Making Samba: A New History of Race and Music in Brazil
Marc Hertzman’s Making Samba offers a rich and detailed account of the birth of samba in post-slavery Brazil (particularly Rio de Janeiro), and samba’s rise through the early 20th century. Throughout, Hertzman introduces the reader to new sources and captivating stories that were clearly the result of intense archival work. These accounts are based not only on newspaper articles and books, but on contracts, Brazilian law, police records, and the records of various professional associations and regulatory bodies in Brazil. By incorporating such diverse sources into his analysis, Hertzman offers a revisionist history of samba that focuses on the genre as a cultural artifact that played a major role in the development of a Brazilian national identity.
Notably, Hertzman begins the book by explaining that although it moves chronologically and covers a broad swath of samba history, he “resisted the urge to draw a straight, uninterrupted line between 1916 and 2013.” Instead, Hertzman prefers to note similarities as evidence of the circularity of history, as “old problems resurfacing in new contexts and forms” (2). This mindset, which is common enough to writers of revisionist histories, not only allows Hertzman to explore how his various case studies inform larger issues of nation-building, intellectual property rights, and racial democracy, but also allows him to demonstrate both connections and fractures between these issues.
A crucial distinction between understandings of race in the United States and in Brazil lies in mixed-race relationships: while many areas of the United States believed that even “one drop” of black blood could “contaminate” the ostensible purity of white people, many in Brazil believed that racial mixtures had the potential to “whiten” the Afro-Brazilian population—eventually to extinction.
As the title suggests, Hertzman locates his stories around Brazil’s complicated racial politics. As a scholar of American music, I found Hertzman’s explanations of racial theories and theories of eugenics prevalent in Brazil to be particularly useful and easy to digest. Throughout, Hertzman sensitively explains the complex racial hierarchies, uncovering the racial stereotypes behind a myriad of labels, including malandro, mulato, moreno, negro, and crioulo. He explains that, unlike early European scholars of race “science,” Brazilian intellectuals argued that “racial mixture was not the liability that scholars to the north insisted it to be and was instead a potential means for social genetic improvement” (26). A crucial distinction between understandings of race in the United States and in Brazil lies in mixed-race relationships: while many areas of the United States believed that even “one drop” of black blood could “contaminate” the ostensible purity of white people, many in Brazil believed that racial mixtures had the potential to “whiten” the Afro-Brazilian population—eventually to extinction. Hertzman explains how these racial theories came to bear on Brazilian musicians through his close case studies of how samba musicians associated with various racial categories acted both for and against racial stereotypes in order to assert their own identities and professions. In these sections, Hertzman demonstrates an interest in making his book intelligible not only to scholars of Latin American history, but to North American historians as well.
The first three chapters offer a starting point for understanding the cultural, economic, and legal background behind the formation of the samba genre. Chapter one summarizes the post-slavery soundscape in Brazil, tracing lundu, a genre that indirectly served as samba’s primary influence, and is often called Brazil’s first “black” musical genre. Hertzman also introduces the history of state patronage of Brazilian music, quickly tracing “civilizing missions” from Portuguese colonists to the Brazilian population. By juxtaposing lundu with European classical music, Hertzman offers a useful way of understanding a legacy of racial stereotypes embedded in musical descriptions in Brazil, and thus, provides a platform on which to base his later arguments regarding samba and race. In Chapter two, Hertzman focuses on what he calls the “punishment paradigm,” or the “widely accepted idea that samba music was violently suppressed and systematically marginalized before it became a symbol of national identity” (13). Through an exploration of the ways musicians were punished by the police, Hertzman argues that police in Rio were less interested in repressing particular genres of music or policing the musicians that performed that music than “asserting control through economic means” (13). Hertzman attributes the fact that this myth achieved such traction to musicians who saw the punishment paradigm as a potential opportunity to assert their authenticity as a troubled, alienated samba musician. Chapter three provides a background to Rio’s early record industry. Hertzman tells the story of Fred Frigner, a white immigrant to Brazil who pioneered the first Brazilian record company, Casa Edison, in 1902, eventually building an international empire of sorts, as the exclusive exporter of Brazilian recorded music. However, Hertzman focuses in particular on how Frigner worked within and outside patent law to claim success. Another case study in this chapter is that of Eduardo das Neves, whom Hertzman describes as one of Rio’s “most visible and successful turn-of-the-century black performers” (80). Taken together, the stories of Frigner and Neves introduce how authorship, ownership, intellectual property law, and entrepreneurship were part of a tangled web, often made all the more complicated by behavior expectations based on racial stereotypes.
Hertzman offers a new narrative that understands agency as being part of the mediation, competition, and contestation involved in the creation of “our music,” or a Brazilian national music.
Chapters four, five, and six focus primarily on how musicians, audiences, journalists, and intellectuals saw samba as forming a uniquely Brazilian national identity. In chapter four, Hertzman distinguishes between two primary forms of musical ownership: an ownership that results in financial compensation, and one that allows certain people (musicians, journalists, and audiences) to shape a national identity. To show how these two forms of ownership often collided, Hertzman analyzes changes in the lyrics and lyrical form to the popular song, “Pelo telefone,” which many consider the first recorded samba. When musician and composer Donga sought to register “Pelo telefone” as his own composition in 1916, Hertzman argues that many other composers believed Donga was claiming ownership—both financial and metaphorical—to a song that belonged to many others. In chapter five, Hertzman analyzes three common narratives for Afro-Brazilian musicians in the early 20th century: 1) one that portrays black musicians as “victims of whitening projects”; 2) a narrative that attributes the success of black musicians to white mediators; or 3) a narrative that overly emphasizes black musicians’ agency “to the point of romanticization” (117). Hertzman offers a new narrative that understands agency as being part of the mediation, competition, and contestation involved in the creation of “our music,” or a Brazilian national music. Chapter six turns from accounts for and by musicians and journalists to those by largely white writers, scholars, and critics, who were just as invested in defining Brazilian music as Afro-Brazilian musicians, journalists, and intellectuals. Hertzman discusses the work of Brazilian classical composers Heitor Villa-Lobos and Luciano Gallet and musicologist Mário de Andrade, which tended to associate blackness and samba with rhythm, sexuality, and a caricatured image of “primitive” Africans.
Chapters seven and eight focus on the myriad organizations created in Rio to protect, and in many cases regulate, author’s rights. Chapter seven begins by focusing on the Society of Brazilian Theater Authors (SBAT), created in 1917 and largely dominated by white playwrights and theater musicians. As the radio and record industries grew, musicians’ opportunities for live performances dwindled, and the SBAT encouraged a relationship with the police to censor unauthorized performances (i.e., performances for which royalties were not paid). However, the SBAT tended to privilege playwrights over musicians and whites over blacks. In chapter eight, Hertzman explores the Union of Brazilian Composers (UBC), an institution formed by “disaffected members” of the SBAT in 1942. In studying the UBC, Hertzman notes that Afro-Brazilian musicians and the state became both “everywhere” and “nowhere.” The UBC encouraged a greater relationship with the police and government, requiring a constant state presence that ultimately was not feasible due to underfunding. Similarly, Afro-Brazilian musicians gained a prominent role in Rio’s music-making; however, as Hertzman notes, “Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs and composers were all but absent from high-level discussions of author’s rights and from societal definitions of authorship and creative genius” (226). In chapter nine, Hertzman follows some of the main musicians from earlier chapters, including Donga and Pixinguinha, into the middle and late 20th centuries, glossing how each reinvented themselves, continually attempting to make their music viable for a new Brazil.
In many ways, Making Samba is an important and innovative introduction to the complicated issues of authorship, representation, intellectual property law, the music industry, and race in 20th-century Brazil. Scholars outside of Latin American studies, as well as scholars of Latin American culture, have much to learn from Hertzman’s work, both in subject matter and methodology, and that fact is due in large part to the approachable way in which Hertzman has written Making Samba. However, one area in which the book falls short is in its discussion of samba as a musical genre; readers will not come away from the book with an understanding of the musical sounds to which Hertzman refers. This is a bit surprising, given the monograph’s full title, Making Samba: A New History of Race and Music in Brazil. A more accurate subtitle might clarify, A New History of Race and Musical Culture in Brazil.
One area in which the book falls short is in its discussion of samba as a musical genre; readers will not come away from the book with an understanding of the musical sounds to which Hertzman refers. This is a bit surprising, given the monograph’s full title … A more accurate subtitle might clarify, A New History of Race and Musical Culture in Brazil.
At certain points in Making Samba, Hertzman offers a glimpse of how discussion of the musical sounds of samba might inform his work. For example, in chapter five, Hertzman describes tresillo, a rhythmic figure that divides eight beats or pulses into three unequal articulations (3 + 3 + 2), which often culminates in a feeling of (3 + 5). Hertzman explains that other genres, including lundu, maxixe, and tango, used these divisions, as did “Pelo telefone” and other samba pieces. In the next paragraph, Hertzman discusses the Estácio Sound, explaining that it was a rhythmic pattern based on “new forms of syncopation” that “nudged tresillo aside” (95). But though Hertzman offered a quick and useful musical analysis of tresillo, the reader is left to wonder what “new forms of syncopation” made the Estácio Sound unique. Even at a more basic level, the reader is left wondering what a typical samba instrumentation is, what a typical beat might sound like, or even the range of tempos that might be included. While Hertzman is not a music scholar, the very few musical discussions he includes are clear and easy to follow; in other words, he need not rely solely on the lyrical analyses he offers elsewhere in the book, but could add succinct musical analyses to support his examples (particularly regarding the “Pelo telefone” case study).
Hertzman’s work thus illuminates a common struggle for music scholars and cultural historians: how can musical sounds inform our cultural histories? How might musical definitions of samba at various points in its history—definitions that trace the stereotypes Hertzman analyzes to musical sounds described by critics and musicians—inform Hertzman’s larger arguments about musical ownership? In a book filled with detailed discussions of nearly every facet of musical production in 20th-century Brazil, it seems a missed opportunity to not assist the reader in understanding the cultural product musicians were so invested in creating. That said, Hertzman’s work will be an invaluable source for Latin American cultural historians and music scholars wishing to do just that.