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< Volver

Brasilhana: the Making of a Transcultural Musical Sign

Maria Elizabeth Lucas

En este trabajo se trata un caso específico de regionalismo musical dentro del contexto de los múltiples idiomas de la música popular delBrasil. El repertorio cancionístico conocido como música "gaucho/nativista" del estado de Rio Grande do Sul, que surgió en los años setenta dentro del movimiento de revival en el sur del Brasil, nos servirá como puerta de entrada a la problemática de los procesos transculturales en la música. Partiendo de un análisis músico-biográfico de la canción nativista titulada "Brasilhana" (brasileño + castellano), el texto nos lleva a los siguientes puntos: a) el carácter contextual de los signos musicales usados como marcador de identidad nacional/regional; b) el conjunto deestrategias de los creadores musicales desplegadas para controlar el uso del capital musical en un contexto dado, tanto por lo que se refiere a la construcción social de la identidad como a los procesos transculturales; c) el problema del esencialismo en los sistemas taxonómicos en la música, especialmente en relación a las cuestiones de la tradición y autenticidad.

This paper deals with a specific case of music regionalism within the multiple contemporary idioms of Brazilian popular music. The song repertoire known as Gaucho/nativist music of Rio Grande do Sul State, which has been produced in the stream of a revivalist movement in southern Brazil born in the 1970s, will serve as a doorway into the theme of transcultural processes in music. Departing from a musico-biographic analysis of a nativist song entitled Brasilhana (Brazilian + Castillian), the text brings forward the following points: a) the contextual character of music signs used as national/regional identity markers; b) the agency of music creators (defined as strategies deployed to control the use of musical capital in a given context) in social identity construction as well as, in this specific case, in transcultural processes; c) the problem of essentialism in music classificatory systems, especially in relation to questions of tradition, authenticity.



This paper deals with a specific case of music regionalism within the multiple contemporary idioms of Brazilian popular music. The song repertoire known as Gaucho/nativist music of Rio Grande do Sul (RS), which has been produced in the stream of a revivalist movement in southern Brazil born in the 1970s, will serve as a doorway into the theme of this colloquium – transcultural processes in music. The epistemological orientation adopted here, which follows the canons of ethnographic research, attempts to place social representations and agency in musical discourse within the dynamics of social interaction, i. e. in the space and time in which social agents construct, reproduce, and transform culture.

Because of its frontier situation, in the borderlands of Hispanic America, southern Brazilian society has been historically represented in the nation state as more Hispanic/European than Luso-Afro-Brazilian. Considered one of the best areas of the country in terms of social and economic development, the appeal to an European heritage – due to German and Italian immigration waves in the 19th century -fills the local imagination withpride for a “higher” lineage descent[2]. This representation is pervasive in a wide range of local discourses, including popular music. Departing from a musico-biographic analysis of a nativist song, composed in 1986, Brasilhana (Brazilian + Castillian) I wish to bring forward the following points: a) the contextual character of music signs used as national/regional identity markers; b) the agency of music creators (defined as strategies deployed to control the use of musical capital in a given context) in social identity construction as well as, in this specific case, in transcultural processes; c) the problem of essentialism in music classificatory systems, especially in relation to questions of tradition, authenticity.

On Song, Music Performance and Performance Context

My emphasis on the ethnography of a specific song requires an outline of the main questions involved in such analytical perspective. Song is an emotionally powerful unit in its own right. It is an intersection of two distinct communication systems -- language and music. Despite that, songs cannot be reduced to these two codes by themselves for they are fully completed when they are activated simultaneously in performance. In the case of recent musically focused studies on popular song, one can detect a clear concern from the part of their authors in bridging the gap between social and musical processes/structures. Propositions of that kind appear in theoretical models informed by Marxist cultural theory (e.g. Shepherd 1982, 1991, Hennion 1983, Pickering, 1987, Middleton 1990), cultural studies and reception studies (Brackett 1997) and/or a choice among the Saussurian, Peircean, Greimasian semiotics (e.g. Tagg 1982, Giroux 1985, Tatit 1986, 1994, 1995). In spite of following some of the analytical suggestions brought by these studies, in this paper, I will focus mainly on the ethnography of the actual song performances as a methodological tool to reach the thickness of the cultural meanings encompassed in the production-reception of a specific musical artifact.

The complexities involved in the process of musical signification, especially as pointed out by those ethnomusicologists who conceive music as a communicatory process, have provided them elements to rethink the limitations of musical studies that focus on the code per se (e.g. Blacking 1983, Feld 1984). As Feld points out, the process of musical meaning depends on the dialectical interaction between "code-producer" and "message-consumer". Analyses that do not take this fact into account can offer only a partial view of the communication process. In the case of songs, this dialectical interaction is tied up to the context in which the chain producer-code-receptor intersects. Consequently the actual performance and the musical settings in which these songs are embedded should be integrated in the analysis for they form the immediate contextual situation in which song meaning is interpreted.

To sum up my argument, songs are here conceived as a semiotic system that is socially constructed. Therefore, the analysis of sign vehicles in songs takes into account the relationship between sound/textual/performative devices and the specific context in which songs become meaningful to listeners qua members of a sociocultural group, an argument that brings out the question of live performance.

The Italian musicologist/semiotician Gino Stefani remarks that an idea that is expressed through more than one sense (sight, hearing, touch) leaves a stronger mark on the receptor, for it involves several associative levels (1987: 30). The result is the polysensoriality, a communication process that emerges from the crossing over of several expressive media as it is the case of live musical performances. Hence, songs in live performances are prone to an intensification of their communication power.

As Bauman puts in his studies dedicated to performance events (e.g. 1977, 1991), performance is a mode of communication manifested in the particular way that it binds audience and performers. The direct rapport between audience members and performers in live settings create a special link between listening situation and space/event, “highlighting the way in which communication is carried out, above and beyond referential content” (1991:3). Songs in performance might seize the attention of participants through the words of the text, gestures, vocal intonation, costumes, sound effects, timbre, in addition to their ideological and emotional level of involvement with performers, composers, and the event itself. These varied and complex stimuli work on participants in different ways to set up their response, which is externalized by verbal and non-verbal behavior.

This is the case observed in the performative setting of the song here under consideration.The current version of gaucho revivalism in southern Brazil relies heavily on the model of music festivals/competions for local musicians, songwriters, composers to display their knowledge on issues related to regional culture ( local musical genres, history, folklore, oral poetry, etc).For the public in general, the great appeal of a nativist festival resides in the social festive behavior and interaction under the conduct of play: participants' chance and means used to disconcert, fascinate, to call attention, to state a Gaucho identity. In Victor Turner’s terms, a liminoidcultural performance.During the competition, this festive mood is controlled by another set of resources: the visual-aural proximity of the participants, the movement, in and out of stage of musicians dressed with gaucho attire, the expectations created by the competition and the physical involvement of the audience. A whole range of physical activity accompanies songs performed on stage. Since many songs are danceable, they enable also the chance for flirting, and body encounters. Though the individuals are free to manifest their feelings, these tend to be homogenized by the conventions in which the event is framed: singing, shouting, booing, applauding, the display of banners, the manifestations of cliques, which represent an essential aspect of the audience's participatoryrole in the performance

These considerations set the theoretical frame around the analysis of Brasilhana song to follow. As Baumanrecommends, “the first task in the study of performance events is to identify the events themselves in ways consistent with local understandings and relevant to the analytical problems at hand” (idem). Therefore, the next section introduces an ethnographic piece on the song festival/competition Musicanto, held in 1986, in which Brasilhana was the winner song.

The Competition Setting: The Fourth Musicanto Sul Americano de Nativismo

In the 1970s Gaucho regionalism underwent a revival process in Rio Grande do Sul. Briefly described, this revivalist movement is grounded on social and symbolic expressions created around pastoralism and the Gaucho-cowboy culture of South America southern plains. As an ideological construction, which recurs stronger in some conjunctures than in others[3], the present version of gauchismo has emerged through festivals (song competitions) of Música Nativaspread all over the region. In the 1980s, the wide social response to these festivals among urban white middle-class groups placed music creation as a crucial issue to debate questions of preservation/loss of tradition versus innovation/transformation of a regional identity within the encompassing Brazilian society. Festivals of Música Nativa can be defined as a showcase that exhibit singers, composers, instrumentalists from all over the state of Rio Grande do Sul; they put side by side, creators with distinct musical backgrounds, coming from different micro-regionalcultures, which propitiates the confrontation between distinct conceptions of authenticity and expertise in the creation and performance of local song genres. On the other hand, they mobilize large audiences (ranging from 3.000 to 100.000 participants) of white middle class urbanites eager to cultivate their gaucho rural traditions through some diacritics of “gauchoness“ (listening to música gaudéria, dressing themselves as gauchos, drinking mate-tea, preparing barbecues, singing and dancing in the festival campsites, etc)[4]. In short, the festivals mean, for the local imagination, bringing back the “good old country” as so widely analyzed in the socio-anthropological literature of the “invented traditions”.

Today there are approximately forty such events per year throughout the state. Due to reasons such as an expressive expansion of the local music industry in the 1990s that I have analyzed elsewhere (Lucas 1997), the current discourse on music making as much as the socialpractices of song creation, performance, and consumption of regional music have loosen up the confrontational character of previous years.

The event focused in this paper – the festival Musicanto Sul Americano de Nativismo - was created in 1983 by one of the icons of the nativist music, the songwriter, accordion and guitar player Luiz Carlos Borges. The festival was set in Santa Rosa, an agri-business town located at Northwestern border of RS and Argentina. From the very beginning, this festival established a reputation among musicians and festivalgoers as a competition for the best composers of nativist music. His mentor took special care in promoting the event, selecting the jury, and providing a good infrastructure to the performances. At first some of his peers felt suspicious that a nativist festival could be successful in a town dominated by a population of German immigrant-descendants, which they believed to lack the "Gaucho style" of the traditional pampa ranch-towns, such as Uruguaiana, the birth place of the matrix of all nativist festivals, the Califórnia da Canção Nativa (created in 1970).

In spite of this "identity problem", the festival succeeded in its first year and did not stop to grow. Perhaps, one of the reasons for this success was the fact that the population of Santa Rosa had a solid economic situation achieved through the soy-beans agri-business and which allowed the city authorities to unambiguously promote a "nativist project" as their contribution to enrich the RS cultural scene. In addition, cash prizes were higher than in other festivals; the top prize was a brand new car offered by a local dealer.

But the high reputation of Musicanto did not reside only in its good economic conditions; it was also due to the personal prestige enjoyed by the mentor figure (Borges) among his colleagues and admirers as an outstanding musician, well versed both in RS and the River Plate area musical genres and rhythms. His performances with distinguished musicians such as the Brazilian accordion player Sivuca, or the Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa, whom he brought for the first time to Brazil to give a concert that gathered 10000 people in the1984 Musicanto, helped to shape the image of Musicanto as an event which strives for high musical quality.

Like other nativist festivals, Musicanto had its guidelines centered on "the incentive of the nativist art of RS". This can be noticed e.g. on the aims established for the event:"the projection of the nativist music of RS to Brazil and South America, ranging from those expressions that have their historical origins on pastoralism to the contemporary stage of expression and social dynamics that is being reached via the the spirit of free creation of our artists" (Regulamento, 4º Musicanto, Santa Rosa 1986, art.2, item d); as well as on the stated norms for song composition: "the creation and the performance of the competing songs have to obey the traditional Rio-grandense rhythms..." (Ibidem, art. 17). However, the strictness to these rules was relative. In practice, the move towards openness or tradition became more a function of the jury’s profile, which in the case of Musicanto was Borges's responsibility to appoint. The mix of "progressives" and "conservatives" was clearly stated in the 1986 jury composition.They were chosen among musicians and lyricists with well-defined positions in the regional cultural scene so that any charges of bias could be dismissed.

All these factors contributed for Musicanto gradually escaping from the ordinary patterns of other nativist festivals. Hence, Musicanto became a charged arena for debates on tradition versus innovation in music creation, receiving simultaneous support and attacks from people following the nativist movement. A case in point is demonstrated by the discourse of the participants. In each particular festival, they pick up on a theme that throughout the event is subjected to commentaries, critiques, and polemics. In the case of the 1986 Musicanto, the preferred issues were the experimentalist character of the songs and their inadequacy to a festival that had the word nativismoin its title.

Strong criticisms and resistance to accept new musical projects could be heard from the audience gathered in the campsite as well as in the theater in which the competition took place. In the park area in which close to 400 tents were set, I had the opportunity to circulate around small groups of campers to talk about their participation in the 4º Musicanto. Festivalgoers expressed constantly their discontentment with the distance of the festival from nativism and consequently from its public. The openness [abertura] of the competition to what participants called "urban music" was considered a sign of the festival musical weakness and one of the causes for their lack of interest to follow the competition. Moreover, their dissatisfaction and frustration in regard to the music was intertwined with bitter complaints about the "social discrimination" (their own term) imposed by the costs on tickets to the competition and campsite. Since these issues were brought together during the conversations, it was quite easy to perceive that these accounts were ultimately expressing the participants' protest that their musical interests and taste did not count because they were not part of the city's social elite that was managing the festival. As one young men, who identified himself as a bank employee, stated,

(…) there is a kind of 'apartheid' in the Musicanto; we feel discriminated because we can neither afford to pay the tickets nor hear the songs here in the campsite. They [the organizers] said that the songs would be performed here too, but it did not work out. I don't think that they are interested to perform here. They [the organizers] do not need it. It is not their interest to show these songs in the campsite; what they really want is to sell the Musicanto album outside RS. In short, there are two festivals, that of the Centro Cívico for the authorities, the elite of the town, the outside visitors, and that of the campsite for the rest of us.

Another man, working as a clerk for the city administration, and camping with family and friends, articulated similar concerns on the festival. This was in a group of 10 people, in which some participated on the conversation reinforcing each other's views, but let this person take the lead:

The songs composed to this festival do not have the public in mind. It is missing a definition to the competition. I would like to see the jury and the committee stating clearly what kind of music is suitable for the competition, for the true nativist music is being kept aside. I have been here every year following the festival. The first Musicanto was the best! The third one started to become distant from the nativismo and from the povão [ the masses, the non-elite people]. Now the songs are more 'urban' and have lots of arrangements. It's all arrangement! Those who don't follow that, don't have a chance. Have you heard about GrupoAmericanto? It is a very good nativist group from Santa Rosa. They were not selected to the finals. That's a shame. Today, a musician to take part in the Musicanto has to produce 'showy arrangements', and bring a pile [um monte] of instruments to the stage.

In the camping bar, a kind of meeting point between the campers and the "curiosos" (the visitors) I met a senior high-school student who elaborated on the "ambiguity" between the label nativismo and the actual musical competition in the following manner:

The name nativism should be dropped from the Musicanto official name, for the songs chosen to the competition do not have anything to do with nativism. I even think that it is worth to have this abertura. I am not against "urban music", but the festival needs to be defined. I can understand this abertura to new musical proposals [novas propostas musicais], but the people from Santa Rosa do not care about that. I believe that the festivals dedicated to música xucra should continue so that the songster from RS will not get lost. If the festivals concentrate on renovation only, the people will forget the [traditional] songster.

From the perspective of the audience in the Centro Cívico, there was also mixed feelings regarding the song parade. This audience was small (around 500 people) and formed basically by musicians' families and friends, the media representatives, including music critics from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro invited to observe the event, and the Santa Rosenses who were connected with the organization - the mayor, city council representatives, the commercial sponsors, and their families.

The high price of the tickets was really selective (US$ 17 for four nights). Audience members could be easily ranked by their display of expensive formal wear, which contrasted, sharply with the Gaucho outfits of the more orthodox participants. Their presence seemed to confirm the commentary of the camper which referred to the existence of the "two Musicantos," -- " that people in the Centro Cívico is more interested to be seen, than to listen to the music."

Yet it would not be fair to extend this comment to all participants. During the intermission time, people would circulate in the small lobby room to meet the competitors and exchange their impressions. It was in one of these occasions that I could registered the following comment of a 43 year old high-school teacher from Santa Rosa:

Unfortunately this year, the Musicanto has not yet fulfilled our expectations. We came here to see a spectacle if not better, at least at the same level of the three previous events. I ask you: where are the accordions, where are our traditionalist garments and everything else that defines the gaucho man? Our artists changed completely, and I did not like this change. I hope the Musicanto either continues to be what it was or at least receives immediately a definition by dropping the term nativismo.

This lady's reaction was confirmed by the audience's behavior during the nights prior to the finals. Those more traditional songs - the gauchinhas- were received more enthusiastically. Indeed the audience's vote for the most popular song ended up with OsFilhos de Don José (The sons of Don José) whose text alluded to the mixing between Brazilians and Hispanics living at the southern borderlands. Though the jury did not include it among the 12 finalists it received the preference of the public for two reasons: a) it was a traditional nativist song, played with acoustic instruments only (accordion, guitar, bombo), b) it was performed by the Grupo Americanto native of Santa Rosa.

In contrast to the audience members who manifested their disappointment to the less traditional character of the songs, and did not seem very motivated to follow the competition, especially in the campsite, the group of musicians and songwriters in general were pleased with the opportunity to hear new things.

Despite the regionalist rhetoric of its rules, Musicanto was undergoing a transitional stage in terms of the profile of its competitors. In 1986 it attracted a heterogeneous group of musicians in terms of career, musical skills, and information. One could observe that for the composers the festival became a meeting point for exchanging or gathering ideas for future songs and for debating their positions on song aesthetics. The attention was all centered in following the presentation of the competing (or rival) songs, to intermission time commentaries, and criticisms in each other's work. As a matter of fact, the group of competitors did not demonstrate much interest talking to outsiders, besides the interviews to local radio stations and newspapers. Their conversations denoted that there was a clear intra-group dispute to set hegemonic ideas on artistic creation that it did not matter to discuss with outsiders. The festival was actually a field of power for musicians to use their symbolic capital to accrue to their prestige within the competition and within the group to each they belonged.

Because the pre-selection process favored those songs not so attached to the regional ideals of other festivals, it caught by surprise some composers who during the competition realized that they were a minority. As a heard one member of the jury saying, the number of gauchinhashad diminished that year. From the 320 songs sent to the pre-selection process, only 60 were in that category. The 32 songs selected to the festival included only nine traditional nativist songs. This fact caused some protest and counter-attacks among the group of competitors which ultimately indexes their distinct conceptions regarding song creation.

The well respected regionalist poet/songwriter Aparício da Silva Rillo, whose competing song was on the side of traditional repertoire, was one of the outspoken persons against the experimental character of the 1986 Musicanto:

The experimental musicians are taking over the festival; they are forgetting that there is a public out there and they seem to me concerned only with themselves: they are composing for each other. The experimentation is valid, but these guys should start from something identifiable with RS and then expand their creativity, otherwise the public will be -- indeed is being -- kept out of the game. If Musicanto is going to be a festival for [musical] experiments, then it should drop its title of 'Nativismo' so that it does not confuse people (Interview, Musicanto, 1986)

Representing the other side of the argument, composer/poet Sérgio Napp, who is a veteran winner of nativist festivals and was also competing in the 4º Musicanto, declared to a local radio station during the broadcast of the festival:

We cannot go around throwing stones at the Musicanto. It is necessary to wait and get used to the idea of innovation. The festival is going in the right way. Some people do not interpret nativismo correctly: it is being confused with traditionalism. Native is what comes from the artist, independently either of genre or form. Musical, instrumental and poetic invention does not have frontiers... I have already created many songs such as Esse Gaiteiro [This Accordion-player], Baile de Candieiro [Ball of the Candlelight] in which appear the accordion and the Rio-grandense characteristics. But sometimes we put on stage other musical forms, and it does not mean that they are not native. This is Musicanto: it is distinct from the other 50 festivals that take place every year in our state, for it provides this openness to try out.

The opinions expressed above by a diverse mixture of people with distinct backgrounds are important to attest how the aesthetic ideals exposed in the discourse of participants respond to distinct levels of interest regarding music making. The group of song producers and musicians metaphorically identified as "urbans," "experimentalists," value their technical improvement and the widening of their musical experience as a means to set a professional career; their opponents linger on the issue of musical preservation through the reproduction of the musical models consecrated by the mainstream of nativist festivals.

On the other hand, the general public wanted to gratify themselves with sonic experiences that within the festival frame did not clash with their appreciation for the regional culture. They identify themselves with what had already been internalized as "authentic" music through their exposure to other similar events, through mass media diffusion and socialization process.

The making of Brasilhana

 The song Brasilhana represented a compromise with these opposing poles. Performed on the first night of the festival, it was considered right from the beginning by the press and the group of composers as the probable winning song. The feeling that this was a strong candidate to the top prize was confirmed by the end of the third preliminary night when all the competing songs were performed and none of them seemed to have matched the appeal of Brasilhana. Talo Pereyra, an Argentine musician who has been living in Rio Grande do Sul for 12 years composed the song along with poet/journalist Robson Barenho, a native of RS. It was performed by a well reputed nativist singer Neto Fagundes, accompanied by four percussionists, one bandoneon player, a sax player, a flutist and the composer himself in the ovation guitar.

Fellow composerspresent in the festival defined it as a grande sacada, i.e. an idea that is quite simple, that works really well, but which nobody had thought it before. The curious mixture of samba-milonga rhythms and the combination of timbres corresponding to an Afro-Brazilian-Hispanic musical mix (percussion+ guitar+bandoneon) were single out as the catchy elements of the song.

In its first performance at Musicanto, Brasilhana was announced by the host speakers as a milonga brasileira e castelhana, “an expression of the cultural and musical democracy at the southern borderlands of Brazil and Argentina”. On stage, an instrumental paraphernalia consisting of "a mini-samba school"(pandeiro - tambourine, cuíca - friction drum, surdo - bass drum, apitos - whistles), guitar, bandoneon and wind instruments(flute, saxophone) indexed the crossing-over of Afro-Brazilian-Hispanic musical traditions.Combined with the performers' dressing code -- a mixture of "cool" gaucho attire (t-shirt with baggy pants and espadrille-shoes) and the transnational jeans/t-shirts – they framed the festive/carnivalesque mood of the song. The strongly rhythmic performance, the rhythmic syncopations of a carnival samba and cross-rhythms of Afro-American musics associated with timbres, rhythms and vocal style that are indexical of regional genres (such as the milonga pampeanapatterns of the guitar) paralleled the text subject matter. At the end of the performance, the song was received with strong applause and cheers from the audience.

Indeed listeners tended to mention the beat (“o ritmo”) and the singer's performance with the ensemble as their points of attachment to the song. Their familiarity with the singer and his vocal style – the heightened borderland accent (a crossing over of Portuguese language with intonation patterns of the Spanish spoken at the RS-Argentina border), use of his full vocal intensity(a local male vocal style[5]) seemed to have eased the reception of the song. Lyrics or the theme itself were not commented upon. Perhaps, the poetic nature of the text was responsible for that. It did not contain a straight narrative fixed around a character or an everyday situation, as in many nativist song texts, rather, it was structured around poetic images (see text below). The only straight and easy to follow reference to the theme appears in the second stanza -- a comparison between the mixture of the Brazilian and Spanish languages with carnival. Nonetheless, the rhythmic and instrumental combination seemed to be more salient to the receptors because of the indexical and iconic links with well known national and regional musical expressions as it was mentioned above.

Actually the "discourse of the song" highlights its instrumental and rhythmic arrangement for the author used very economical means to set the music to text -- two musical periods to four stanzas with short poetic lines which are sang twice in the same order. The harmonic scheme throughout the song is supported by tonic/dominant chords (Fm/C7) with the exception of the refrain. Hence, listeners are exposed five times to the same instrumental interlude (with slight variations each time) and twice to each tune-text combination. The prominence of the instrumental interludes was demonstrated by listeners' intense responses to their carnivalesque mood by whistling, clapping, and dancing at these spots,rather than at the actual refrain.

Music: ||: Interl |A|A|Interl |A|B:|| Coda

Text:||:----|St.1|St 2|----|St 3|Rx:||---


Stanza 1
Onde vi
Estrelas nuas e haraganas
Quase iguais a ti
Era um rancho
Ou um país, a nossa cama
Nos confins do Chuí
Where I saw
naked and wandering stars
Almost like you
was (in) a ranch
or a country, our cradl
in the frontiers of Chuí
Stanza 2
Eram línguas
Brasileira e Castelhana
De sabor igual
Numa festa
Tão bonita e tão profana
Quanto o carnaval
This meeting between
Brazilian and Castillian language,
both having the same taste
[It happens]in a festival
So nice and so profane.
as carnival
Stanza 3
Eram homens
E fuzis violando as rosas
Violentando a luz
Eram menos
Que as manhãs maravilhosas
Que a paixão produz
They were men and guns
violating the roses
violating the light
They were less[in comparison to]
the beautiful mornings
produced by passion
Um romance
Estrangeiro e suburbano
Era igual ao dia
Era claro
Como as noites em que amamos,
E a democracia!
A foreign and suburban
was like daylight
It was clear
like the nights we make love,
And [then] the democracy !...

The repetition of the same tune by the singer was thus counter-acted by variations on the combination of musical timbres, and some rhythmic markers characteristic of carnival-samba (syncopated whistles, "snores" of the cuíca, "repiques") imprinted to the song during the competition live performances. As Bauman explains, “ every performance will have a unique and emergent aspect, depending on the distinct circumstances at play within it” (1991:4). For instance, in the premiere performance of Brasilhana, the cuíca rhythmic patterns could be heard more consistently throughout the song; on the second performance, however, the interjections of the melodic instruments - flute, sax, and bandoneon were more salient and more syncopated than the first one, though the percussion ensemble was still keeping the rhythmic drive of the song. Also, a comparison of the two overall performances during the competition shows that the first one tended to be more “Brazilian”, and the second one more Afro-Hispanic due to the more Afro-Caribbean-like sax and drum improvisations. All these nuances reiterate the emergent character of performance.

On the other hand, despite the clear indexical/iconic signs at the sonic level, direct word-painting between text and music were not prominently explored. One exception is the word carnival on the last line of Stanza 2; after its utterance, a high pitch carnival-whistle is heard with the syncopated rhythmic figures used on samba schools instrumental ensembles. The word democracy, which is the last word uttered by the singer (and a kind of political manifesto of the songwriter, a well known journalist and political activist) was also marked musically. Obviously, it is not a case of word painting, but of musical markedness by means of harmonic dissonance (a minor second added to the tonic in root position), and the prolongation of the last syllable (over a sustained note).

The song composer explained after the festival was over how he conceived the song, and how he saw its contribution to the nativist movement. His testimony illustrates the interplay between intentionality (agency), culture, and society (structural constraints) in the making of a musical artifact[6] that tries to negotiate multiple identities in a context in which this was not the interaction rule, as we will see below. Once more, his commentaries illustrate clearly the social friction embedded on the production/reception ofnativist festival songs:

It is ironic that it was up to a castelhano [Castillian, used as synonymous of Hispanic] to bring the samba to the center of attention [botar ele na roda] at the Musicanto. Brasilhana was originally called Brasileira e Castelhana, but since we want to pass the idea of a synthesis -- the integration of a Latin-American musical manifestation such as the milonga, with the Brazilian samba, we summed it up in [the title]...

I think we need to establish a point of contact between our regionalism and the Brazilian [national] element. We have to fight against this ideology that has taken over RS and which is xenophobic, racist, separatist, and sectarian. RS, despite its historical particularities and despite being a border State, is Brazil. When in the Musicanto was heard the roar of the cuíca [friction drum], when the surdo [bass drum] and the pandeiro [tambourine] entered the scene, the festival truly ended because Brasilhana imposed itself. And it imposed itself because it is Brazilian as well as Gaúcha that is to say Brazilian as well as Castillian.

Brasilhana was born from the fusion of many elements that I have learned all these years living here. Ivaldo gave me the harmony and the carnival; João Palmeiro and Toneco introduced me to jazz. I added to that what I brought with me from Argentina and then I produced Brasilhana.

The idea behind all that, if there is one, is that our Gaucho music is in a dead end. It is an art that is guided and subjected to a ruling system. It is necessary to invent, to dare, but the artist is not receiving this freedom to take off and fly. This is the mission of an artist. Whenever I am on stage, I am being heard as well as I am hearing the public. I am never sure whether I will be applauded or booed. I respect the public a lot. They are the only ones able to judge an artwork, to award a prize or not to a music in a festival. This is my mission because I play for people. From the very first performance of Brasilhana I felt that it touched the public somehow. When we were in the finals the vibration was there with people dancing, clapping and shouting "Já ganhou" ("It's the winner!"). And Brasilhana won. (Interview by Talo Pereyra, Santa Rosa, 1986).

Post-competition commentaries

It is important to point out that the musical aesthetics favored in Musicanto generated strong reactions after the festival was over. The nativist magazine Tarca published a review article of the festival in which the writer defined the Musicanto 1986 as a festival of "outstanding musical quality and scarce nativism." For him, musicians demonstrated an eagerness for musical change which made them to forget the initial purposes of the festival, i.e. " to be a festival of 'native' art, rather than a copy of the North-American music which is heard on the FM stations throughout the country" (Unsigned article. Revista Tarca[Porto Alegre], 3 [16]: 20-21, 1986).

Along the same lines, one reader from the state capital saw in Musicanto a Rock festival, which put in jeopardy the values that the "true" Gauchos fight to maintain alive. He wrote to a local periodical a plea calling for an immediate intervention of the MTG (Gaucho Traditionalist Movement)[7]. The rhetorical strategies of the Traditionalist discourse are once more employed to bring awareness "of the threat to local traditions" by "alien influences".

For us Traditionalists, the Musicanto was a tremendous disappointment. If we think about the last Califórnia in Uruguaiana [15ª Califórnia, 1985] this is not unusual for we will note the presence of these infiltrations whose objective is to uproot our culture. Regretfully, Musicanto was genuinely a Rock festival [um festival roqueiro].

We need to open our eyes: we need to watch for our Farroupilha memory. Don't let half a dozen people degrade what took years to construct by the Gauchos who are conscious of the farrapo duty.

There is a rumor that in the next Califórnia a special guest is to be invited to give a concert. This guest is no less than Caetano Veloso! The MTG has to do something very urgently; if not, in two or three years our festivals are going to be dedicated to Brazilian popular musics.

Silence is consenting. MTG, the cry for something to be done is roaring out of the throats of the true traditionalists. Don't let the foreign influences shake the structure and the magic of the true traditionalism (E. J. R.Zero Hora. November 27, 1986).

Interestingly enough, the threat to local culture is not only from abroad (rock music), but also from Brazilian musics. The text revives metaphorically the idea of protecting the regional borders against national/foreign cultural invasion. The invocation of the Farroupilha memory(the RS separatist revolution which took place in 1835-1845) and the Farrapo duty(the defense of RS by the people) is symptomatic of the symbolic link that the contemporary social imagination attributes to cultural creation and the warrior culture and historical warfare of RS. Brasilhana’s textual and musical discourse tried to overcome the local musical boundaries as well as the ideals of authenticity proclaimed in regionalist discourse. Even appealing to a common cultural heritage of the southern cone of America by way of mixing musical and linguistic signs from both sides of the border, the manisfesto did not reached the common sense experience of “the cult to the local traditions” so predominant in the RS regionalist quarters at that moment. This clash betweenpoiesisandesthesisrequires further interpretation.

Cultural and Transcultural Coding on Metacommentaries of Song Performances

The ethnographic experience of the nativist musical production exhibited through the song festivals shows that this repertoire is submitted to a continuous process of language mediation between what is heard and what is received through listening. To talk about, to discuss these sound and textual forms means that those directly involved in the music making -- musicians, singers, audience, jury members, music critics, mass media -- create and reproduce a metaphoric discourse to categorize, qualify or disqualify festival songs as a whole or specific musical signifiers within these songs.A substantial portion of the discourse produced and consumed about this music reveals the hegemony of gaucho pastoral culture in the linguistic markedness on musical metacommentaries. As a matter of fact, we could point out here the classical anthropological opposition between the realms of nature and culture. The elements of this opposition could also include an analogic parallel between the social order and musical conceptions, based on the rhetorics expressed at the discursive practices of opposing groups. On the side of nature is

  • ACOUSTIC SOUND = musical authenticity (which index the rural, the pastoral) = normative behavior, hierarchical social order.

In contrast, the realm of culture is represented by

  • DIGITAL SOUND = musical innovation = urban modern society = anti-normative behavior, democratic social order.

This process of metaphoric transposition from one realm of the social experience to another appears clearly at the level of the emic categories used by all classes of participants to talk about festival songs or regional music in general. Since there is a clear ideological dispute among participants to establish what is authentic/spurious or conversely, to praise musical innovation over conservatism in the competing songs, the result is a bipolarization of musical conceptions coded by a linguistic choice which denotes the esthetical position of the speaker. These regional linguistic markers used in the discourse about music[8] are important referents to understand their social articulations in and out of the musical realm. As Michel de Certeau points out in his analysis of writing and orality in the social uses of language, "the credibility of a discourse is what first makes believers act in accord with it. It produces practitioners. To make people believe is to make them act" (de Certeau 1984: 148).

The ethnographic data linked to Brasilhana (emic discourses of composers, performers, audience members, media) carry the marks of the contradictory messages encompassed within the same sonic code, in this case a song which purportedly mixed music signs from Afro/Brazilian/Hispanic musical traditions. From the side of the composer and performers of Brasilhana, there is a stated intention to create a collective symbol of identity for Brazilians and Hispanics of the river Plate area. The inter-musical relations carried by the music discourse, the intercultural meanings embedded in the song title and text (Brazilian + Castillian), as well as the mix of performers native of the River Plate area qualify Brasilhana itself as an ethnographic piece in the sense that it reveals an emic discourse (inscribed in music, songtext and performance) on the issue of transculturation.

This term coined back in the 1940s, by Cuban sociologist/ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz in his book ContrapunteoCubanodel Tabaco y el Azúcar, was a way to describe the processual character of the exchanges between African-European cultures in Cuba. In contradistinction to the more unilateral, metropolis-biased notions of acculturation/deculturation, Ortiz’s notion of transculturation emphasizes cultural exchange, cross-fertilization, that results in a total new phenomenon or reality.

It is not by chance that transculturation has been significantly reconsidered in the field of cultural and postcolonial studies. Mary Louise Pratt (1992), for instance, refers it as “a phenomenon of the contact zone” – those social spaces in which “ disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of dominance and subordination – like colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out across the globe today” (1992:4). While this lineage of thought focus on the hegemonic nature of the cultural contact between center and periphery , Brasilhana adds to this debate another perspective: the triadic relation Europe-Africa-America. This equation, expressed through the juxtaposition of a multiplicity of musical signs created under the cultural encounter between metropoles X peripheries as well as peripheries X peripheries, defies any classificatory system based on the premises of genuine, pure, original musical traits, so much favored in the Gaucho nativist movement.

Brasilhana, nevertheless, was conceived as a transcultural musical sign within a field of cultural contest (the disputes around tradition and authenticity in Gaucho regionalism). Hence, from the perspective of the audience, the transculturation message seems to have clashed against the myth of “pure authentic music of RS”. As the passages quoted above showed, this myth feeds a significant portion of the local imagination. The question of authenticity in nativist music is linked to a field of power in which “experts” in gaucho regionalism (e.g. folklorists, poets, journalists) and several musicians claiming legitimacy and authoritydue to their strong ties to the micro-cultural pampa region (the cradle of the mythic figure of the gaucho-peon) have historically lobbied State institutions to impose their knowledge and personal experience as the most legitimate model of cultural representation for the entire region. The resistance to “innovation” or the fear of loosing the traditional gaucho elements in this music appears more openly among those social groups attached to songs that reproduce musical formulae, which were dissiminated and reproduced by competitors tied to the ruling system of many nativist festivals. In other words, we find here the classical reproduction of the aesthetic debate centered on imitation (mimesis) versus free creativity. Whereas the aesthetics of Brasilhana plays overtly the game of transculturalism, cultural diversity, and multiple identities, heightening the mix of Afro-American-European musical encounters, the aesthetic realism, that rules the idea of regional identity, effaces the local musical diversity and tries to impose an homogeneous musical protocol by means of a “discursive formation”: the Gaucho regionalism. Paradoxically, thinking from an etic perspective, diversity, interculturalism is at the core of the stylistic parameters of those musical genres which the guardians of tradition tag as “authentic music of Rio Grande do Sul” -- the vaneiras (habanera), polkas, rancheiras, schottisches, milongas, valsas that reached southern Brazil in a worldwide transculturation process during the 19th century. Reflexivity brought into the practice of anthropologists, has demonstrated how much analytical notions of purity in social anthropology, as well as in Folklore studies and Ethnomusicology, are indebted to racial-racist theories of the last century. In the recent revival of Gaucho regionalism in southern Brazil, the narratives that surrounded the debate on nativist repertoires demonstrated exemplary the circulation of this lineage of thought and the weight ofessentialism in the representation of gauchoness.


  1. Published as "Brasilhana: la creación de un signo musical transcultural” in: Desacatos 12: Expresiones y sonidos de los pueblos - Revista de Antropologia Social, 2003, URL: [§]
  2. According to the latest census ( 1991), the population of Rio Grande do Sul is around 9 million people. 30% lives in rural areas and 70% in urban areas. The state capital, Porto Alegre, has approximately 1.500.000 habs. Despite the growth of poverty indexes in Brazil, rio-grandense society still maintains one of the best income distribution rates, and a large middle class population. These economic figures also help to explain the expansion in recent decades of a local cultural industry based on the marketing of Gaucho traditions and regional values. [§]
  3. The competition setting helps to bridge the gap between social imagination and social experience. The festival campsites simulate an urban environment ( the canvas city) with streets, a city hall, medical facilities, banks and grocery stores; they propitiate the chance of reenactment of pastoral life withinmodern conditions of leisure. Dressed as gaucho-peons, hundreds of people circulate in these spaces with their maté-tea pots (cuias), attending barbecues and rounds of music making. The externalization of gauchismo through these emblems(rejected by urban middle classes as signs of coarseness ) constitutes what Bourdieu(1980: 69-70) defines as the revolt of the stigma through its use; a social, economic and symbolic foundation which brings cohesion and mobilization to the stigmatized group. [§]
  4. I havefullyanalyzedthese historical movements centered around the mythical figure of the gaucho-peon, whiche merged among local intellectualsat the turn of the century, as well as their implications in the construction of a regional identity in Lucas, 1990. [§]
  5. This singing style is marked by vocal tension and intensity and it its emically recognized as derived from the bounds developed between men and pastoral life in the pampa region. [§]
  6. Agency is a basic issue in contemporary social theory for it inquiries the links between individual and collective social action, the ways that power and meaning are negotiated by social agents in their structural scenarios (as discussed, for instances, by social thinkers such as A.Giddens, P.Bourdieu, Jean and John Comaroff). We bring it here to remind the dynamic character of human choice and action imprinted in the way that music practitioners take decisions, change positions, and place themselves in the interpretation of social life through music-making. In other words, processes that imply the cultural intervention of music creators, rather than that of social structure alone implied in notions of macro determination of music industry, or governmental policies in music production/consumption. [§]
  7. The MTG was created in 1948 by a group of young students with the intention to cultivate the Gaucho traditions, i.e., those values and expressions associated with the pastoral culture of the pampa region. It reached a wide audience throughout the RS State thanks to the creation of social clubs dedicated to this purpose, the so called Centros de Tradições Gaúchas (CTGs). Today there are CTGs spread all over the country and even abroad ( EUA, Japan, Portugal, Bolivia). The social dimension and prestige of the MTG, with an estimated number of one million affiliates in RS, its links with the State apparatus via Instituto Gaúcho de Tradição e Folclore(founded in 1970 by MTG demand and pressure) helped to establish it as an authority in matters of regional culture and history; manynativist festival organizers were backed up by MTG in the elaboration of its ruling system. For further analysis on this subject see Lucas,1990. [§]
  8. Some examples from the field: música gaudéria = traditional, authentic, like the ancient gaucho; música campeira = traditional, that comes from the country people, the authentic gauchos; música pampeana= idem; música de gaitaço = pejorative, in the festivals it refers to folksy songs that rely mostly onthe accompaniment of the button or keyboard accordion; gauchinhas = pejorative, traditional, folksy dance music or song.[§]


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