“Caboclos of Nazareth:  Improvisation and Renovation in Maracatu de Baque Solto of Pernambuco”

Keywords: cultura popular, traditionalism, improvised poetry, authenticity and cultural revivals, Northeast Brazil

This dissertation looks at an expressive musical-poetic form and Carnival tradition that has developed over the last hundred years, maracatu de baque solto of Pernambuco, which has only recently begun to receive critical attention.   Based on three years of ethnographic and historical fieldwork in and around the town of Nazaré da Mata from 2009 to 2012, the dissertation examines different understandings of authenticity and the dynamic relationships between notions of modernity and tradition within maracatu and a growing network of official cultural patronage. In exploring how the expressive genre of maracatu continues to develop, I examine how cultural identities can shift, calcify, or transform over time in relation to socioeconomic change, political developments, or interaction with other social groups.

Since its “discovery” by elite artists, researchers, and funding institutions, an emphasis on rural identity and origins on the sugar plantations has cloaked maracatu’s subsequent development by generations of working-class practitioners in the urban peripheries since the rural exodus of the middle twentieth century. I explore how the institutional frameworks created by folklore research and elite intellectual production about popular culture represent attempts to restrain maracatu within certain proscribed boundaries, contrasting this with the ways that maracatuzeiros have reappropriated elite discourses about cultura popular in strategic ways. My arguments build a foundation for developing the idea of coronelismo cultural, or “cultural boss-ism,” as a way of analyzing how maracatu has developed within the persisting structures of patronage and domination in the region, while asking how maracatuzeiros are confronting those limitations in a variety of ways.