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Maracatu New York: transregional flows between Pernambuco, New York, and New Orleans.

This article discusses the significance that maracatu, a Brazilian cultural practice, has acquired in the United States. My ethnography of the Brooklyn-based group Maracatu New York provides the basis for an analysis of how transregional cultural and musical flows between Pernambuco and New Orleans--based on claims of a common African ancestry--come together in New York. Maracatu, both culturally and musically, has little visibility in Brazil. It is best known in the northeastern region, particularly in the states of Ceara and, primarily, Pernambuco, where secular percussion groups perform maracatu rhythms and two "traditional" kinds of maracatu: maracatu-nacao or baque virado (turned-around beat), and rural or baque solto (loose beat) maracatu. Despite a great deal of variation among the groups (with the exception of rural maracatu), a maracatu performance typically involves dance, music, and stock characters that commemorate the royal coronation ceremonies of so-called "black kings" in Brazil during the period of slavery. (1)

Until recently, maracatu was practiced by individuals living in the peripheral neighbourhoods of cities in northeastern Brazil. However, in the 1990s a rhythm called maracatu baque virado, autochthonous to Pernambuco, gained visibility in Brazil and on the international stage. Since then, a number of percussion groups that play the rhythm have appeared in Brazilian cities and abroad. These groups are not homogeneous, but, inspired by maracatu-nacao, they generally attempt to perform the rhythms of this maracatu subgenre. The rhythms of the Pernambucan maracatu-nacao groups are distinct from one another (Carvalho 2007).

My interest in maracatu as an object of enquiry began in 2006, when I conducted ethnographic research with maracatu groups located in the state of Ceara, Brazil. (2) For the past few years, I have observed a significant growth in the number of percussion groups inspired by Pernambuco's maracatu nations. After learning about maracatu groups forming outside Brazil, I became interested in issues related to Maracatu New York in particular. What caught my attention was the fact that this percussion group had been founded by an American, that it attracted people of different nationalities (mainly Americans and Brazilians), and that it intended to break into the American music industry, particularly the production of Brazilian music for American audiences. Another compelling factor was the group's deliberate mix of musical sounds and cultural elements from Brazil and the United States, particularly the combination of the baque virado rhythm from Pernambuco and the "second line" rhythms from New Orleans. A number of questions arose: What new meaning does maracatu acquire outside of Brazil? Why is the group interested in mixing musical genres from Pernambuco and New Orleans? What feelings of belonging can such a group incite for Americans or for Brazilians who are in a diasporic situation?

In this article, I engage with authors such as Hannerz (1997, 2001), Appadurai (2001), and Inda and Rosaldo (2001) not only to examine the flows of people, ideas, and musical sounds across national borders, specifically between Brazil and the United States, but also to capture the complexities as they move and settle. In doing so, I provide rich empirical data that maps the networks of cultural exchanges--in this case maracatu--across national borders, and I unpack how this cultural practice acquires new meanings as it settles in a different context. I draw from and add to conceptions of "transnational space" (Crang, Dwyer, and Jackson 2003; Jackson, Crang, and Dwyer 2004). Maracatu New York can be conceived as a transnational space "multidimensional and multiply inhabited," "encompassed by the circuits, flows, trajectories, and imaginaries," and including "a wide variety of actors who have varying investments in, experiences of, and expressions of transnationalism" (Crang et al. 2003, 449). Yet I take this meaning further to show the complex transregional geographies present in Maracatu New York as it brings together rhythms and cultural elements from Pernambuco and New Orleans and triggers feelings of belonging for both Brazilians and Americans.

The group Maracatu New York was founded in 2002 by American jazz percussionist Scott Kettner after he lived in Brazil, where he became familiar with maracatu baque virado. The percussion group is currently based in the borough of Brooklyn, where it offers workshops and short-term courses on diverse Brazilian rhythms, mostly from the northeastern region. The group's objective since its founding has been to attract people of different ages and nationalities who are interested in learning Brazilian rhythms, principally the baque virado, unique to the maracatu nations. Although participants from various cities around the United States participate sporadically in Maracatu New York, those who participate most frequently are those who live in New York. According to what I was told during interviews, people of different nationalities also attend the courses. During the period of my research between February and June of 2012, I observed participants between the ages of 20 and 50, all residents of New York City, from Puerto Rico, France, Chile, and predominantly from Brazil and--above all--the United States. My ethnographic field research included 19 interviews, informal conversations, and observations of Maracatu New York's shows in New York City, as well as the Saturday classes in Brooklyn, when I observed rehearsals. My analysis focuses on the participation of Brazilians and Americans due to their predominance in the group and to the evident cultural and musical flows between Brazil and the United States.

This article is organized in four sections. The first section presents the theoretical underpinnings of my research. In the second section, I discuss the differences between Pernambuco's maracatu nations and the percussion groups that have been inspired by the Brazilian cultural practice. In the third section, I define and contextualize the general dynamics of Maracatu New York. In the final section, I return to my argument by exploring Maracatu New York as a transnational space. My analysis suggests that Brazilian members identify with the group because of the musical rhythms and cultural elements from Brazil, as well as the participation of other Brazilians. These three elements--music, culture, and compatriots--allow them to consider the percussion group as a "Brazilian community" in New York City, or, rather, as a symbolic space that connects them with feelings associated with their nation of origin and with the diasporic context in which they now live. Many of the Americans in the group also consider Maracatu New York as a "familial" space where friendships develop and where people who live in common situations in New York and who share an interest in Brazil meet. Consequently, the local dimension of the group becomes another relevant consideration, as the feelings of "Brazilian community" and "family" attributed to it directly relate to the particular experiences of Americans and Brazilians in New York. However, it is specifically the flows of people between Brazil and the United States and the symbolic values that emerge from the mixture of musical rhythms and cultural elements from Pernambuco and New Orleans that trigger feelings of belonging for both Brazilians and Americans in the group. As can be seen, the empirical data of this article articulates different levels of local, regional, national, and transnational interconnection, thus pointing to new theoretical avenues for further, more complex, analyses.


Maracatu New York as a Transnational Space: Situating the Debate

Diverse processes like the expansion of trade, navigation, and migration have long fostered the flow of people, ideas, and objects between different places. But the intensification of these exchanges is intimately related to the process by which the growth of productive forces, particularly the communication, information, and transportation industries, have provoked the "shrinking of the world" or the "compression of time-space" (Harvey 1989; Hannerz 2001; Tomlinson 1999). In doing so, these processes have engendered marked movements of global interaction and interconnectivity, as Inda and Rosaldo (2001) suggest, creating a world with porous borders permitting people and cultures to be increasingly in contact. Yet these processes are not free of negotiations and symbolic struggles. It is understood that the intensification of flows between nations that occurs through the phenomenon of globalization is a complex and multifaceted process that simultaneously operates in diverse fields: cultural, economic, political, environmental, and so forth (Inda and Rosaldo 2001, 10).


According to Hannerz, as a result of the significant interconnectivity of the contemporary world, it has become more difficult to understand the world as a "cultural mosaic, of separate pieces with hard, well-defined edges" (1992, 218). The circulation of social and cultural processes beyond the borders of nation states allows individuals to design diverse transnational cartographies (Gupta and Ferguson 1992; Appadurai 1998). It is, thus, a world "characterized by objects in movement that include ideas and ideologies, people and markets, images and messages, technologies and techniques" (Appadurai 2001, 4).

It is in the context of this interconnectivity of people and places across national borders that the concept of transnationalism comes to the fore. According to Glick Schiller (2007, 440), the term refers to the flows of people, objects, and capital across the borders of the nation state. Crang et al. (2003) affirm that the concept of transnationalism has operated within a broad set of definitions. That is, it refers to topics ranging from the formation of diasporic societies to senses of identity, cultural globalization, and even the political and economic experiences of migration. (3)

Bearing in mind the varied use of the concept of transnationalism, especially in relation to migratory processes, Crang et al. (2003) draw on their research on the transnational commercial flows of fashion and food between the Indian subcontinent and Great Britain to propose a broader perspective by using the term "transnational space." Based on Avtar Brah's notion of "diaspora space" (1996), they argue that transnational space is a space "encompassed by ... circuits, flows, trajectories, and imaginaries" (Crang et al. 2003, 449). For these authors, those who participate in this space are actors with a variety of investments and experiences.

As Jackson et al. (2004, 3) explain, transnational processes create transnational spaces into which "people from various backgrounds enter ... with a whole range of investments and from various positionalities." It is also worth noting that transnational cultural processes may include--but do not depend on--direct people-to-people relationships and interaction. According to Glick Schiller (2007, 457), transnational social fields include individuals who have never crossed borders themselves but who are linked through social relations to people in distant and perhaps disparate locations.

Whilst the notion of transnational space has been useful in its inclusion of non-migrants, it does not allow for the complexities of regional or even local ties and flows. For example, in his work on Brazilian music, Stanyek (2011) asserts that the roda de choro (informal gatherings of musicians who play Brazilian choro music) in the United States can be understood as "transregional," with its own accent/style and musical and social attributes specific to its diasporic context. According to Stanyek, the term "transregional" is related to the symbolic games present in the roda de choro, such as the improvised musical conversations inherent to the genre. Here, my aim is to utilize the term to map complex transregional geographic networks present in Maracatu New York, especially the cultural and musical fusions between Pernambuco and New Orleans. Additionally, the term allows me to understand the feelings of belonging triggered by these flows in Brazilians and Americans. In this sense, I problematize the concept of transnationalism, defining its limits by reflecting on the transregional geographies present in field observations.

My distinct focus is that in considering the propagation of Brazilian cultural manifestations in the United States, we must not view them solely as diasporic practices among Brazilians through the mobilization of national symbols. In this article, I argue that the belonging incited in Brazilians and Americans by Maracatu New York stems from the different levels of interconnection present in the group. On the one hand, the experience of living in New York allows some participants to understand the group as a space for sharing common feelings. On the other hand, I argue that Maracatu New York draws together a common past between Brazil and the United States by citing regional contexts that privilege the African ancestry present in the formation of the regional cultural heritage of these two countries. As such, it triggers feelings of belonging for individuals of both nationalities. For the Brazilians, the group incites a feeling of participating in a practice that connects them with their country of origin and, at the same time, facilitates their entry into a new national context. From the perspective of some Americans, the symbolic values that emerge from these transregional flows incite feelings of belonging because they promote a sensation of being "here and there" at the same time--that is, in Brazil and the United States, or even Pernambuco and New Orleans. As Ribeiro argues, the flows of cultural practices from different places are processes that suggest a central concern: "the relationship between territories and different socio-cultural and political arrangements that guide the ways people represent belonging to socio-cultural, political, and economic units" (1997, 2). As a percussion group inspired by the maracatu-nation practices of Pernambuco--and those of Recife's Estrela Brilhante in particular--but marked by the flows of people, sounds, and ideas from both Brazil and the United States, Maracatu New York offers a compelling analytic lens through which I discuss transnationalism and its more complex facets.

Identity Borders Between Maracatu Nations and Percussion Groups

To precisely define maracatu is a complex task, given the multiplicity of meanings given to the term in different locations. Assigning a single meaning to the term therefore implicitly homogenizes the practice and ignores its plural and processual character. Although maracatu groups exist in various locations in Brazil, I only discuss the maracatu-nacao (or baque virado) practice, unique to Pernambuco (where there are currently more than 30 groups), as the percussion groups I describe take inspiration from this style of maracatu by performing its rhythms.

The so-called maracatu-nacao groups (maracatu "nations") in Pernambuco are groups--at times secular--in the neighbouring cities of Recife and Olinda and the surrounding metropolitan area. Among some of the most notable characteristics of these "nations" are the affiliations with communities and religions rooted in African and indigenous practices, such as Umbanda, Candomble, and Jurema. Lima and Guillen write that "a 'nation' has strong affiliations with a community of individuals of African descent, who identify with its religions and strongly relate to a sense of tradition" (2007, 26).

Currently, the maracatu-nacao groups in Pernambuco possess strong local legitimacy, as this practice is one of the symbols of Pernambucan identity, and is currently under the process of patrimonialization to gain official recognition as intangible cultural heritage. (4) The valorization of these maracatu groups needs to be understood as a historical process that articulates different forces. Koslinski (2011) writes that this process includes discourses on the valorization of popular culture by Modernist thinkers and researchers in the 1950s and 1960s, (5) the support given to diverse Afro-Brazilian cultural groups by the Movimento Negro (Brazilian Black Power Movement), and the expansion of cultural movements that emphasize the valorization of Pernambucan symbols, in addition to the Multicultural Carnival of Recife in 2001, intended to further consolidate the practice and enhance its visibility throughout Brazil.

Each maracatu-nacao has its own characteristics, but the groups have common elements, such as the coronation ceremony of the black kings. (6) There are occasional events when the groups demonstrate only some of the elements of their performances, and their presentations do not necessarily take the form of a royal court. The court comprises a number of stock characters, including Afro-Brazilian deities and the royal court itself. (7) There is also a group of percussionists, the batuque. In the musical group, instruments used include alfaia drums, two kinds of snare drum, gongue bells, and ganza shakers. Some maracatu groups also use abe and atabaque drums. The parade of the Competition of Carnival Guilds during Carnival, held by the prefecture of the city of Recife, is considered the most important presentation of the year by maracatu performers.

Cultural and musical movements emerged in the 1990s to valorize elements of Pernambucan culture, including the maracatu nations. In 1989, Maracatu Nacao Pernambuco, a percussion group with members from various social classes interested in the percussive and performative elements of maracatu-nacao, was formed. Around the same time, Nacao Zumbi and the Brazilian band Chico Science began touring Brazil, Europe, and the United States, helping to propagate the maracatu baque virado rhythm from Pernambuco. According to Lima and Guillen (2007), these musical movements were important for the process of accepting, introducing, and appropriating maracatu-nacao for people of different religions, ethnicities, and social groups, especially for people who lived in neighbourhoods outside the margins of Recife. In addition, these percussion groups were part of a broader historical moment in which traditional and popular practices and knowledge, previously seen as exotic, were recreated in the context of the culture industry and tourism (Carvalho 2004). Currently in Brazil there are more than 100 percussion groups influenced by maracatu. (8) As explained above, these groups also exist in Canada, the United States, and, above all, Europe, where for the past five years there has been an annual maracatu event with presentations and baque virado workshops. (9)

Despite the inspiration from maracatu-nacao traditions, there are differences between the cultural practice and the percussion groups. As a way of distinguishing themselves from the maracatu nations, these groups are popularly known as "percussive maracatus," "stylized maracatus," or simply "percussion groups." Among the most notable differences from the maracatu nations are the absence of the coronation ceremony of the black kings in the vast majority of percussion groups, the lack of (ubiquitous) affiliation with Afro-Brazilian religions, and the lack of the sacralization of objects and the requests to the deities to protect the group. In addition, the percussion performances do not necessarily follow the model of the court of the coronation of black kings, with a few exceptions, but they still occur on stages, streets, and other spaces. It is worth noting other distinctions, including the costumes used, the sound of the drums, the musical variations, the ways of singing and dancing, and the social class and ethnicity of the participants of these musical groups.

"Tu-Maraca Tu-maraca-Tu": The Dynamics of Maracatu New York

Some of the activities of Maracatu New York take place in rooms at their Brooklyn studio. Just past the building's entrance on the first floor at the time of this study, bulletins hung on the wall advertising courses. In the middle of these notices, a small panel contained various photos of Maracatu New York. Upon ascending some fairly steep stairs, one arrives at the top floor, where Scott Kettner, the founder of Maracatu New York, keeps his recording studio, with alfaia drums against the walls and abes and ganzas resting on the drums. At the back of the room percussion instruments were placed on a small wooden platform suspended only a few centimetres from the ground, suggesting a kind of stage.

Attached to a wooden door near the main entrance was a large, multicoloured, sparkly jacket worn by the caboclo de lanca, the central figure of rural maracatu in Pernambuco (see Note 1). On the opposite wall was a leather cap, representing the northeastern Brazilian cowboy (sertanejo). Near it, drinking glasses and empty whiskey bottles, as well as a bottle of cachaca--Brazilian sugarcane liquor--from the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, sat on a window sill. A few steps away was a small room that effectively functioned as a recording studio. From within that enclosure, you could see through a glass pane the activities that take place in the main room. In this space are held recording sessions, professional meetings, rehearsals, and some maracatu classes, especially for the most advanced baque virado students; the classes for the general public are held in the room to the side. The activities of Maracatu New York, however, have not always occurred at this location. Initially they were held in Manhattan, when maracatu was still an unknown practice in New York City.

Generally speaking, Scott Kettner's first introduction to maracatu was as a drum student of Billy Hart at the New School University in New York City. (10) Motivated to learn Brazilian rhythms different from those already popularized in the US, such as samba and bossa nova, Kettner took Hart's suggestion to learn a rhythm called maracatu. Even though it was hardly known in the United States, it was possible to encounter it (albeit briefly) through a band that played at Zinc Bar in Manhattan. The musicians, however, had only superficial knowledge of the rhythm.

In 1999, after graduating college and without fluency in Portuguese, Scott Kettner traveled to Recife where, over a few weeks, he learned some baque virado in classes offered by Jorge Martins to children in the outlying neighbourhoods of Recife. (11) In 2001, Kettner returned to Brazil to stay for a year. During that time, the American musician learned Portuguese and a variety of northeastern Brazilian rhythms. His deepest knowledge was of baque virado, which he learned through contact with the maracatu nation Estrela Brilhante from Recife and its members D. Marivalda, Mestre Walter, and Jorge Martins. In 2002, Kettner founded Maracatu New York.

At the time of my field research, Maracatu New York had a diverse student body and a range of functions. On Saturday afternoons there were paid classes on maracatu-nacao rhythms taught in English by Kettner, as well as by Jeff Duneman and Aaron Shafer-Haiss, American musicians who regularly participate in the group's activities. The first session, often held in Kettner's studio, was for the few advanced students, and the following session was for the general public. In the large room, the students often formed a circle and played various rhythms under the direction of the teacher, and at times exchanged instruments. At the end of the class, some students headed to a bar near the building.

People seem to become interested in Maracatu New York for a number of reasons. According to what I was told by the group's most senior members and based on what I observed, those interested in classes range in age and nationality, but the majority are Brazilian and American, between 20 and 50 years old. Generally, attendees were individuals who were interested in learning new musical rhythms, were motivated to acquire knowledge about Brazilian cultural practices and music, or were in search of social interaction or professional opportunities as musicians. Some students who attended the courses had close relationships with Brazil, while others had little knowledge of the country. Yet others had an idealized understanding of Brazil based on stereotypes created within the United States. Some students had familiarity with maracatu-nacao, but there were others, including Brazilians, with a complete lack of knowledge of the cultural practice. The group also included a small number of students who had attended Kettner's classes for 10 years, such as Eli, who was the first student, as well as other students who attended classes sporadically.

The courses offered by the group introduced a variety of topics, but in general students learned the history, the songs, and the rhythms of some maracatu nations from Pernambuco, including the rhythms: baque de martelo, baque de arrasto, baque de parada, and the baque de marcacao of the maracatu Nacao Estrela Brilhante; baque de martelo from the maracatu Nacao Porto Rico; baque de Imale from maracatu Leao Coroado; baque de arrasto from maracatu Encanto da Alegria. There was even a baque de Brooklyn, a musical arrangement by Kettner. Among the instruments most used are alfaia and abe drums, caixa snare drum, ganza shakers, and agogo and gonge bells.

Their performances, free or paid, occur in a range of spaces and occasions, including bars, museums, universities, parks, and the Halloween parade of New York City, which some group members, both Brazilians and Americans familiar with Brazil, described as a kind of "Brazilian Carnaval." In 2012, for the first time, Maracatu New York participated in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans with the Mardi Gras Indians. I traveled with the group to New Orleans where I conducted fieldwork on their participation. Their performances centre on the music, with no coronation ceremony of the black kings or other performative elements from the maracatu-nacao tradition of Pernambuco. In some performances, some members of the group, especially the Brazilians Michele Nascimento-Kettner and Liliana Araujo, dance, performing the characteristic body movements of maracatu-nacao. The musicians' clothes and instruments tend to vary from performance to performance. Generally, they wear the group's official shirt, with some variations in other elements of their clothing. But there are also standardized performances in which the men wear white pants and the women wear white skirts, except for Liliana Araujo, the official singer of the group, who generally wears long, colourful dresses.

In Maracatu New York, musical and cultural exchanges take place with different Brazilian and American musicians, as I observed in the performances in New York and New Orleans. However, the most notable flows of people, ideas, and sounds are established with cultural practices from Pernambuco, like the maracatu-nacao practices. Cultural exchanges occur by way of the contact with Brazil permitted by the group's Brazilian members, as well as by the travels of members of Maracatu New York to Brazil, and by the travel of members from Recife's maracatu nation Estrela Brilhante to New York. In both 2005 and 2008, Kettner organized trips to Recife with members of the group. There they came in contact with diverse northeastern Brazilian cultural practices, largely with the rhythms of maracatu nations, which they learned in workshops with Jorge Martins.

These flows between Brazil and the United States are also visible in cultural programs. In 2003, the Brooklyn Arts Council partially funded Brazilian maracatu musician Jorge Martins' travel to New York for the aforementioned workshop, and did so again in 2004, when he returned with members of Estrela Brilhante to perform. In 2012, while I was conducting field research, Jorge Martins again led maracatu workshops with the group in New York. In 2013, Estrela Brilhante will tour the US--performing with Maracatu New York--thanks to a grant obtained by Kettner and other musicians.

In addition to the trips to Brazil led by Kettner, some American members of the group have made personal efforts to travel to the country, motivated by a desire to gain greater familiarity with the Portuguese language and with Brazilian musical and cultural practices. In interviews, these American musicians emphasized the importance of these trips, particularly for their perception of the significance of the maracatu nation practice in Brazil, especially of the community ties that the maracatu nations establish with the places in which they reside, generally in the periphery of Recife. They also spoke of the importance of observing the relationship between the body and music, including, for example, the hand movements of maracatu nation musicians in Pernambuco when they play their instruments, especially the alfaia and abe drums.

Transregional Flows Between the Mississippi and Capibaribe Rivers

According to Scott Kettner, his objective in forming Maracatu New York was not to reproduce the style of the maracatu nations of Pernambuco, nor was it to create a musical ensemble that rejects Pernambucan maracatu traditions. Rather, Kettner's purpose was "artistic," with the aim of entering the American music industry. Indeed, the group has recorded two albums. Although it is not the focus of this article, it is worth highlighting how Kettner's artistic interest in the group reveals that the flows across borders promote relationships between cultures and markets, which is quite common in music, since the practices and the musical sounds are re-elaborated in new contexts with sound technologies and economic interests related to the recording industry, as is explored by Taylor (1997), Feld (1988), and Katz (2004). Additionally, this shows how transnational space, as proposed by Crang et al. (2003), refers to a wide network of circuits and flows, with a range of actors possessing different investments, interests, and experiences. Yet as McIlwaine (2011) explains through a study of transnational migratory processes among Latin Americans in the United Kingdom, these flows affect those who move within the space as much as those who do not. Put differently, the diffusion of Brazilian cultural practices in the United States (like maracatu) affects not only those directly involved with the recreation of the cultural practice abroad, but a variety of actors engaged with this transnational circuit.

As Kettner explained, his aim is not to create a percussion group that definitively severs symbolic ties with Brazil. Rather, the group maintains some Brazilian cultural and musical elements. Brazilian cultural elements are apparent through the participation of a Brazilian singer and the use of songs and musical instruments from maracatunacao, especially alfaia drums. But there are also innovations. One of Maracatu New York's greatest distinctions is its musical combination of baque virado with music of New Orleans' "second line" jazz tradition, best exemplified by Kettner's baque de Brooklyn. According to Kettner, the group's original objective was to unite the two rhythms, to combine the Mississippi with the Capibaribe. Kettner claimed that in conversations with Jorge Martins in Recife, they perceived that "musically there's a lot in common between the music of northeastern Brazil and the southern United States. There are a lot of cultural connections there." Although there are many musical and cultural similarities with and differences between New Orleans and Pernambuco, (12) for the purpose of this article, the most significant are Maracatu New York's rhythmic fusions and the related implications.

By mixing Brazilian and American rhythms, Kettner draws from specific regional contexts and deliberately selects similitudes from the two countries, particularly from Brazil's northeastern region and the US South. Maracatu New York perpetuates references to symbols of identity that they see as Brazilian in general, despite representing a tradition that, in particular, comes from the northeastern region of Brazil, and from the state of Pernambuco more specifically. They also include American cultural elements, particularly from the US South, like second line jazz.

In tracing musical parallels between New Orleans and Pernambuco, Kettner refers to similar music patterns in rhythms from these two places, and also to the African origin of the slaves taken to the two regions in the period of their diaspora. Congo Square, the only square in New Orleans where the slaves were allowed to play their music on Sunday, also demonstrates the similarities of these cultural practices, as the royal courts of Pernambucan maracatu-nacao during Brazilian slavery were allowed by the church and by the slaveholders to perform the coronation ceremony of the black kings. (13)

It is worth noting that by mixing musical and cultural elements of the maracatu nations of Pernambuco and second line from New Orleans, Maracatu New York produces something new with the aim of achieving legitimacy in a transnational context while also maintaining a symbolic relationship with Brazil. By invoking a common past between Brazil and the United States from specific regional contexts, the group draws on its African ancestry.

Drawing on the work of Sahlins (1990), who understands the resignification of the symbolic structures of individuals as a dialogue between distinct cultural contexts, I suggest that the idea of African ancestry evoked by the group in the transnational context is also resignified, since it does not refer to the context of the African diaspora in Brazil or the United States. What matters most for the group is what these common "roots" produce. By doing this, the group reaffirms its symbolic ties to Brazil--and specifically to Pernambuco--in addition to attracting Brazilians and Americans who come from various regions living in New York. It also acts as an important tool for the propagation of an "unknown historical past" to many Americans. This intent became quite evident during the group's trip to New Orleans, when members of Maracatu New York called my attention to the fact that many local residents of New Orleans lacked knowledge of the cultural and musical specificities of the city, especially regarding the significant heritage of the African diaspora that resides there.

In sum, the fusion of sounds in Maracatu New York suggests the proximity of seemingly distinct musical practices. Through a symbolic arsenal--music, dance, and explanations in shows and workshops about the similarities between Brazil and the United States due to a common African ancestry--Maracatu New York dramatizes a common past between Brazil and the United States by citing regional contexts that privilege the African ancestry present in the formation of these two countries. As Pollack (1989) explains, the multiple evocations of the past explain the plural dimension of memory. In this sense, by calling attention to common historical attributes, the group incites a collective memory that reaches its members and audience.

Maracatu New York: Negotiating Belonging

Of course not every individual who attends Maracatu New York's shows recognizes the symbolic references to African ancestry, especially since the African-derived practice included by the group is specific to the US South. However, the alfaia drums, the sound of the baque-virado rhythm, the presence of Brazilian vocalist Liliana Araujo in her coloured dresses, the dances performed by some of the members, and the brief contextualization of the group given by Kettner in which he stresses the group's intention to mix northeastern Brazilian rhythms with second line jazz from New Orleans all help Maracatu New York in some way incite identification with both nationalities.

It is important to note that the group incites belonging among Brazilians and Americans through the mixture of rhythms. In asking group members about similarities between the two nations, they highlighted the mixture of second line with baque virado as the main musical connection between the two nations. Other than the sound itself, some participants also emphasized historical attributes, including the African diaspora. Regarding that, Linda Techell (a percussionist in the group) described Maracatu New York as a space that evokes a feeling of belonging by its fusion of musical rhythms. For her, it is a space for the connection with African ancestors, where songs, especially those of African origin, awaken a feeling of connectedness with her history. However, more complex geographies of belonging emerged during my fieldwork, linked to the immediacy of life in New York and to contemporary emotional ties to Brazil and its northeast.

In interviews with the five Brazilian members of Maracatu New York, they said that although learning the beats of maracatu-nacao was an important motivation for students joining the group, other motivations were also at work. (14) Brazilian music stood out as a significant element in their lives, justified as a means for maintaining symbolic ties with Brazil in the context of their displacement, while simultaneously acting as a tool for the construction of networks of friends and professional contacts.

Of the five Brazilian women who regularly participate in the activities of Maracatu New York, three of them felt a bond with this northeastern Brazilian music because of their places of origin. Although maracatu was not a significant cultural practice in their emotional memories, those who were interviewed mentioned having prior knowledge of maracatu from when they lived in Brazil. One of the central issues revealed in my interviews with the group's Brazilian members was the fact that Maracatu New York was, on the one hand, a tool for connecting with their regional origins and, on the other, a mechanism for entering into the new local social and cultural context. According to Zenilda Tavares, a native of Recife who has lived in New York City since 2005:
   I saw [something] on the internet about a show called Beauty in NYC
   and there was going to be maracatu. I got chills. This was last
   year [2011]. It took me a long time before I found the Northeast
   [of Brazil] here. So I arrived there [at the bar Nublu] before it
   opened. When I saw the maracatu it was the first time I'd felt [I
   was in] Brazil. It was the first time I felt my heart beat. I met
   Barri [an American girl] there who told me about the maracatu
   group, but then I waited to make a new group of friends. So I
   started and now I'm there.

Zenilda Tavares ceased all personal contact with her children and Brazilian relatives after arriving in the United States. Although she has no intention of returning to Brazil to live indefinitely, Zenilda claims she is homesick and misses her family. Her attachment to Brazil, or more specifically to Pernambuco, is demonstrated through the way she dresses, her activities, social media, and the places she goes in New York, generally bars frequented by Brazilians, with bands fronted by Brazilian singers, generally forro groups. When she is asked about her nationality, she says, "I am not Brazilian; I am Pernambucan." For her, contact with Maracatu New York, with its dance and music, allowed her a more direct connection with her home state of Pernambuco whilst giving her a symbolic space to relive and share general elements of Brazilian culture, like the language and news from Brazil. Additionally, contact with Maracatu New York functioned in Zenilda's life like a rite of passage (Van Gennep 1978). In other words, it signified her entry into a new local context, allowing her to construct a network of friends, including Americans. As a transnational space, encompassing both Brazilians and non-Brazilians, Maracatu New York provided a space for her to negotiate integration from her own cultural standpoint, not necessarily as a Brazilian, but as a northeastern Brazilian.

Another Pernambucan, Michele Nascimento-Kettner, Scott Kettner's wife, lives permanently in the United States, but spends her vacations in Pernambuco each year and claims that her longing (saudade) for Brazil is an issue she can deal with in her life, as "Brazil is inside of me." However, she also seeks out spaces to connect with Brazil, especially with Pernambuco; she highlights the importance of Maracatu New York as a "bridge" that connects Brazil and the United States:
   Here, music is what connects me directly to Brazil. Obviously
   there's the language, the food ... What kind of music connects me?
   Well, it's the rhythms from Pernambuco that connect me the quickest
   to Brazil, right? (Laughs) Like the maracatu, the frevo, the coco,
   the ciranda, the caboclinho, the forro. Maracatu is very
   Pernambucan ... With music you begin to feel like you're part of
   something. This is what's cool about maracatu. An alfaia drum alone
   won't make a party. The really cool thing about Maracatu New York,
   about making music, is being together ... Would I consider quitting
   Maracatu New York one day? No way, girl. Why would I distance
   myself from something that takes me back to my country? You don't
   distance yourself. If you love your country, you're going to want
   to stay connected through quality things, things that represent
   your culture. The strong point of Maracatu [New York] is this
   bridge: to bring people from there, to take people from here.

For Michele, music's sensory elements evoke an experience of place, something noted also by the ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino (1999, 224), who says that "music involves signs of feeling and experience." Thus, for Michele the sounds of Maracatu New York generate connections to Pernambuco, reminding her of home and permitting a shrinking of time and space that separate her from Pernambuco.

For Liliana Araujo, Maracatu New York's official vocalist and a recognized musician in the Brazilian music scene in New York City (in large part due to her involvement with forro), the group is also experienced as a space for connecting with Brazil through its music. Liliana has lived in New York City since 2007 and has annual contact with her family in Brazil, but she also describes her strong longing (saudade) for her "little land," her affectionate way of referring to Fortaleza, her native city in Brazil. When speaking about Maracatu New York, she also describes the group as a way to form a community in New York:
   Music is everything in my life. Everything. So the significance of
   this maracatu for me is the significance of Brazil, the
   significance of community, of the contact with the music. Right?
   Even though they're not my official Brazilian community, there's a
   sense of community because they are a community, you know? And I'm
   part of it! It's also the significance of Brazil, a connection with

In informal conversations and interviews with the Brazilian women who attend the classes and rehearsals most frequently, I observed that they also attributed a sense of "Brazilian community" to Maracatu New York. It is worth noting that the participation of Michele Nascimento-Kettner in the group plays an important role in this sense of "Brazilian community." Although she does not make the group's most important decisions, her presence, as well as the fact that she is the wife of Scott Kettner, creates an idea of a group with strong ties to Brazil, particularly with Pernambuco, her home state.

It is important to note that the phrase "Brazilian community" is utilized despite the small number of Brazilians in the group, and it also refers to some of the American participants of Maracatu New York, especially those with strong ties to Brazil. American members Scott Kettner, Jeff Duneman, and Aaron Shafer-Haiss all lived for a period in Recife where they learned the baque virado rhythm and the Portuguese language; Duneman also conducted fieldwork for his master's thesis in Recife. Barrianne Brown is also fluent in Portuguese and has family connections to Brazil.

Many Americans who attend the group also attribute feelings of affective belonging to Maracatu New York. I perceived that music occupies an important role in their lives, and Brazilian music is a genre of great interest for some of the members. There is variability in the form of their participation in the group, attendance in courses, and knowledge about maracatu-nacao. The contact some of these students have with Brazilian music is not limited to the baque virado, as in the case of Linda Techell, Barrianne Brown, Vivan Warfield, Stan Rifken, and others, who participate in "samba schools" and perform Brazilian music in bars and events around New York City.

Kettner says, "Maracatu New York is a family, a community as well." Although the concept of community appears in his discourse and that of other Americans I interviewed, the description of the group as a "family" was emphasized more strongly. Just as the Brazilians understand the group as a "Brazilian community" that also includes some American members, the American members do not restrict the familial character of the group to only themselves, and they include the active Brazilian members of the group in their understanding of the "family of Maracatu New York."

Although the American members have lived in New York City for many years and had established networks of friends in the city, in my interviews with them, New York City was described as a city where people are focused on their professional endeavours, without much free time for contacts motivated by personal interest. Thus, in addition to an interest in baque virado, the motivation to join Maracatu New York for some Americans is to partake in the familial nature of the group. Another important aspect is the significant number of American members who reside in Brooklyn, a fact that also contributes to their feelings of belonging, since this borough of New York has a meaningful social and cultural character for the group's members who live there. Indeed, I was surprised upon hearing from the Americans I interviewed that they greatly identified Maracatu New York with Brooklyn, having no strong ties to the other boroughs of the city, including the island of Manhattan, where the most important financial centres, the main tourist attractions, and one of the primary centres of the nation's recording industry are located, along with expensive real estate. The identification with Brookyln is reinforced during the group's presentations when Scott Kettner reaffirms that Maracatu New York is a percussion group from Brooklyn. In that sense, the group is situated as a space of identity, or rather, a space for sharing of common understandings, including personal interactions, conversations between friends, and restorations of broken hearts, according to Barrianne Brown. In addition, it offers a moment to take a break, "dar um relax," a Brazilian expression often used by Jeff Duneman. The musician refers particularly to the moment following the classes on Saturday afternoons, when some students meet at a bar near the school.

When the participants of Maracatu New York describe the group as a "Brazilian community" or a "family," they are ascribing qualities of communion and cohesion to it, naturalizing the ethnic, regional, and cultural distinctions among its members. They construct a representation of their union and solidarity, affirming it as a cohesive group. From what I observed, Brazilian and American members of the group held regular social gatherings outside of the weekly rehearsals in Brooklyn, meaning that that some of the American members had strong friendships. During my research, I saw individuals of both nationalities attending parties organized by the group's American members. I was also told of personal relationships among the Brazilian women in the group.

Understanding that feelings of identity are neither fixed nor homogeneous (Marcus 1991; Carneiro da Cunha 1986), we can observe how participants only ascribe qualities of "Brazilian community" and "family" in specific contexts. In sum, when the group's Brazilian members describe it as a "Brazilian community," they seek to emphasize their situation as Brazilians living in New York City. This sense of "community" is especially relevant when we consider that "family" for them remains in Brazil. Instead, Maracatu New York becomes part of a broad network of individuals living in New York who are united by symbolic ties due to a common context. That is, the common sense of "community" attributed by the Brazilians refers to the common feeling of living in "diaspora." The term "community" takes on the political, social, and cultural connotations of immigration, and contributes to feelings of belonging--to a group of friends and the idea of a nation--albeit through idealized, mythical, and resignified representations of Brazil.

It is important to note that through the concepts of "community" and "family" Maracatu New York becomes a place of refuge for the Brazilian and American members; as Bachelard says, "every truly inhabited space brings the essence of the notion of home" (2008, 25). However, although the Brazilians and Americans maintain friendships in their daily lives, it is only in rehearsals, shows, and gatherings at a bar after Saturday classes and periodic house parties that Maracatu New York effectively fulfills its role as a "Brazilian community" or a "family." From the perspective of the Brazilians, these meetings emphasize their feelings related to the diaspora through the images and sounds from their home country. For the Americans, these ritual moments affirmed social networks grounded in shared social realities and similar cultures. Additionally, in public presentations Maracatu New York gains legitimacy as a percussion group based on a Brazilian cultural practice but made up of predominantly American musicians.

In sum, for Brazilians, participating in a group with Americans allows them to attend parties, understand American social norms and etiquette, and other elements that allow them to incorporate themselves into their new national and cultural context. For the Americans, who are also situated in a transitory context--as they participate in a group that belongs to two nationalities at once--the participation of Brazilians in the group is fundamental, as it offers legitimacy for the ensemble.


The flows of people, ideas, and sounds between Brazil and the United States suggest that Maracatu New York represents a transnational space. However, the most prevalent flows in the group are transregional, specifically between the state of Pernambuco in Brazil's northeast region and New Orleans in the US South. By mixing rhythms like the baque virado of Pernambuco's maracatu nations with second line, performed during the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Maracatu New York produces something new with symbolic values that emerge from this fusion, thereby inciting feelings of belonging among the group's members. From the combination of these rhythms, the group dramatizes the common past between Pernambuco and New Orleans, putting into play African ancestry, an idea resignified by transregional flows. Even though it is idealized, this idea promotes a feeling of proximity in Brazilians and Americans who live in New York.

In sum, Maracatu New York is more than merely a space for sharing feelings associated with the diaspora for its Brazilian members or an affective space for its American members. Rather, it is primarily a space that generates feelings of belonging as a result of flows. For the Brazilians, the presence of Americans in the group is crucial, as this allows them to feel as if they are actively participating in their new cultural and national context. The flows also activate feelings of identification among the Americans, and it is important for them to have Brazilian members in the group, as this reaffirms the group's symbolic relationship with Brazil, and, at the same time, legitimizes it in the United States as a percussion group based on a Brazilian cultural practice. Thus Maracatu New York incites different feelings of belonging by articulating distinct levels of local, regional, and transnational interconnection.


This research was conducted from February through July 2012 through a "sandwich" grant at New York University, financed with a research fellowship from the Coordenacao de Aperfeicoamento de Pessoal de Nivel Superior (CAPES). Thank you so much to Michael Silvers for reading and translating this article. I am also grateful to Lea Carvalho Rodrigues for her guidance in my doctoral "sandwich" research proposal. Thanks to Anna Beatriz Zanine Koslinski for sharing her reflections on the dynamic of the maracatu nations, and Natalia Coimbra de Sa for her assistance with the bibliography on the Brazilian diaspora in the United States. I am also thankful for the valuable suggestions given to me by the anonymous reviewers and editors of this article.

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Department of Sociology, Universidade Federal do Ceara, Brazil


(1) The coronation of black kings occurred as a cultural practice on the African continent before the diaspora. In the period of slavery, Africans continued practicing the coronations in Brazil, but with new significance (Souza 2002). The forms of maracatu in Ceara and maracatu-nacao in Pernambuco recall that particular celebration. Rural maracatu performances include a royal court, with kings, queens, and ladies of the palace. However, this style of maracatu does not entirely resemble maracatu-nacao. In addition to the musical differences, its central theme is the allusion to the quotidian reality of the sugarcane workers of Pernambuco, portrayed through the caboclo de lanca, identifiable by his sequined, shiny costume; its choreographies are characterized by propelled leaps; and the music is played by a brass band directed by the "maracatu master."

(2) The research for my master's thesis, which I conducted between 2006 and 2008, led to the publication of my book Maracatus no Ceara: Sentidos e Significados (Fortaleza: Edicoes UFC, 2011).

(3) Crang et al. (2003) suggest a number of authors who work on transnationalism in a variety of contexts. See Brah (1996) on diasporic social formations and senses of identity, Tomlinson (1999) on cultural globalization, Mitchell (1997) on hybridization, and Scheffer (1995) on experiences and political economics of migrations.

(4) The patrimonialization process of Pernambuco's maracatu nations was requested by the state government, but the ultimate aim is to register this cultural practice as national intangible heritage.

(5) Primary examples include Mario de Andrade (1982), American anthropologist Katarina Real (1966), and conductor Guerra Peixe, whose work Maracatus no Recife (1980) resulted in the categorization of Pernambuco's maracatus into baque virado and baque solto.

(6) Some percussion groups in Brazil perform the coronation ceremony of black kings, such as the groups Rio Maracatu, maracatu Nacao Pernambuco, and Maracatudo Nacao Camaleao.

(7) Not all maracatu nations include Afro-Brazilian deities (orixas) in their performances, as it is not an obligatory criterion in the judging of the Carnival Competition.

(8) For more on percussion groups in Brazil, see <>.

(9) In Europe there are maracatu groups in Germany, France, Italy, England, Ireland, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland. In 2012 a gathering of maracatu groups was held in Cologne, Germany. It was organized by Maracatu Colonia and brought together more than 300 people from different maracatu groups around the world.

(10) Billy Hart is a well-known jazz drummer who has played with Miles Davis, Tom Jobim, Stan Getz, and Herbie Hancock, among others.

(11) A percussionist, Martins has participated in maracatu nation Estrela Brilhante from Recife, and is currently developing activities for children from the periphery of Recife through his project Corpos Percussivos.

(12) Dunn (2008) -wrote an important comparison of the Brazilian city of Salvador with New Orleans, focusing on the differences and similarities between the two cities.

(13) Souza (2002) writes that the coronation ceremonies of black kings have occurred in different parts of the world in the African diaspora between the 16th and 18th centuries. See Gilroy (2001) on the African diaspora in the western hemisphere.

(14) Over the course of my field research, six Brazilians participated regularly in the group. They ranged in age from 30 to 40 years old; two were from Pernambuco, one was from Ceara, one was from Sao Paulo, and two were from Rio de Janeiro. Their professions and time spent in NYC also varied. Only one had no fixed address in the city; at the time she was taking an English course and intending to return to Rio de Janeiro in a few months. Additional Brazilians have been contracted by Kettner to participate in specific shows and for the recording of his second album, for which I was able to observe an important part of the production process. My inclusion of real names in this article was authorized by those I interviewed and cite here.
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Author:Cruz, Danielle Maia
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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