sábado, 1 de dezembro de 2007

Resenha publicada em http://lbr.uwpress.org/cgi/reprint/40/2/146

Resenha de Bryan McCann (Georgetown University), publicada na Luso-Brazilian Review (inverno de 2003, n. 40, p. 146-147, prestigiada revista da University of Wisconsin-Madison, que pode ser encontrada na internet no seguinte endereço <http://www.wisc.edu/wisconsinpress/journals/journals/lbr.html>.

Frota, Wander Nunes. Auxilio Luxuoso: Samba Símbolo Nacional, Geração Noel Rosa e Indústria Cultural. São Paulo: Annablume, 2003. 252 p. Bibliografia. ISBN: 85-7419-333-X

During the dark years of military dictatorship in late-1960s Brazil, Sergio Cabral, a young samba maven and a member of Brazil's underground Communist Party, used to tell his comrades, "I don't know of anything more revolutionary than researching Brazilian popular music." Cabral meant to show that the nation's humblest members-its urban, Afro-Brazilian poor in particular-had bestowed upon Brazil its greatest cultural treasure, and that an accurate account of their contribution would reveal the injustice of domination by a feckless, cosmopolitan elite. Cabral's notion of a valiant popular soul informed the books he wrote over the next several decades, and was shared in several key respects by other popular historians of his generation, including Jairo Severiano, Ary Vasconcellos, and Jose Ramos Tinhorão. Although these authors often differed over both the particulars and the political implications of their research, they generally agreed that popular music lay at the heart of the Brazilian experience, that African cultural inheritance provided the bedrock for that music, and that commercial interest played at best a circumstantial and at worst a corrupting role in that music's development. Working outside the academy but following rigorous codes of research, they published an influential body of work that cemented a canon of Brazilian popular music first sketched a generation earlier. In the book reviewed here, Wander Nunes Frota terms this body of work the "semi-official history of Brazilian popular music," and sets out to question its very foundations.
Frota's argument has two main thrusts-first, that the Brazilian popular music of the 1920s through the 1940s was completely dependent upon the rise of a commercial cultural industry, and second, that the "semi-official history" often overemphasizes a vaguely defined African cultural inheritance, thus obscuring the musical richness and social complexity of Brazilian popular music. In light of these arguments, Frota suggests, the broader cultural meanings imputed to the music-in particular the understanding of samba as a national symbol-stand in desperate need of reconsideration.
On the first count, Frota is certainly correct, and the book's strength lies in its sharp delineation of a crackling electric archipelago of radio stations, recording studios and movie houses. Drawing on the formulations of Pierre Bourdieu, Frota describes this network as a field of cultural production, deemphasizing the heroic biographies found in the "semi-official history" and sketching an encompassing social and economic context in their stead. Frota suggests that by revealing this commercial connection-the "luxurious assistance" of the book's title-he gives the lie to nationalistic meanings associated with popular music, showing that the idea of national popular communion through samba was merely a pretext for economic expansion. But this is too pessimistic, confusing the ability to extract profit with the ability to mold cultural traditions. The recording executives got rich, but it was the sambistas and their audience, above all, who forged the link between samba and national identity.
This leads to the second aspect of Frota's argument, concerning samba, race, and inequality. In his most stinging allegation, Frota suggests that the racial politics of the "semi-official history" were lifted wholesale from the U.S. Civil Rights movement and misapplied to Brazil. The notion of a pure, popular, African-inspired music subsequently co-opted and exploited by white elites may or may not work for blues and jazz, he suggests, but it surely cannot work for samba. This criticism is overheated-while Frota uses the term "semi-official history" to refer to a generation of researchers, his characterization of the political theory underlying that history only fits the work of Tinhorão-not coincidentally the most ardent nationalist of the group, and the one who will find charges of undue U.S. influence most galling. Ironically, Frota's own understanding of Brazilian popular music, with its emphasis on the self-serving machinations of "the big media," is not far from that of Tinhorão. The fundamental difference is that where Tinhorão laments the loss of national musical purity, Frota finds no purity to begin with, replacing Marxian theories of exploitation with Bourdieusian theories of inescapable cultural logic.
In Frota's view, popular music flourished because media titans needed a product to sell, and acquired its broader cultural meanings because middle-class consumers needed a way to obscure the divisions between haves and have-nots through nationalist celebration. This has the advantage of drawing our attention to the multiplicity of actors who collectively created the golden age of Brazilian popular music, ranging from humble sambistas to conservatory-trained arrangers, foreign producers and commodity salesmen.
Frota skillfully sketches the importance of each sector within the dynamic field of popular music. But like Tinhorão before him, Frota underestimates the ways in which composers, performers and fans operating within the confines of a commercial industry could reinterpret pat nationalist themes to craft inquiries into the shortcomings of the nation.
Towards the end of his book, Frota analyzes "Laranja Madura," ("Ripe Orange"), a 1967 hit by the Afro-Brazilian sambista Ataulfo Alves. Frota persuasively reads the samba's lyrics as an implicit indictment of disguised racial exploitation, revealing the ways in which samba, oft-imbued with nationalist meanings, could also serve to counter dominant national narratives. This rewarding approach is lacking from the rest of the book, which concentrates too much on the dynamics of musical production and not enough on the product itself.
Ultimately, this book corrects the romantic myopia of the "semi-official history," but does not dismantle that history. Frota's work relies heavily on the research of Cabral, Tinhorão and company, and firmly ascribes to the canon those authors helped construct-while emphasizing its constructed nature. This may be the enduring lesson of the book, demonstrating that the field of musical production that blossomed in the 1930s, with all its deeply embedded inequalities, its nationalist pretensions, and its commercial foundations, continues to contain those who aspire to explain it.
Bryan McCann, Georgetown University

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