The Samba of the Crazy Black Man: Possessing the Mulata through a Choreography of Disidentity

Carla Melo

What are the possibilities of politicizing disidentification, this experience of misrecognition, this uneasy sense of standing under a sign to which one does and does not belong? -José Muñoz1

At first, for what seemed like a long time, all I saw was the dark silhouette of a fit body standing tall and motionless upstage right, against a backlit and semi-translucent backdrop whose quilt-like pattern was composed of numerous depictions of the Brazilian flag. As a slow electronic rhythm started to pulse, this body whose identity was hidden in darkness began a slow undulation of its arms and a subtle swaying of its hips. While this movement spelled a languid and seductive femininity, the corporeal shape read as masculine. Though ambiguously marked, the title of this performance piece, O Samba do Crioulo Doido, which translates as The Samba of the Crazy Black Man, suggested that this was the body of a black male, while his thigh high silver boots, besides being an obvious sign of queer identity, also made a strong reference to the Brazilian "export mulata."2The sexual difference was shockingly demonstrated when the performer showed his profile to us. As his penis was thrown in all directions from the frenetic shaking of the hips combined with the squatting motion characteristic of samba moves, the middle-class, largely white, southern Brazilian audience gasped in shock. This was only the beginning of a very confrontational piece which, prior to its arrival at a famous international theater festival in the south of Brazil (in September of 2004), had created a great deal of controversy around the country and, in spite of its seemingly transgressive nature, had won the nation's most prestigious dance award.

This instant and somewhat nervous "applause" seemed to contain a great deal of anxious denial since, for most critics, the piece blatantly denounced the objectification of the black body, and thereby exposed the stereotype that foreigners have of Brazil.3 In spite of the current deconstruction of the myth of racial democracy (which denies the existence of racism in Brazil), these critics have failed to examine The Samba of the Crazy Black Manas a critique of racial politics within Brazilian society. Although the national dance award can signify an instant cooptation that neutralizes the transgressive possibilities of Luiz de Abreu's corporeal tactics, it can also lead to a questioning of the logic behind this legitimization, since black subjects continue to occupy a subaltern position in Brazilian society. In addition, with the stamp of hegemonic approval, the critical potential of the performance has managed to infiltrate a larger stage in which it can generate a wider dialogue around a series of questions: How is black Brazilian identity deconstructed and reconstructed in this piece? How does gender and sexual identity function within this deconstruction? How are power and agency choreographed? Does the body as the main site of rebellion re-inscribe its objectification through its explicit exposure? Given that essentialist discourse on race is focused on the black body, can a performance centered on the body resist racism? Although I do not intent to answer all these questions in the sense of bringing closure to them, through the trope of possession and an adaptation of José Muñoz's theory of disidentification, I will posit that Luiz de Abreu disidentifies with the current degree of assimilation of black culture into the larger Brazilian culture, thereby carnivalizing the myth of racial democracy. To disidentify means to inhabit a site that is crossed with contradictions; it means to allow oneself to be possessed by these contradictions and thereby destabilize binaries that make up hegemonic notions of identity. Abreu achieves such destabilizing through a minimal and confrontational dance of a docile body turned grotesque. Yet, itis not the body alone that resists, transgresses, and complicates several layers of discrimination, but rather the choreography of this bodywith signs that conjure the conflation of various systems of identification, including racial, national, gender, sexual orientation and class.

Given that racial politics is at the center of this conflation, it is important to briefly trace the historical development of this complex scenario, which is also central to the construction of Brazilian identity. Although such an attempt is always somewhat simplistic and generalizing, it is paramount for the analysis of the negotiations of identity taking place in The Samba of the Crazy Black Man.

According to Lilian Schwarcz, around the time of Brazil's independence (1822), blacks and mestizos did not figure into the monarchy's and the romantic poets' portrayal of the country as a tropical and prosperous land.4 Besides, with the rise of racial Darwinism at the end of the 18th century, the general belief was that the mixing of races had a degenerative effect.  As a result, Europe considered Brazil the best example of a "racial laboratory," which justified its image as the epitome of "primitive" America. Schwarcz also notes that not only Europeans, but also a number of Brazilian intellectuals, condemned "the local mestizo reality." Thus, great racial anxiety took hold of the newly installed republic, which furthered the marginalization of its racial others.5 In 1872, over a decade prior to the abolition of slavery, "census revealed that while the enslaved population decreased (due to runaway slaves6), the black and mestizo population progressively grew to 55%" (Schwarcz 2001:22-26). Thus, the anxiety was based on the difficulty in determining who was an Other, since miscegenation was a growing reality. It wasn't until the 1930s that Gilberto Freyre, an anthropologist associated with a populist dictatorship, constructed a counter discourse that sought to solve the problem of Brazil's racial "uniqueness."  Infused with a strong nationalist ideology, his seminal book, Casa Grande and Senzala (1933), proposes a redefinition of miscegenation as integration—as an essence of Brazilian culture.  Thus, "a celebration of our uniqueness" re-signified the degenerate connotation of the term miscegenation and what was once a sign of hopeless doom became a signifier for utopian nationalist promises. The actual racial fusion was redefined as cultural tolerance permeated by erotic exchanges, while the mestizo was transformed into the main symbol of this romantic myth.

To call "racial democracy" a myth is not to deny the historical reality of miscegenation; rather, it is to foreground that the acceptance and the appropriation of black and mestizo culture came with the high price of "whitening" and the fading of racial identity in favor of one unified Brazilian culture.7 In spite of this myth, social and economic status is still closely linked and "hierarchy-cized" in accordance to a spectrum of skin color. Unlike contemporary U.S. racial politics, racial markers in Brazil have little to do with ancestry, and everything to do with color. Although half the population claims to be white, the percentage of whites is much smaller. This should come as no surprise since, as Ana Maria Rodriguez described, "it only takes a drop of 'white blood' for Brazilians to consider themselves white" (Rodriguez 1984:3). Thus, as another Brazilian scholar points out, the myth of racial democracy entails "unconscious" whitening, veiled social exclusion, cultural assimilation, as well as denial of the existence of racism, or at least an othering of it, through which this "monster" is attributed to one's neighbor and never to oneself (Schwarcz 2001:27-36). Ironically, while blacks and mulattos generally desire the status of being white, whites generally and perhaps unconsciously want to be like the mulatto while maintaining white status. Such status is largely determined through an equation in which class can slide one up on the spectrum of color.

Another manner of sliding up on this spectrum is through sexual power, which explains why the mulata is celebrated. Yet the explanation is not so simple; it is made up of a complex set of negotiations, which I theorize utilizing Andrew Lattas' theory of ventriloquism and my own notion of "split possession." Based on his study of the cultural role of the Australian aborigine in the construction of Australian national identity, Latta defined ventriloquism as a process "through which one culture is forced to speak on behalf of another" (qtd in Holledge and Tompkins 2000:74). This process takes on a slightly different dynamic in Brazil, where the black/mestizo culture, mainly through samba, is appropriated so that the hegemonic voice can speak through its body.8 Thus, the exoticized body of the export mulata stands in for "Brasilidade"—a kind of essence of being Brazilian. There is yet another trope that seems to account for the liminality that themulata inhabits. As the black possesses the white (as he/she desires to be whitened) and the white possesses the black (through ventriloquism), the mestizo and specifically themulata becomes the site of this encounter in which both processes take place at the same time, generating what I will call a "split possession."

So what happens when a "pitch-black" male, wearing boots that clearly signify queer identity, takes his place on stage, presenting a kind of possession of the "split-possessed"mulata? To attempt answering that, one needs to consider that heteronormativity is one of the foundations of the myth of racial democracy and thus implicit to the construction of the mulata as an icon for "Brasilidade." When Luiz de Abreu showed his body in profile (still only visible as a dark silhouette), the samba he performed was a markedly feminine move of squatting down towards a bottle placed under one's legs while shaking one's hips, a 1990s dance phenomenon literally known as "the bottle dance," which, in turn, was created by a bleach-blonde pop singer performing "mulata-ness." Abreu's mimicry of the arguably unconscious mimesis of the mulata—a mimesis characteristic of 1990s "Axé music" that vulgarized her classier sensuality—exposed the construction of both, as well as the exclusion of queer subjects from representation.

On top of this layering, the rough voice of black diva Elza Soarez soared over the electronic tribal drumming, announcing,  "the black meat is the cheapest meat in the market."  Then, Abreu stopped dancing, dropped character, and casually crossed downstage center, placing himself under a bright spot. For the first time, we were confronted with the body three-dimensionally. This extreme contrast between the body as a contour (as in a shadow play) to the embodied confrontation caused by frontal male nudity under stark lighting was heightened by the emphasis of the lyrics on the body as meat. He then stood there for a moment, staring straight out into the audience. His staring at the fourth wall marked the absent presence of one who knowingly exposes oneself to the gaze. Then, conjuring analogies to a 19th-century traveling exhibit of an exotic Other, he started to move his abdomen up and down and from side to side, with such a degree of muscular mastery, that soon the shock value of male frontal nudity was replaced by awe at his skills. Such a display betrays our expectations for the sensuous virtuosity of samba and almost replaces it with a exhibit of what Bakhtin called the "grotesque body"—a body that disturbs norms of beauty, propriety and control and that constitutes a hybrid, open-ended entity, in which the lower body and orifices are celebrated as sites of pleasure (Bakhtin 1936:303-341). Yet, unlike the grotesque body, the excess and hybridity of Abreu's body was choreographed with minute control in a series of contortions that eventually led him back to performing the classical samba moves of the mulata.

This second possession of the mulata was performed as a direct address to the audience, in the same center-stage position. Through his straight spine, elevated chin, excessive yet empty and frozen smile, and his fast footwork (in complete sync with the swaying arms), he performed a perfect samba, turning himself into a kind of "hyper-mulata." This clearly exposes her hyper-objectification and leads us to question whether an icon of nationality can be anything but a site of split-possessions or cross-identifications and whether these do not cancel each other out generating nothing but absence. This absence is made visible not because Abreu is being possessed by her, which would signify a lack of agency on his part, but rather, because he inhabits her phantasmic body with a great level of control. Yet the degree of disjunction between his fake smile and the vitality of the samba moves conjured the image of someone who is only allowed to exist through the ghostly presence of the imagined mulata.

In attempting to unpack this dance of signifiers present in Abreu's performance, I also found José Muñoz's theory of disidentification extremely useful. He defines it as a way of dealing with hegemony:

Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), [disidentification] is a strategy that tries to transform the cultural logic from within (…). (Muñoz 1999:11)

Abreu's possession of the mulata seems to counteridentify with her, since he does not demonstrate any enjoyment in doing so until the very end, yet the piece as a whole performs disidentifications that destabilize icons of nation which cross and interpenetrate other systems of identity. Since Muñoz's theory was specifically developed for dealing with the work of queer artists of color in the U.S., disidentification (both as a mode of performance and as a way of reading), must undergo adaptations in order to be applicable to the Brazilian context. For instance, when examining the work of performance artist Marga Gomez, Muñoz describes what seems to be the opposite of the process created by Abreu's Samba:

The phobic object, through a campy over-the-top performance, is reconfigured as sexy and glamorous, and not as the pathetic and abject spectacle that it appears to be in the dominant eyes of heteronormative culture. (Muñoz 1999:3)

In Abreu's Samba, it is the exoticized, glamorous body—like a phantasmic image in the minds of the audience—that is replaced by male frontal nudity as a phobic object (certainly not always so, but true in this context). This male performing femininity, thus retaining a certain glamour, still makes queerness look pathetic and abject. When he drops the mulata character and starts to perform the internal contortionism, the "abjectification" is intensified. Given the assimilationist character of race relations in Brazil in contrast to U.S. race relations, and the relative invisibility of queerness, though this body will eventually transform itself into a glamorous subject and find pleasure in disidentification, at first it seems that it needs to counteridentify with a series of identifications set up by the mulata as the essence of "Brazilianness." Thus, it seems that within this specific context, Muñoz's theory has to be choreographed as a movement from counter- to disidentification in order to be effective.

Before moving into the second phrase of his choreography, I want to further explore the bold image of the body as meat as inhabiting a space between counter and disidentity. In an interview, Abreu reiterated the objectification of the black body:

The idea is to discuss this body that was transformed into a thing through history. In other words, we were separated from our subjectivity, our families, our gods, our culinary, and from our words. And what was left was this body-thing. This body has been our disgrace and our resistance. (Abreu 2004:1)

Yet the body as meat needs to be understood as more than objectification, and his performance does more than just denounce it. From the abdomen, Abreu's visceral contortions move into the pectoral muscles, then to his shoulder blades and, finally, to the buttocks. If my "finally" reads like an exhale, it is due to the known Brazilian obsession with the buttocks, which could be compared to the American obsession with breasts. Men and women are taught to desire/identify (respectively) with the idealized round, firm and smooth "mulata booty" and, of course, a whole industry cashes in on this desire. Abreu's performing buttocks, though round and smooth, dance against each other as he is able to isolate each "butt-cheek," counteridentifying with and disturbing the desire for the unified and perfect ideal. This is achieved in conjunction with the lyrics that racialize the object of desire and emphasize its commoditization. They also turn it into an "abject object," in the sense that "meat" creates an analogy to that of a dead animal—which we are only able to consume when we no longer think of it as once alive. The abject object is in between life and death, between seduction and repulsion, and it is this in-between-ness that lends complexity to what would be an otherwise quite obvious message-laden performance. Though these isolationist contortions desexualize his body, the image of the body as meat connects it with food and death, making it grotesque and thereby re-eroticizing it at a deeper level. In this sense, the lyrics perform the transition from counter to disidentification in that they lend it a grotesque ambiguity. This results in an equation between seduction and repulsion that is characteristically enacted by the exotic object, who, as Marta Savigliano suggests, is led to perform an auto-exoticism in order in gain visibility (1995). Also, in shifting the attention from skin to internal organs—the lyrics speak of black meat, not black skin—the fragmentation and contortions of Abreu's body, juxtaposed with the lyrics, displace the main marker of race while becoming a signifier for the epistemic violence inflicted upon embodied black subjectivity.

This body as meat is not only raced but also gendered. When Abreu drops the parodic performance of the mulata to fragment his body in a series of internal contortions, he also re-signifies the construction of black masculinity. Actually, this re-signification starts from the very moment we identified him as male through the dancing shadow of his penis. From the very beginning, the penis has been thrown around as a piece of meat with no power. This is intensified in the contortion segment when he manipulates it with his hands, stretching and knotting it, as if it were an appendage disconnected from the rest of his body. Through this manipulation, he clearly counteridentifies with the trope of sexual virility attributed to the black Brazilian male, which is one of the central heteronormative characters in the theater of erotic interracial exchanges constituting the myth of racial democracy.

The question of epistemic violence hidden by the myth is foregrounded by the juxtaposition of the black body with the strongest icon of the nation-state. The Brazilian flag is at once, set, costume and prop. As the patterned backdrop, not only does the flag loses its "aura," as Walter Benjamin would phrase it, but it also loses its message: Hundreds of mini flags form the pattern of a grid printed on a semi transparent fabric, in which the positivist motto of "Order and Progress" that sits in the middle of the flag is no longer legible. As a costume, he plays with it as an extension of his body, in reference to both the work of a famous visual artist and to carnival parades. Although some consider his performance a violation of the flag, generally speaking, Brazilians are not as patriotic as mainstream Americans—for instance, in Brazil you never see a Brazilian flag hanging outside of a house or mounted on a car; in fact, you rarely see it at all, unless it is Independence Day or during the world soccer championship. In the latter instance, fans actually wear the national icons as capes, not so unlike the manner in which Abreu first uses it. In a sense, Abreu's manipulations of the Brazilian flag may be read as a revenge on the epistemic violence inflicted upon those who have been Others since even before Brazil became a nation: as a disidentifying practice that sets the subaltern subject further apart and at the same time intimately close to national identity. Through the violation, the black subject rejects assimilation, but does not entirely reject the notion of belonging to the nation.

For this reason, this is the moment in which his choreography makes a sharper turn from counter- to disidentification. After performing a spectacular yet deadpan samba with huge plastic red lips on, he once again drops character, goes off stage and comes back with a large piece of fabric, similar to the backdrop, though now the flags in it look larger. The fabric has a slit in the center that coincides with the edge of one of the flags. Through this slit he puts one of his legs, one of his arms and his head, one at a time, as if trying to find the perfect fit. This playfulness with the flag, for an educated audience, instantly reads as a reference to the Tropicalist Movement9 of the late 1960s, which revolutionized Brazilian cultural production with its irreverence and its hybrid aesthetics. More specifically, his use of the flag as a kind of clothing recalls the work of a visual artist whose work coined the term "Tropicalism." Through installations and wearable art, Helio Oiticica sought to shift the focus from product to process and from sight to other senses. His most famous pieces called "parangolés" were capes inspired by his involvement with Samba Schools and with the everyday life of the slums. They were functional and conceptual pieces, meant to adorn the dancing body. Using elements from the architecture of the slums, theparangolés suggested an equation between the body and the house, celebrating the creativity of its inhabitants. Instead of simply co-opting the aesthetics of poverty, Oiticica was interested in capturing the tactics and epistemologies of those who live outside the boundaries of citizenship, and raised related issues that created a dialogue between high and popular art—in some ways similar to pop art in Britain and the U.S., but in a more abstract manner. Oiticica called these capes "sensuality tests," which points to a desire to reappropriate samba sensuality from the commercialization of its image. In addition to carrying these references loaded with festivity and play, the last section of the piece presents for the first time a subject that seems to enjoy dancing, transforming the parodic attack, or what I have called the possession of the imagined mulata, into an act of being possessed—into an act of celebration in which the passive verb merges with the active. Through this act, the lived experience of doing the samba coexists with an enjoyment of the fiction of national identity. The awareness of this fiction is brought by his reference to the famous parangolés—think Warhol's Campbell soups—which identify with the disidentificatory practice of the Tropicalists, who were constantly redefining what it meant to be Brazilian.

According to Felipe Chiarello Souza Pinto, Abreu's every use of the flag transgresses the Law of National Symbols, which prohibits its use as clothing, towel or curtain, as well as its reproduction in products, packing, etc. (Pinto 2004:1). Although Abreu's transgressive deployment of the flag has not been legally punished, it certainly caused more shock than his frontal male nudity, especially at the end of the piece, when he literally "stuck it up his ass" and glamorously paraded across the stage, as if he were standing on a Carnival float. The act of anal insertion has several layers of signification. Obviously, the gesture visibilizes his position as a queer subject as it refers to anal sex and transforms the epistemic violence into pleasure—more specifically, into male homosexual pleasure. It also literalizes a level of identification in which the flag becomes an extension of his body, which is also reflected in his declaration about it as "that which clothes me. It's my country." Since the act conjures the expression "to stick it up one's ass," which is similar in Portuguese, it carries a certain violence with it and a certain degree of violation, but here he takes on the power position by doing it to himself—thus implying that his body is no longer simply inscribed upon, it also does the inscription. Thirdly, as a reference to a carnival costume, or to a "carnivalesque allegory" as Brazilians ironically call it, he carnivalizes or inverts the essentialism that permeates national identity. It is with a great sense of carnival laughter that he locates the feminized/queer lower body as the source of the symbol of the fatherland, thus honoring the buttocks as the real national icon. Given his identification with Oiticica, it is no surprise that this gesture also references the theory of anthropophagia,10 which is the foundation for the Tropicalist movement. Mocking the primitivist trope, Tropicalists sought to eat up all cultural influences to create a hybrid art. Unlike the myth of racial democracy, they exposed the violence and the exclusion inherent in the hybridization of Brazilian races and cultures. Through the symbolic transformation of the flag into excrement, into that which comes out of digesting divergent discourses, the agency to recreate the fiction of national identity is relocated in the black subject. This polysemic gesture, by which the flag is at the same time a signifier for violence, carnival, homosexual desire and hybridity, amounts to a disidentificatory practice that delights in wearing a multilayered set of identities as a fiction.

The very title of the piece, O Samba do Crioulo Doido, adds a great deal of ambiguity to the negotiations of identity taking place in Abreu's performance. The titular samba, which is never actually played in the piece, was created as a parody for the samba songs that serve as yearly anthems for each samba school.11 These "samba plots" are often narrative and reflect the theme of each samba school's carnival parade. Perhaps best translated as "The Samba of the Cuckoo Black Guy," this samba was such a success in the late '60s that it soon became a national proverb. At the literal level, it pokes fun at black people's lack of knowledge of national history and even at the samba schools' tendency to tackle historical themes. At the proverbial level—the one used in the media and in everyday talk—it stereotypically connotes in a self-deprecating humor Brazilians' supposedly "innate" ability to create chaos, as well as their incapacity towards historical coherence, perhaps pointing to the popular belief that Brazilian history "doesn't make much sense," and is especially used to attack politicians' idiocies. Clearly, the substitution of "crioulo" with "Brazilians" is another sign of the pervasive power of the myth of racial democracy, through which negative qualities are identified as black and then attributed to all Brazilians. It goes without saying that only by being an exception to the rule one can properly perform whiteness. Another Brazilian proverb announces, "This is the country where everything turns into samba," so it also means the ability, implicitly brought in by the black, to have fun with the chaos.

The actual lyrics of "O Samba do Crioulo Doido," as Monique Augras reveals, may be said to satirize Brazilian history and to point out to the impossibility of finding a true historical narrative, since they constitute a playful anachronistic juxtaposition of historical figures and events that lead to the abolition of slavery. Under this analysis, characterizing thesambista as black seems to be positioning the black sambista as subversive, as he undoes the romanticizing of the abolition of slavery as a noble act performed by the Portuguese crown. However, as Augras has also suggested, with the exception of the intellectual elites, the song's reception was not as sophisticated. Though the song's author claimed to be satirizing the then "current situation" that was the dictatorship, he did so by ridiculing the crioulo as well as the very "popular" performance of the samba schools (Augras 1998:217-218). Robert Stam, in his study of black stereotypes in Brazilian cinema, describes the crioulo doido as a kind of childish trickster figure that:

(…) harkens back to folkloric figures like 'Sací,' the one legged black man who smokes a pipe and performs devilish tricks (…) The crioulo doido conveys an infantilizing impression of blacks as mischievous 'eternal children,' a portrayal that indirectly justifies control by the more 'mature' elements of the population. (Stam 1997:335)

Although he is right about the infantilization, the trickster quality is more appropriate to the "malandro" figure, the wise-ass and street-smart character who was first a black stereotype but later became a stereotype for the low-life males of Rio. The crioulo doidoof the samba discussed is here to entertain us with his idiocy as his absurd perception of reality takes on a proverbial connotation. By calling him "cuckoo," the agency of the trickery and its ambiguous and potentially critical character is taken away from him. Nonetheless, in spite of its racist implications, the song still stands as a mockery of Brazilian history and specifically suggests that slavery still continues. Abreu's appropriation disidentifies with a song that disidentifies with racism. By keeping it simply as a title—though those who were old enough in the '70s to remember it will have it playing in their heads—he disidentifies with both the stereotype that names the song and with the colorblindness of its proverbial usage. His disidentification with the crioulooperates through the exposure of the idiocy of a history forged through this hypocritical method of erasure that is the myth of racial democracy. In spite of the rejection of this myth among Brazilian intellectuals, and of the growth of the Afro-Brazilian movement in several fronts in the last decades, this myth is still pervasive in Brazilian racial politics. This is what lends such poignancy and courage to the work of Luiz de Abreu. Under the stigma of the crioulo doido he dares to possess and deconstruct the mulata icon, thereby carnivalizing the myth of racial democracy. His transgressive corporeal tactics engage in a dance with several systems of identification that re-possess the black body, bringing visibility to non-stereotypical versions of black identities, while questioning how and if they fit into the tropical landscapes symbolized by the colors of the Brazilian flag. His choreography of counteridentity and disidentity "sambas" itself beyond the self-indulgence of much performance art that only seeks to shock for its own sake. This samba does not imagine itself as occupying a stage outside of the system from which it can criticize and oppose it.  The stage The Samba of the Crazy Black Man occupies is at the same time a site of protest and celebration of identity and difference, which does not negate the hybridity of five centuries of interracial encounters—it only allows for more dancers to be involved in the choreography of its negotiations


Carla Melo is a third-year student in the Critical Studies Program at UCLA's Theater department and hasan interdisciplinary background that merges theater,visual arts, and dance.Her main scholarly interests, which are fueled by a dialogue between theory and practice, are the phenomenology and semiotics of the performing body and the performance space; performance as urban intervention of resistance and protest; postmodern geographies; postcolonial studies as applied to Latin America; and post-dictatorship Brazilian theater. The focus of her dissertation is on performances and activist practices that address the problem of spatially marked social inequalities in contemporary Brazil. She has also been involved in experimental theater and performance for over a decade, and is currently co-director of Corpus Delicti Butoh Performance Lab,a performance group that has been highly active inLos Angeles's street protests against the U.S. invasionand occupation of Iraq.


 

1See Muñoz 1999:12.

2According to Lycia Ribeiro, since the 1930s there have been sambas exoticizing the wild sensuality of the mulata. Later her image becomes the central one of the carnival parades. But it was in the 1970s, when Oswaldo Sargentelli promoted the mulatas as "100% national product," that this feminine image was definitely consolidated and made internationally famous as his company traveled around the world presenting a samba spectacle. The producer Sargentelli, who passed away a few years ago, described them as a quality product: ''They have a thin waist, thick thighs, naughty face, good denture, large smile and smell really good; shaking and breaking, making everyone's mouth water."  (http://www.noolhar.com/opovo/delas/103078.html)

3. Although the presence of the flag makes the critique of Brazilian racial politics undeniable, most critics focused on the black body as an export product. See Freire, Ana Luiza. "O Samba do Crioulo Doido" (http://www.idance.com.br/artigos/comentario_samba.htm); Anonymous editor. "IAP e Itaú Cultural apresentam espetáculo de dança." Governo do Para 05/11/2004 (http://www.pa.gov.br/noticias2004/11 2004/05 06.asp); Anonymous editor. “Teatro e Dança Mostram a Banalização do Corpo no Brasil”  Porta GRM-Revista Cultural  05/11/2004 (http://www.orm.com.br/revistacultural/noticia/default.asp?codigo=36490)

4Following the Enlightenment's recipe, the indigenous people—our "noble savages"—were the ones who were turned into icons of such portrayal, yet this was a purely symbolic event with no actual empowerment of natives.

5The darkest chapter of this marginalization of racial others around the time that Brazil became a republic (1889) was the "War of Canudos." Better described as a yearlong slow genocide of backlander mestizos from the impoverish area of the Northeast of Brazil by the coastal military, Canudos was a war of sticks and stones against fire weapons, fought over religious fanaticism and a supposed pro-monarchy movement being plotted by the mestizos.

6The formation of encampments of runaway slaves, which were called "quilombos," was the most typical form of slave resistance, from the 16th century up to the abolition of slavery in 1888.

7Since black power in the late '60s, there has been an awakening of Afrocentric identity politics and cultural movements specifically in the state of Bahia and centered on afro-Brazilian religion.

8However, it is important to separate the objectification of the mulata from the potential of samba as a cultural force. Since the roots of samba as a "repertoire"—that is, an embodied practice that transmits collective memory—are intimately connected with resistance movements embedded in West African religion, one could argue that samba delivers a subliminal message that continually competes with the cooptation of its identity and the commoditization of its products.  In this sense, it performs what Diana Taylor calls an "act of transfer," thereby acting as a mnemonic device for transmitting not only the hegemonic, but most importantly, black collective memory. (See Taylor 2003).

9Tropicalism was a late 1960s postmodern artistic movement that encompassed music (popularized mainly through the work of Caetano Veloso), visual art, cinema and theater, the last best represented by "Teatro Oficina," which continues to produce challenging works to this day. It had been highly influenced by the modernist theories of "anthropophagia."

10Anthropophagia was a trope central to the 1920s modern art movement in Brazil that was recuperated by the Tropicalists of the late 1960s. The trope of cannibalism, which referenced an incidence of the eating of a Portuguese Bishop by a native, was to be applied to cultural borrowing in the sense that foreign influences should be transformed and not simply appropriated.

11Samba schools, the institutions of Brazilian carnival, started in the 1920s and were made official in the 1930s along with samba. They grew out of small groups made up of the lower class and largely black/mestizos who would parade the streets of Rio during carnival. Today the parades can be a mega-spectacle, especially the one in Rio.


Works Cited

Abreu, Luiz.  2004.  Interview to Zero Hora.  "Segundo Caderno." September 17:1.

Augras, Monique.  1998. O Brasil do Samba-Enredo.  Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Getulio Vargas.

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