A Nation Sings Itself: São Paulo Voices and the Canons of Brazilian Song

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Beausoleil-Morrison, Rachel Chantal




A Nation Sings Itself: São Paulo voices and the canons of Brazilian song Música popular brasileira (or MPB) is a category of music that holds a particular stature in Brazilian culture, between pop and classical. Although the criteria and definition of MPB have changed since the first use of the term in the 1960s, there nevertheless remains a set of core values that pertain to this music. MPB is foremost a national category of urban popular music that is said to be 'of quality' (i.e. has artistic value), and not primarily motivated by commercial interests. It includes many genres and musical movements, most of which consist of singing with accompaniment; for instance bossa nova, samba, jovem guarda (young guard), Vanguarda paulista (São Paulo Vanguard) can now all be considered MPB. This dissertation focuses on the intérpretes, or the vocal component, of the composer- centred practice of MPB, addressing questions of subjectivity and authorship. This leads us to examine pertinent issues that permeate the topic, such as gendering, racialization and class distinctions. A vast majority of singers in MPB are women, while composers are mostly men. Focusing on the lead singing role affords us the opportunity to highlight the creative input of intérpretes, as co-creators in the realm of Brazilian song, and to explore the ways in which the Canon of Brazilian popular music is constructed. It also allows us to call attention to the criteria, or canons, that comprise this music. This interdisciplinary ethnographic study of São Paulo MPB singers shows that there is no singular 'way' that can be called 'Brazilian singing', but rather ways that are associated with different cultural groups within Brazil. The roles in MPB are largely siloed along gendered and racialized lines. My analysis concludes that MPB is a middle-brow concert music that is mapped as national, providing a symbol of national identity that is passed to subsequent generations via various canonizing forces, especially the educational system.


Cultural Anthropology
Latin American History




Carleton University

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Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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