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The Color of Sound

The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil

John Burdick
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 237
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  • Book Info
    The Color of Sound
    Book Description:

    Throughout Brazil, Afro-Brazilians face widespread racial prejudice. Many turn to religion, with Afro-Brazilians disproportionately represented among Protestants, the fastest-growing religious group in the country. Officially, Brazilian Protestants do not involve themselves in racial politics. Behind the scenes, however, the community is deeply involved in the formation of different kinds of blackness - and its engagement in racial politics is rooted in the major new cultural movement of black music.In this highly original account, anthropologist John Burdick explores the complex ideas about race, racism, and racial identity that have grown up among Afro-Brazilians in the black music scene. By immersing himself for nearly a year in the vibrant worlds of black gospel, gospel rap, and gospel samba, Burdick pushes our understanding of racial identity and the social effects of music in new directions. Delving into the everyday music-making practices of these scenes, Burdick shows how the creative process itself shapes how Afro-Brazilian artists experience and understand their racial identities. This deeply detailed, engaging portrait challenges much of what we thought we knew about Brazil's Protestants,provoking us to think in new ways about their role in their country's struggle to combat racism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2313-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: Something ’Bout the Name of Jesus: Racial Meanings and Brazilian Evangelical Musical Scenes
    (pp. 1-28)

    I am in the home of Angélica, a gospel singer in her late twenties. It is late afternoon, and the light in her living room is dying, but neither of us is able to get up to turn on the overhead light, because we are in the vortex of a musical whirlpool, swept in circles by the recorded voice of Rance Allen. Angélica closes her eyes as Allen’s silvery baritone belts,

    There’s something ’bout the name of Jesus

    It is the sweetest name I know

    Angélica’s eyebrows rise and knit, as if she is asking a painful question. Allen’s voice...

  5. 1 We Are the Modern Levites: Three Gospel Music Scenes
    (pp. 29-58)

    Paulistarap (i.e., rap from São Paulo) has lived through four main periods, each distinguished by a different lyrical theme. From 1983 to 1987, paulista rap was primarily ludic and recreational, with no political agenda. From 1988 to 1994, it became heavily politicized, withnegritudestrongly emphasized. From 1995 to 2000, these themes became less central, the theme ofperiferiatook center stage, and gospel rap became a major tendency on the scene. Since 2000,paulistarap has grown more diverse, with many new styles and no clear thematic core, while the growth of gospel rap has continued unabated, influencing...

  6. 2 We Are All One in the Periferia: Blackness, Place, and Poverty in Gospel Rap
    (pp. 59-102)

    In late June 2003, I met Vilmar Junior, a twenty-two-year-old Pentecostal member of the Brazil for Christ church, dedicated rap MC, accomplished graffiti artist, and proud negro . We sat in a McDonald’s in downtown São Paulo, near the Praça da República, munching French fries. He sported dreadlocks, wire-framed spectacles, and a T-shirt emblazoned with a map of Africa. Every word he said was suffused with earnestness. I listened for nearly three hours, through the bustling lunch-hour rush into the quiet midafternoon, as he regaled me with denunciations of the sinfulness of racism, stories of how his rapping had changed...

  7. 3 The Flags of Jesus and Brazil: Body, History, and Nation in Samba Gospel
    (pp. 103-130)

    Marco Davi de Oliveira had recently published a book entitledThe Blackest Religion in Brazil.He was a bearded young Baptist minister, and I was sipping hot coffee from a tiny plastic cup in his church office in São Paulo while he spoke animatedly about the struggle against racism. I had read his book, which argued that evangelical churches were a key strategic front in the struggle. “If the church recognizes that blacks and whites receive different treatment in this country,” his book had concluded, “and that this wounds the conscience of God, Lord of all, other institutions will be...

  8. 4 A Voice So Full of Pain and Power: Black Gospel and Blackness
    (pp. 131-158)

    When black gospel artists in São Paulo engage in routine practices to master their art, forces of racial identity are unleashed. I argue in this chapter that an array of practices that belong to the black gospel scene shape the racial consciousness of artists, strengthening feelings of blackness, developing ideas about black history, and sharpening beliefs about the role of black people in God’s plan for humanity. To build my argument, in the first section I examine the practice of seeing videos of US black churches—for black gospel artists, a centralplaceof their scene—and argue that this...

  9. 5 The Bible Is Full of Prophecies: Black Evangelical Musicians and Black Politics
    (pp. 159-174)

    I have up to this point examined how the routine practices of different styles of black gospel music shape practitioners’ ideas about blackness. In so doing, I have limited myself to ideas about identity, history, and theology, steering clear, for the time being, of how such ideas translate into plans for the public sphere. The time has come to consider such plans, what one might call politics. What political views are embedded in the musical styles I have examined? To what extent and in what ways do these styles foment ideas for public action about black rights, grievances, needs, and...

  10. Conclusion: Evangelicalism, Blackness, and Music in Brazil
    (pp. 175-188)

    My aim in this study has been to tease out from the bundle of forces that form racial identity the specific strand of music-making. How, I asked, do the practices of music shape the racial identities of their practitioners? To investigate this question, I compared musicians from three different São Paulo music scenes, holding constant their color (all called themselves negro ) and religion (all were evangelicals). Here is what I found. First, being a gospel rapper means learning to identify with theperiferia,absorbing chronologically recent musical history, and deploying vocal skills that rappers claim to be available to...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 189-198)
    (pp. 199-214)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 215-226)
    (pp. 227-227)