Posts Tagged ‘John Burdick’

The Color of Sound: Book Review

May 14, 2013

Burdick, John. 2013. The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil. New York: NYU Press.

By: James S. Bielo (Miami University)

 

Eight young men gather on a Sao Paulo rooftop – surveying the city’s sprawling jumble of ramshackle houses, the periferia – writing rhymes and composing gospel raps. A congregation is divided as they hear and see a samba band perform: some uncomfortable with this being worship, others dance joyously yet careful not to sway too much. Hips don’t lie. Gospel singers view videos of U.S. gospel choirs performing in church, and talk excitedly about which techniques to emulate. Scenes like this form the ethnographic backbone of John Burdick’s The Color of Sound: a comparative study of how blackness, musical artistry, and evangelical Christianity intersect.

Burdick’s ethnography traverses ten poor and working-class neighborhoods in Sao Paulo: Brazil’s largest city and the world’s eighth largest. The book derives from nine months of fieldwork (2003-2005), and focuses on a particular racial-religious identity. Negros and negras: Afro-descendent Brazilians who are historically and structurally marginalized throughout the nation. Evangelicos: Protestant Christians from a variety of denominations, including millenialists (Seventh-Day Adventists), “classic Pentecostals” (8), and neo-Pentecostal prosperity churches. The core question that moves the analysis is this:

“To what extent may evangelicos develop black pride from within the ideological matrix of evangelical Christianity” (11)?

To answer this, Burdick concentrates on a certain kind of religious actor: music artists. It is in the musical lives of evangelicos, he argues, where a marked potential to develop racial consciousness exists. Burdick compares musicians in three genres: gospel rappers, gospel sambistas, and gospel singers. The striking differences among these three provide the book’s biggest yield. Ethnographically, Burdick does not limit himself to polished performances; instead, he tracks “rehearsals, backstage gatherings, and everyday transits…workshops, classes, seminars, and trainings” (16). The behind-the-scenes feel that results is one of the book’s shining qualities. Theoretically, the core argument is this: “in order to understand the role of music in the formation of collective identities, we must attend to how musical practices and discourses articulate and generate ideas and feelings about history, place, and the body” (19).

The central finding of Burdick’s ethnography is that the three genres – rap, samba, gospel – offer evangelicos very different sets of possibilities. To begin, as genres they carry different social meanings and histories. Rap in Sao Paulo bears much the same weight that rap bears in Tokyo (Condry 2006) or Nairobi (Ntarangwi 2009): urban hipness, youth agency, cultural critique, and a sense of locality. Samba, on the other hand, is dangerous for evangelicos. The genre is intimately associated with sexuality and party culture; it is the most difficult to redeem. In this way, gospel is samba’s ideological opposite: thoroughly and definitively spiritual, primed and ready for Christian ends.

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Burdick, “The Color of Sound”

March 25, 2013

Burdick, John. 2013. The Color of Sound: Race, Religion, and Music in Brazil. New York: NYU Press.

Publisher’s 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.

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