The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and National Identity in Brazil / Edition 1

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Samba is Brazil's "national rhythm," the foremost symbol of its culture and nationhood. To the outsider, samba and the famous pre-Lenten carnival of which it is the centerpiece seem to showcase the country's African heritage. Within Brazil, however, samba symbolizes the racial and cultural mixture that, since the 1930s, most Brazilians have come to believe defines their unique national identity.
But how did Brazil become "the Kingdom of Samba" only a few decades after abolishing slavery in 1888? Typically, samba is represented as having changed spontaneously, mysteriously, from a "repressed" music of the marginal and impoverished to a national symbol cherished by all Brazilians. Here, however, Hermano Vianna shows that the nationalization of samba actually rested on a long history of relations between different social groups—poor and rich, weak and powerful—often working at cross-purposes to one another.
A fascinating exploration of the "invention of tradition," The Mystery of Samba is an excellent introduction to Brazil's ongoing conversation on race, popular culture, and national identity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This very readable book provides an interpretation of an aspect of the Brazilian culture that has remained unexplored until now.


An important contribution . . . . to today's lively multidisciplinary discussion about race, nation, and popular culture.

Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y El Caribe

Hermano Vianna's new book is a valiant effort to make sense of both [Brazil's music and culture].

Lingua Franca

A wonderfully knowledgeable and thoughtful investigation of how Brazil and samba helped create each other.

Alma Guillermoprieto, author of Samba

A subtle and convincing analysis of the connection between popular culture and its manipulation by the elite.

Thomas E. Skidmore, Brown University

Ben Ratliff
The Mystery of Samba presents a densely argued academic thesis, written for a Brazilian academic audience.... The most important point in the book is one that Vianna never simply states, but it's nevertheless the tune you're whistling when you finish: Popular music isn't only what one turn to when taking a rest from important things like writing social history. It can actually work, if sometimes indirectly, to change the world.
Lingua Franca
Library Journal
The "mystery" of the title is samba's transformation "from infamous outcast to (virtually official) national emblem." Brazilian anthropologist Vianna here casts a dry postmodern eye on issues of cultural invention and the identification of "authentic" folk idioms for political and commercial purposes. His long essay discusses Brazilian nation building, cultural mediators, essentialist attitudes, and individual cultural theorists. Vianna concludes that establishing the "Kingdom of Samba" was a complex process, not controlled by any one segment of Brazilian society. For contrast, readers should look at Alma Guillermoprieto's passionate Samba (LJ 1/90), a poetic report from an outsider allowed to participate in the dance. Both treatments enhance understanding. For large public and academic collections.--Bonnie Jo Dopp, Univ. of Maryland Lib., College Park
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Hermano Vianna is a Brazilian anthropologist and writer who currently works in television.

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Table of Contents


Translator's Preface
Author's Preface to the U.S. Edition
Chapter 1. The Encounter
Chapter 2. The Mystery
Chapter 3. Popular Music and the Brazilian Elite
Chapter 4. The Unity of the Nation
Chapter 5. Race Mixture
Chapter 6. Gilberto Freyre
Chapter 7. The Modern Samba
Chapter 8. Samba of My Native Land
Chapter 9. Nowhere at All
Chapter 10. Conclusions

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