New World Songs for Catholic Saints: Domestic Performances of Devotion and History in Bahia, Brazil

This dissertation is about historicity. It is an inquiry into how individuals creatively layer personal and collective memories to shape socially shared musical practices. It is also about how such pasts are employed to understand and negotiate the present. To address these issues, this dissertation focuses on the reza, an annual Catholic patron saint ritual that is practiced in private homes all over the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The religious celebration includes Catholic Church texts intoned in local melodies, samba dancing, and group feasting. Explicitly, this musical ritual plays a vital role in solidifying social relationships and affirming Catholic identity, while also providing the spiritual means to confront quotidian life. Implicitly, the reza gives participants a means of remembering their own spiritual journeys and evoking a collective Black Atlantic past. Despite the fundamental socio-religious value of this tradition, it has largely been neglected in both English- and Portuguese-language academic scholarship. Consequently, this dissertation, based on over four years of ethnographic fieldwork and historical research (2008-2013), introduces the reza and, at the same time, uses it to develop a broader theoretical perspective about the way in which history plays out in contemporary musical practices.