions and reinterpretations of the research conducted by historian Stanley J. Stein in Vassouras (a municipality of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) during the late 1940s, the diverse foci of the essays range from intellectual and cultural history to the African legacy Brazil shares with the Caribbean. The collection employs a perspective of the African diaspora classifiable as Africancentric (rather than, say, creolist or Americancentric), as a number of the essays are quite invested in demonstrating not New World innovations but African (especially Central African) continuities in sung jongos (satirical “chattering songs”). In fact jongos, particularly those recorded by Stein on wire reels in 1948 and 1949, are regarded as vital to the whole project. “The unique jongo recordings” are, the editors insist, “at the heart of this book” (12). Offering these recordings as downloadable MP3 files is certainly one of the collection’s strengths. Yet the recordings, as primary musical sources, in fact play only a minimal role in the book’s content. Even the few authors who choose to engage the recordings analytically do so in essentially nonmusical ways (that is, without regard for melodies, rhythm, timbres, instruments, etc.), treating instead the half-century-old jongos as basically akin to oral narratives or declaimed poetry.
The volume is organized in a somewhat responsorial fashion; first is a “call” issued by the book’s core essays—penned almost entirely by authors based in Brazil—followed by a “responding” set of essays that serve mainly to offer extended commentary. After Gage Averill’s thoughtful preface and the editors’ introduction comes the “call”: a brief but interesting self-reflexive essay by Stanley Stein; a historiographic analysis by Silvia Hunold Lara about the influence in Brazil of Stein’s book Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850–1900 (Stein 1976); Gustavo Pacheco’s indispensable essay regarding both his role in rediscovering, restoring, and [End Page 129] digitizing Stein’s original recordings, and the content of the recordings in descriptive analytical terms; an informative essay presenting jongo in historical perspective from the nineteenth century, coauthored by Hebe Mattos and Martha Abreu; and the most challenging contribution of Cangoma Calling, a brilliant pair of essays by Robert Slenes in which he argues that the metaphors heard in many of the jongos documented by Stein serve as evidence of the guiding presence of Central African cosmology in preabolition Brazil.
These six essays are the scholarly bedrock of the book not only because—with the exception of Stein’s summary reflection—they are the longest, densest, and most meticulously researched. They are also central because their arguments and analyses serve as points of reference for most of the five shorter remaining essays. For instance, Jorge Giovannetti’s...