The Ins and Outs of Cultura: How Bands Voice Their Relationships to the State-Sponsored Music Scene in Recife, Brazil



This article compares two musical groups from Recife, the capital of the Northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco. The first group, which I call Banda Recifolinda is a professional, middle-class pop band that combines international styles, such as Afro Beat and rock, with Brazilian rhythms. The second group, Maracatu Afro, plays maracatu, a local carnivalesque genre. The groups integrate musical activities into their community outreach efforts that target young people in Maracatu Afro's marginalized neighborhood. Despite their apparent differences, both groups benefit from state sponsorship because they qualify as cultura, an official category that emphasizes artistic and especially musical expressions of regional identity. I demonstrate how each group constructs its relationship to the discourses of cultura during performances and rehearsals. Specifically, I address how band members’ voicing strategies (Bakhtin, Agha, and Silverstein) construe them as insiders or outsiders of cultura and within Brazilian society, more generally. While Banda Recifolinda primarily aligns to cultura discourses by rhetorically distancing themselves from the commercialized dance music styles which the state does not endorse, Maracatu Afro's alignment to Afrocentric, politicized discourses challenge the ostensibly inclusive premise of cultura, and express their perceived exclusion from Brazilian society. The contrasts between each groups’ voicing strategies reveal that cultura encompasses multiple paths for inclusion and exclusion that shape the ways in which these bands participate in the primarily state managed cultura scene. Since cultura is the combined result of national policies and cultural transformations from Brazil's redemocratization period, investigating how bands orient to cultura discourses not only offers analytic access into how contemporary actors negotiate the increasing objectification of culture (Comaroff and Comaroff, Dávila), but also how cultural participation influences how citizens interactionally envision, practice, and orient to democracy in Brazil (Avelar and Dunn, Moehn).