Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X
Visualization of subliminal strategies in world music. An ethnomusicological analysis of socio-cultural transformations through maracatu and mangue beat in the city of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
Author: Bart Vanspauwen
Abstract (E): Music can function as a powerful vehicle for political and social concerns. It can symbolically represent the imaginary community of oppressed groups as an untouchable 'place' where resistance and freedom, for once, are not antagonical. Starting from cultural studies, this essay wants to make a contribution to the conceptual use of 'culture' within conflict studies. The reality of the case study will critically contradict elements of both the reconciliation and resistance paradigm, showing that collective performativity does not refer itself to a denial of one's own culture, but to a regaining of a sense of 'belonging' and of being proud of one's roots.
Abstract (F): La musique peut canaliser des préoccupations politiques et sociales très fortes. Elle peut représenter symboliquement la communauté imaginaire de groupes opprimés comme un "lieu" intouchable où résistance et liberté cessent d'être antagonistes. Prenant comme point de départ le paradigme des études culturelles, cet article cherche à redéfinir la manière dont on utilise la notion de "culture" dans une tout autre discipline: l'étude des conflits. Ce que révèle l'étude de cas offerte par l'article, contredit aussi bien le paradigme de la réconciliation que celui de la résistance et montre qu'une performance collective cherche moins à nier la culture individuelle des participants qu'à leur faire retrouver le sens de l'appartenance et de la fierté des origines.
keywords: ethnomusicology - diaspora - cultural politics - mestizaje - performativity - reconciliation/resistance - narrativity
Music can function as a powerful vehicle for political and social concerns. It can symbolically represent the imaginary community of oppressed groups as an untouchable place where resistance and freedom, for once, are not antagonical. I will try to show this through an analysis of socio-cultural transformations in the city of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.
Starting from cultural studies, this essay wants to make a contribution to the conceptual use of 'culture' within conflict studies. I will try to demonstrate that conflict studies currently do not offer enough insight into how exactly cultural dynamics and social transformations are constructive in contestational processes. Within cultural studies, theoretically speaking, culture is not analysed within a reconciliation but within a resistance logic, implying feelings of autarky rather than of co-existing peacefully.
The reality of the case study presented here will position itself on neither one of these two ends. Certainly, the urge for resistance and autarky does initially generate a frame of anti-reconciliation and anti-coexisting, but this seems to only be a necessary intermediary level in creating more thorough, truthful coexisting effects in the long run. These effects do not refer themselves to a denial of one's own culture, but to a regaining of a sense of 'belonging'. I will try to show how collective performances can generate an important sense of 'being proud' against and within an economically, racially and politically fragmented context. The concept of cultural performativity can give a broader, more nuanced and realistic operating ground for researching implicit conflict resolution, often tacitly intertwined with the explicit level.
In the case study, the city texture of Recife, in the state of Pernambuco, will be examined. Two socio-cultural forms of expression, the traditional maracatu and the contemporary mangue beat , show that local communities have found innovative ways for self-expression under racial and economical censorship. Their performative configuration shows how codified blendings of culture, race and religion strategically allow minority voices to be heard. They also give an insight on how state subsidies and NGO's can play an active role in remoulding community proudness and in channelling problematic youth behaviour.
1. Subliminal areas of social contestation: 'socio-cultural performativity' as a point of reference
Implementing a political conflict dimension within the range of cultural studies, more specifically with regard to the postcolonial/hybrid identity discourse, involves a higher degree of attention for the ambivalence of the concept of 'communalising'. Culture in this way is seen as a tool for the emancipation of minorities, but the horizon of this trajectory is not 'reconciliation' but 'autarky'. One wants to free oneself of the burden of a dominant culture in order to express own identities in a almost autarkic way, instead of, like is the case within conflict studies, to gradually move in the direction of reconciliation. A question that can and should be raised is whether the almost deliberate rejection of reconciliation (taken as a mere manoeuvre of the dominant culture) does not lead to more negative consequences in the long run. Ethnomusicology, anthropology and other areas of research can offer relevant related insights in this matter.
'Cultural performativity' largely functions on the level of an implicit , deep conflict transformation in the construction of 'belonging'. In my view, this concept makes it possible to locate important changes in identity construction and positioning. With their 'cathartic' effect they are of great relevance in linking the personal, communal, regional and/or national level in the rebuilding of a socio-political, sustainable context. They guarantee a gradual and implicit reconstruction of both the imagined community as such as of the mental picture people are identifying themselves with. It is exactly this transcultural recuperation of identity that should be at the basis of every dialogue between all the people involved in an implicit conflict situation.
Along these lines, cultural performativity can perhaps offer possibilities to better address a deeper level of conflict (symbolical, emotional, desires, dreams, vision). Because of all these reasons the artistic expression of two or more parties in conflict could be dealt with as a way of deep conflict transformation through métissage (reconciliation in the 'child of both parties', in the organic construction of a new identity stand in which both parties feel recognised). This process can suggest ways to deal with metaphorical wounds on both a personal and a collective level, and allows for subliminally translating discontent into creative expression; this creates open minds for the future. The pedagogical impact of cultural performance on children and youth in implicit power unbalance is surely not without relevance in this respect.
It may be clear to the reader what is traditionally meant by 'art' (music, film, literature and visual representation). It is especially the socio-cultural narrative that is at stake here. In an atmosphere of intense, often forced-on intercultural contact and exchange, codification of identity and censorship of expression are inevitable. A combination of narrative devices and cultural performances often seems the only option to deal with the burdens of a community's problematic present or past, and to convey a message of survival across to the targeted public. This is not always easy, as the success of any voice is often largely dependent on contextual factors of domination. Often, communicational success is dependent on the way codified messages can be interpreted and understood by the targeted public, but not by others. When they are understood, however, it makes clear the actual workings of social dynamics and cultural transformations. Art in this manner possibly has the same guiding effect as religion. Meanwhile, artistic performativity suggests to deal with a seemingly fragmented identity and it organically makes all the pieces into an historical one, with strong ties in present, past and future. Cultural performativity can thus suggest expressive ways to a community in the midpoint between reconciliation and resistance. The political impact of the arts might be considerable.
My research question consists in analysing how the therapeutic role of cultural performativity can contribute to the realisation and visualisation of the positive promises of coexisting peacefully. Which strategies and which tactics are deployed by the parties involved? To what extent does one have to take into consideration cultural (ethnic) diversity within an institutional context of conflict resolution? The ambivalence between the political and the cultural paradigm ( reconciliation and resistance respectively) is analysed through the lens of the following case of implicit conflict and power unbalance.
2. Socio-cultural performativity in maracatu and mangue beat in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
I would like to examine more closely the popular cultural production in and around the city of Recife, Pernambuco ( nordeste of Brazil). It appears very rewarding to examine how identificational awareness in former slave societies positions itself against hegemonistic discourse on several levels. Music can serve as a parameter to measure strategies or tactics of contestation by minority groups. It will be argued that, synchronically, the contemporary mangue beat has revitalized and questioned socio-economical textures and cultural awareness. Diachronically, ties with traditional syncretical hybrid forms of subliminal resistance underplay these contestational tones. In this way, ' the endurance and creativity of imagery of the past [are] projected from a formative present into a future of hope and resilience ' (Whitten and Torres, vol. 1: 34). Up till now, a suchlike process of 'belonging' already resulted in a considerable decline in youth criminality, and likewise led to an increase in subsidy initiatives on behalf of international NGO's and local authorities.
The socio-cultural scene that emerged in and around the Pernambuco state capital of Recife during the last decade of the last century, called mangue beat , strikingly linked itself to already existing forms of contestation, like the historical maracatu . Several fusion style urban bands (Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, Mestre Ambrósio and Mundo Livre S/A) came into existence and instantaneously gathered local youth and the larger community under their flag. They published a propagandist manifesto and extrapolated its lyrical content in their eclectic, tradition-ridden songs. The specific importance of mangue for my essay thus lies in the fact that it makes various explicit connections to the rich cultural and folkloristic heritage of the region, and that it uses these 'root' expressions in order to structure life, in order to generate a sense of 'belonging' (communalising). The educative component of the mangue philosophy and its repercussions on the present social work in the area, mainly through the arts, will be my main focus for this article.
In the manifesto they wrote in 1992, the Recife nucleus around Chico Science, Fred 04 and Dr. Mabuse stressed the importance of reviving what was left in the veins of Recife to get it out of its worsening marginal position. To this purpose, they made the explicit link between the city, the citizen and cultural expression. Important in this respect was a sense of renewed pride and of hybrid (world) citizenship. The metaphorical image of caranguejo com cérebro (crab with brains), or the satellite in the fertile mud, that was used by the unproclaimed leaders of the scene, emphasized the beauty of the regional cultural forms (previously dubbed as unoriginal) and the merit of finding their traits in contemporary expression. Folkloristic and musical heritage got popularised, and traditional musicians could soon be seen performing side by side at the Marco Zero, Praça São Pedro or other venues in Recife and its surrounding area (very eminent in the case of Mestre Salustiano, worshipped for his rabecca playing, and his son Maciel Salu taking on more innovative paths with DJ Dolores, o.a.). Old traits got to be unrecognisable from new music, with Siba's samba and Nação Zumbi's maracatu and cordel amongst the many examples of young ones seeking old traditions. Collaborations and performances between all camps involved soon got commonplace, with 'old and new' treating each other with mutual joy in defending the same cause: attitude, collectivity and respect.
On a side note, the cultural diversity of February Carnaval, both in Recife and Olinda, fitted in well with the almost simultaneous rock festivals, like Abril pro Rock and Rec Beat , where younger adaptations of these contestational tones would be connected to international sounds of jazz, hip hop, rock and metal. Musical forms such as maracatu ( de baque solto and virado ), ciranda, frevo, caboclinho, cavalo marinho, embolada, coco and afoxé, in which an interesting and variable mix of African, indigenous and European influences is manifested, thus got to be implicit tools to form a subliminal counter-narrative to the official elevated fame of tropicalismo and bossa nova.
Carnaval also got organically incorporated in this communalising move, having always been a privileged stage for social and political critique. It also has been the logical stage for all the traditional popular expressions outlined above. Following Guss (9), I would like to see carnival not as alleged 'opium of the masses', but as a forceful representation of a massive counterculture. Carnival has undoubtedly valuable reflexive qualities, operating under the surface but surely very powerful ideologically. As has been pointed out before, this symbolical inversion is the great strength of any a social rehearsal: ' in addition to be set apart and framed, cultural performances are important dramatizations that enable participants to understand, criticize and even change the worlds in which they live ' (Guss: ibid.). Thus, this festive public forum with partly decodable tools of expression (dependent on common contextual factors, hence cross-class) has a remarkable interpretative power in its own right. This 'semiotic battlefield' (Guss: 10) establishes its moral and symbolical pertinence with hindsight to past events and symbols.
3. Theoretical reflections: maracatu
Viewing the socio-cultural scene in Recife (both synchronically and diachronically) in a larger framework of cultural politics, minorities and subliminal narrativity, can perhaps help to better understand the mechanisms at play. In this functionalist synergy between old and new that is intimately intertwined with the city's collective history, I will also sideways focus on the ethnicity issue, still very important in local expressions of orgulho (pride) and shame.
Religion, art and music have been significant and efficient tools to express the cultural heritage of marginalized segments of the population for a long time, and they still are. For blacks and mulattoes, the prolonged experience of slavery cannot be easily dismissed, especially in Brazil, where only in 1888 this dreadful socio-economical mechanism was put to end. Whitten and Torres (vol. 1: 34) argue correctly that the histories of indigenous people and blacks in the Americas are clearly intertwined. They cite Afro-Columbian spokeswoman Zulia Mena in stating that music, dance, speech and literature can intensify a socio-political and cultural identificational process and its gradual contextual transformations. Strikingly, this is done within the boundaries of the nation state and not against it (something that I would like to coin 'levelling', i.e. several degrees of normative societal relevance). In this way, coloured minorities need to ' create ethnic space for blackness as a creative [contributing] cultural quality within their nations ' (ibid.).
Moreover, Wade (2002) rightly states that peripheral cultures (that are often racialized) suffer from a considerable invisibility in official cultural census. In my opinion, this often is an advantage. Though there has been a thorough change in recent scholarship, in the past these 'marginal' cultural expressions were often not studied because they were paradoxically deemed not authentic enough with hindsight to national discourse. Often, this neglect went hand in hand with social prerequisites: historic patterns of inequality of blacks (struggle for land, geographical invisibility, undeterminable ethnicity) have been only reflected in normative and generalizing stereotypes. However, as pointed out by Roberts (1998: iv), it is just this underdog quality that allows that ' cultural continuity [.] can exist at several levels, and those manifestations that lie closest to the surface are not necessarily the most interesting or significant ones '. Adaptation and change can bring new perspectives to cultures in constant renewal and self-modification, and are thus essential to cultural survival. David Guss (2002: 258-259) adds that recognition of folklore by dominant groups can very much have adverse effects. By labelling the cultural form as 'traditional', these expressions are often petrified and lose their oppositional value. Subsequent commercialisation, with the purpose of promulgating this 'lost part' of the countries national past to the general interest, can entail a loss of dynamism, a forced isolation in time and space. Not so with the present case, where the old got to be actively employed in order to reinforce the new and young: mangue beat with maracatu . In their own right.
The renewed self-identification of the scorned nordestino population through traditional maracatu and contemporary mangue beat does not seem to have come out of the blue. The socio-cultural entrepreneurship of people like Chico Science is probably just one historical instance out of many where disenfranchised groups negotiate their identity on their own terms. Contextually, the Brazilian slave era conflict has moved underneath official discourse, but economical inequality and unilateral racial thought are still in operation. So are the strategies and tactics of these (once) dominated, continuing to have their codified communalising power through different ways and media. The pedagogical component of the maracatu and other forms of expression might explain for its attractivity to mangue beat, as to the descendents of the former slaves, acknowledged but neglected in their living in the centre, slums and suburbs of the city. It was this situation that urged the Chico nucleus to call for renewed symbolical resistance. To metaphorically stimulate what was left in the veins of Recife's estuaries, deemed inferior by dominant labelling and, as a consequence, heavily polluted.
Maracatu , like Rei do Congo in Minas and perhaps also carnival in Salvador and in Rio, allows lower class people to use rhythmic continuity in order to shape their societal criticism. Mestre Afonso Filho of Leão Coroado - one of the main maracatu collectives at work in the Recife suburbs - has convincingly argued that maracatu can be treated as a discursive place in retelling the past (Maracatu Leão Coroado's website). Though perhaps less emphasis is actually put on the lyrical input, this popular form of art has lot in common with reggae and other symbolical inversions in culture throughout the (black) world. It forcefully but implicitly vents common frustrations about poverty, inequality and disenfranchised ethnicity, and calls for a communalising spirit where one stays true to what one believes (like Bob Marley's popularity of get up, stand up . stand up for your right ). Music can function as a powerful vehicle for political and social concerns. It can symbolically represent the imaginary community of oppressed groups as an untouchable 'place' where resistance and freedom, for once, are not antagonical.
Symbolically remembering the oppression and liberation of slavery in present-day life can be very cathartic. The past is not that far away in that it is re-employed towards the future (cfr. Homi Bhabha's distinction between pedagogical history and performative present). Minorities have to continue recharging their batteries with a number of historical associations that are moulded into something new. Roots are constantly and essentially reshaping themselves, and rhythms have to be considered in a constant paradigmatic process of modification; it is this uncanny aspect that ultimately makes them invincible. Paul Gilroy (1993), talking about the importance of a transatlantic framework in analysing (black) minorities, rightly states that an integral understanding of cultural reproduction lies ' not in the unproblematic transmission of a fixed essence through time but in the breaks and interruptions which suggest that the invocation of tradition may itself be a distinct, though covert, response to the destabilizing flux of post-contemporary world ' (cited in Whitten and Torres, vol. 2: 50). The maracatu collectives hence are, it has been shown above, not without socio-cultural significance. In fact, the drum - in its various forms - effectively functions as an element of resistance throughout the whole Caribbean (Guss: 258). Added to this, a relative re-ethnicization, combined with calls for minority freedom and protest, has recently emerged. The celebration of tradition based hybridisms (like maracatu) in public life can be interpreted as a magical return to origins, thus signalling a quest for renewed authenticity against alleged impurity and unclassifiability by the national dominant discourse.
I would like to ponder a bit longer on the importance of the maracatu . As it has already been said, this art form is both used to designate a rural indigenous variant ( de baque solto ) and a more Africanised urban counterpart ( de baque virado ). A significant number of mangue beat musicians have extensively referenced themselves to either of the two (e.g. Nação Zumbi opting for the virado -variant, but Mestre Ambrósio choosing the solto ) - but also to numerous other popular forms. Both the virado and solto go back to matters of geography (more African slave concentrations in and around coastal cities; more indigenous interaction in the interior). They are related to the so-called congadas elsewhere in Brazil (e.g. Rei do Congo in the state of Minas Gerais), and symbolically represent the coming to power of blacks. In this symbolical inversion, an African royal embassy in Brazil is supposedly portrayed. The maracatus, syntactically referring to the quilombo freestates of colonial time, essentially adhere to the 'language of the streets'.
4. Continued: mangue beat
I would now like to home in on the relational and global importance of the mangue beat movement itself. After the untimely death of charismatic leader and spokesman Chico Science in 1997, many thought the movement had lost its consolidate potential. Untrue. It regained a second, more diversified, breath, incorporating such art forms as poetry, spoken word and drama - all strikingly alluding to the rich folkloristic heritage of the Nordeste . More importantly, the theoretical premises of the Chico nucleus now have gotten practical eminence in the streets of the suburbs, and in the city texture in general. The relative economic revival of recent years has again brought a profound sense of cultural pride to the surface.
In its cultural manifestos and general philosophy, mangue beat continues to advocate the use of national and international forms of commercial culture (to one's best advantage) in order to locate and express culturally specific grievances emerging from new patterns of work, leisure and consumption. This is not in any way incongruent with the advocacy of local and regional popular expressions which have been highlighted above. Music is used to as a contestational tool to move beyond power imbalances (regionalisms, language, ethnical group and mixtures). The ' caranguejo com cérebro ' (crab with brains), used as a symbol by the movement, has been a clever hint to this ability to unite out of the most diverse influences in a specific place at a specific time. The crab also is at the centre of a whole nutritional system (as in the work of Josué de Castro, Recifense ecological analyst of the manguezais, who recently got renewed attention). The so-called minorities can never be silenced completely. They seek to construe alliances with others in the same predicament, thus being better able to symbolically inverse and contest the official discourse. This struggle is fought from the inside, using both the structures of the dominating system and alien ones from its outside. Societal margins, where these marginalized groups are often situated, offer utter cultural dynamism in the catalysing clash between homogeneous and heterogeneous elements. This is why the city's suburbs are so important. Creativity is thus in itself eclectic, venting both a political refusal as an affirmation of ones own social predicament. Music and tradition are the tools that are best used by cultural entrepreneurs to establish this goal (see Even-Zohar: 2003), creating veritable bridges of sound to transgress the predicament.
Making communal alliances between seemingly unrelated population segments is a very important part in the oppositional identification process of minorities. Thus, it is no coincidence that the term 'nação' in Nação Zumbi alludes to the important role of collectivity. The use of the concept of 'nation state' is both an implicit references to African tribal societies as it is essentially a symbolical reversal of present day domination, as showed in the cultural performance of the maracatu collectives. The Zulu Nation analogy of Afrika Bambataa (whom is being explicitly referred to in 'zumbi x zulu', on Nação Zumbi's Rádio S.Amb.A ) is prophetic in this matter. Bambataa had participated in gang life (being a member of the Black Spades), but afterwards saw the possibility of music and hip-hop culture in general to channel the criminality and violence of the deprived urban youth. Their frustrated energy had to be turned in something positive (music, dance, graffiti), as a strong revolutionary sign for peers. In Recife, the positive signal of mangue beat encouraged for alternative ways of expression in the suburban ghettos in much similar ways. Mangue beat has effectively established a diasporic dialogue between Afro beat, jazz, hip-hop and maracatu, amongst others. At the same time, the Zulu Nation of Bambataa refers to the Kenyan struggle against British imperialist, and conveys a similar message again in the lyrics of Nação Zumbi - themselves referring to the quilombo maroon states in Brazil, Zumbi dos Palmares having become a regional icon for this liberation struggle.
It can be said that Brazilians in general have a largely urban mentality, making big cities veritable crossroads of cultural traffic and communication. This is especially the case for Recife, in essence the converging point of many ' rios, pontes e overdrives .impressionantes estruturas de lama ' [ Rivers, bridges and overdrives . impressive structures of mud ] (Chico Science) - thus making references to the firm-rootedness of tradition (' lama ') and the healthy international cultural cross-fertilization ( 'pontes ') that are present in the context of mangue. The biological metaphor of the manguezal is, it has been shown, very revealing, and only nominally contradicts with the element of technology (' overdrives '). It is the natural dealing with technology that has put the Recife culturescape on the global map. Very soon in the 1990`s already, experiments were done with free internet access for city inhabitants (see Cláudio Marinho article). The results were, to put it mildly, very promising, enhancing job opportunities and creative self-awareness. Through mangue beat and maracatu, the minor voice of local communities now saw the chance of getting global resonance. Meanwhile, also the different rural issues in the state of Pernambuco itself profited considerably from this new form of virtual presentation. The Science nucleus already alluded to this 'cyber-aspect' in their initial manifesto. Hence, the (perhaps contradictory) access to technology for the Recife minorities helped in propagating their ideas, and allowed them to reshape and intensify their locus of resistance. Following Guss (4), this is an excellent example of how discursive levels of more or less intensity may actually enlarge their semantic fields. Market-driven global culturescapes, urbanization, tourism and technology can all be regarded as decisive factors in this electronic territorialization (please see mangue sites in bibliography).
On a thematic level, mangue beat antagonistically shifted the lyrical attention to the dire consequences of the continued systemic oppression, hinting at similar predicaments in the region's past. Rhythmically, too, the mangue musicians made explicit reference to the diverse nordestino traditions. In these forms of cultural expression, the folkloristic heritage of the region is analysed in symbolical reverse, providing issues of symbolical liberation through cultural self-expression. Zumbi dos Palmares, Lampião, Ze do Caixão, Antônio Conselheiro, the Black Panthers and even Zapata offer the Pernambuco mass a valuable literary tool of discursive resistance.
As is stressed by Rita Kehl in the same article cited, the 'banditry' that is hinted at ideologically is ambiguous in its meaning:
In connection to what has been discussed here, she also rightly states that
Nação Zumbi, one of the leading mangue beat bands in Recife, has made explicit reference to various aspects of hip-hop culture in dealing with this imposition of a context. More specifically, the political activism and social engagement of NYC based Afrika Bambataa has been highlighted. Could the situation in the Bronx be compared to the suburbs of Recife and Olinda (or, likewise, the favela's of any big city?). Nação Zumbi's answer to this question is likely to be affirmative. Bringing in the example of a cultural visionary like Bambataa into the Recife context creates a meaningful parallel in the sense that both Bambataa and the late Chico Science have channelled youth frustration into musical expression and positive social activities. They have thus actively dealt with problems of criminality and violence. This social constructive aspect will be further explored below.
5. One out of many: Recife's Nação Leão Coroado collective.
Nação Leão Coroado, like its former 'president' Luis de França, is a striking example of the communalising attitude that is at stake in this article. Aided by the eclectic propagation of nordestino rhythms in the songs of Nação Zumbi and other mangue beat bands, this nação nagô collective has realized the importance of social engagement, professional skills and technology (see Wired article). It has also made ample use of the internet medium to improve the situation of the suburbs. Like has been pointed out before (see the Cláudio Marinho article in bibliography), municipal initiatives have been offering the city of Recife extensive access to the global electronic highway about simultaneously with its rise in other parts of the world. This search for constant renewal made the mangue beat pioneers explore the artistic functionality of computers ('Computadores Fazem Arte' - 'Computers Create Art' , on Nação Zumbi's second cd Afrociberdelia ). The spontaneous homology between people, creativity and art (' o povo na arte, e a arte no povo ') on the one hand, and the internet itself on the other, was quickly made. High tech applicability and an extended range of e-way formulations paradoxically did not collide with the lower class status of its users. They instead engaged in the medium to globally expand their 'contested terrain'.
The performative component of Leão Coroado, importantly, especially has had repercussions on the ethnicity level. This maracatu collective, strikingly named 'crowned lion' (compare to Rastafarian imagery), started in 1863 in Recife - still during slavery, which would only officially come to end in 1888. It managed to persist in times of racism and censorship, and fully re-emerged in the 1970's after the fall of military repression in Brazil. Its manifestations, even more visible at numerous cultural events in the area since, symbolically represent the coming to power of 'blacks'. As indicated by Marina de Souza e Mello (2002) and others (Leonardo Dantas Silva 2002), it originally portrayed the arrival of an African ambassador - Rei do Congo - in Brazil during carnival in the slave époque. Like all others in its region, it has, both historically as nowadays, especially been used in promoting the affirmation of cultural practices, racial formation and social mobilization for Afro-descendents, i.e., the main inhabitants of Olinda and Recife suburbs.
The form of maracatu as used by Leão Coroado, maracatu de baque virado (also called maracatu urbano or nação ), is only one out of numerous hybrid cultural forms that have permeated the Pernambuco popular cultural heritage. It will be used here because its explicit link with the city texture. As has been highlighted above, this form of expression also relied more than others on its African ancestry because of its geographic determination. This 'black input' also implied a continued troublesome financial predicament to Leão Coroado's performance. In the past, the collective managed to survive censorship and extinction through bonds with the local bourgeoisie, unlike many other collectives that did not survive. Few years before the reinvigoration by the mangue scene, after the military junta in Brazil, aid also came in from the Movimento Unificado Negro, largely active in Salvador de Bahia. Finally, starting in the last decade of the 20 th century, government initiatives did also realize the importance of this 'social coherence' as exemplified in Leão Coroado. This lead to subsidies, increase in local popularity/acceptance, initiation and rise of other maracatu collectives, and municipal documentary research and propagation (for example, about the life of former Leão Coroado leader and icon, Luiz de França - see introductory citation of this paragraph). All this accumulated in the Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos and in a well-attended, projection-guided celebration of 140 years of Maracatu Leão Coroado, in November 2003, at downtown Pátio do Terço.
More importantly, the social constructive factor in Leão's performance also got to be better understood. In Recife and Olinda, traditional Afro rhythms, voluntary work and free internet have been and are mingled in order to achieve a slow but steady decline in violence. Paulo Rebêlo, in 'Brazil's dulcet tones of tech' (' O som da inclusão social' ) and 'Maracatu High Tech', observes that, in Olinda's poor neighbourhood of Aguas Compridas, Maracatu Leão Coroado is embracing music and technology as a way to help youth imagine a way out of poverty. Within cultural conviviality, they want to stimulate work, education and self-sufficiency among local youngsters. Similarly, in 'Auto-estima no mangue', Deborrah Dornellas stresses the fact that in this extremely violent, socially alarming context, few things have changed: little or no official aid and the preconceptions of society. Yet, the maracatu drums and the overall cultural fertility revalorised in the wake of mangue beat do have a positive impact on the people's self-esteem. Working with maracatu, doing workshops with a professional prospective and developing a thorough ability to navigate the electronic landscape all contribute positively to an intensified visibility in the streets and in official discourse. The social importance of the Nação Leão Coroado initiative for its context cannot easily be disregarded.
The Acorda Povo project (initiated by Nação Zumbi and Alessandra Oliveira), also active in the Recife and Olinda periphery, works among similar lines. Through free photography workshops and free music shows in the poor neighbourhoods, Acorda Povo democratically uses 'social diversity' to revitalize the community's inactive spaces and to stimulate ties of small cost of the proper neighbourhood . Municipal cultural authorities (Zé da Flauta) equally regularly program free accessible music performances in the heart of Recife, that are widely attended. Other initiatives, like Habitat for Humanity (Yara Vergucht) and other NGO's that are present in Recife and Olinda, also work towards a better living environment. They strive for better housing and sustainable education in 'rundown' areas of the city or the state (e.g. the quilombo of Ilha de Deus), thus creating potentialities for a better future. They are largely congruent in nature with recent municipal initiatives, sponsored by higher authorities.
The above is very much in line with the institutional suggestions of UNESCO, stating that in order to unproblematize certain contexts one has to 'develop the proper environment for artistic creativity': ' Promoting creativity and allowing it to flower in a spirit of freedom and intercultural dialogue is one of the best ways of maintaining cultural vitality. Access to the new technologies opens the way to original forms of expression. Since creativity concerns everyone, including young people - particularly in underprivileged groups - studies carried out all over the world, not forgetting the great global appointment fixed by UNESCO for 2005, show that art education should be a part of all school curricula'. Recife and Olinda seem to surface their mangue roots with a lot of potential and vitality.
To conclude, as has been shown in the case study, being proud of identity (both personal and collective, both regional and national, both local and global), especially among youths, is being made organically possible by the dynamism of socio-cultural transformations. Ethnomusicology can be a valuable approach to analyse strategies and tactics at stake. In this way, 'the endurance and creativity of imagery of the past [are] projected from a formative present into a future of hope and resilience' (Whitten and Torres, vol. 1: 34).
I have tried to show that socio-political contestation in daily life often lies in a context-related middle point position between a pacifist and a revolutionary approach. The intermingling of old and new in the Recife scene has made local communities aware of their inherent potential, also and especially on socio-political levels. In this view their initiators have at least been able to get a more nuanced contextual viewpoint across than other sources would have liked it.
Throughout the case studied above, the identificational benefit of non-violence and co-creativity is very clear; one can thus sense the qualitative importance of a dignity of difference, or, being one in plurality on several levels. Already recently, in September 2004, at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the World Culture Open has been established: an international organisation that aims at building and visualizing bridges between communities using the arts and culture. In my opinion, this is a clear example of the arts shifting to a more central position in the international debate on implicit or explicit conflict resolution.
The role of these arts (presented here through the label of cultural performativity) on the implicit, popular level entails a democratic inclusiveness of such issues as race, state nationalism and festivities. All essentially have to do with a sense of 'belonging', not to one, but to multiple spheres of interest. The organic nature of this plural way of viewing the world, illustrated both in the pounding roots of the Afro maracatu and the ecological mangezal that is essentially mangue beat, is the main axis of thought that should remain blatant after reading all the above. Socio-cultural transformations are a spontaneous trauma training that allow the personal and collective level to remain sane within self-expression. The unclassifiability of economic, social and ethnic situations is internalised and is symbolically used as an advantage. This also shows in many other similar forms of expression throughout (cities of) the world: hip hop, salsa, reggae and carnaval, all using the parameters discussed above to a variable, but always context-related extent.
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World Culture Open (WCO)
For more background reading and online audio fragments on maracatu and mangue beat , and all other styles or artists that have been mentioned, I refer to the following link:
This article is the result of research that has been carried out intermittedly in Brazil, USA and Belgium in 2002-2004. The author is grateful to IRO, American Studies Programme and the Institute for Cultural Studies - all at the Catholic University of Leuven - for their substantial funding. Many thanks to John Erbuer (Cucamonga, Radio 1, Brussels) for his kind permission to reproduce visual material here.
Bart Vanspauwen graduated magna cum laude in Linguistics and Literature: Germanic Languages at the Catholic university of Leuven (Belgium) in 2001, with a thesis on comparative cultural theory. He similarly got his postgraduate degree in Cultural Studies at the same university (2003), intermittedly focussing on postcolonial critique and South America. Between August 2002 and December 2003, he received an IRO development grant to do field work and research at the federal university of Belo Horizonte (UFMG, Brazil) and in the city of Recife; an American Studies program educational exchange position with the university of Urbana-Champaign (UIUC, USA); and funding by the Institute for Cultural Studies to do additional research in Recife and Belo Horizonte. Currently, as a part of his predoctoral training, he is taking an MA in Conflict and Sustainable Peace at Leuven University, analysing the ambivalence of reconciliation and resistance within performativity of minority groups. New field research is being planned.
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