Sounding Ceará: Music and the Environment in Northeastern Brazil

This dissertation is an acoustic ethnography of the state of Ceará in Northeastern Brazil, with a focus on drought and the natural environment; drought is of particular symbolic and material importance to people in Ceará. One of the central narratives of life in Ceará involves migration and return. Here, I consider the discursive construction of Ceará as a natural, rural and traditional place through processes of migration and through a recording industry that saw migrants as both consumers and icons for a changing urban and national character. However, my emphasis is on the question of return. I investigate how urbanized and nationalized constructions of Ceará–often imagined as exclusively rural and unremittingly drought-ridden–impact contemporary Ceará and its musical culture. How are sounds, musics, practices, natures, geographies, and individuals shaped by mediated representations and caricatures of those very sounds, practices, geographies and identities? Drawing from acoustic ecology (Schafer 1994), acoustemology (Feld 1996), ecomusicology (e.g., Rehding 2002; Allen 2011), and discussions of musical sustainability (Titon 2009; Turino 2009), as well as from literature on rurality, capitalism, and nostalgia (e.g., Williams 1973; Stewart 1988; Dent 2009), I discuss traditional and hegemonic knowledge in urbanized rural and ruralized urban musical and agricultural practices, including the baião and forró music of Luiz Gonzaga; I interpret soundscapes in Fortaleza, the state capital, and Orós, a small city in the interior, to discuss the political and economic control of acoustic space, especially as it relates to musician Raimundo Fagner in Orós and electronic forró in Fortaleza; I analyze two contemporary musical projects–an opera and a rock band–that posit distinct relationships between Ceará’s nature and literary, historical, social, and musical worlds; and I investigate movements for cultural preservation as they address the sustainability of both nature and culture. I conclude that nostalgic representations of the sertão demonstrate the complexity and malleability of contemporary northeastern music and culture, that environmental sounds and music in Ceará are heard in ways that have been maintained through oral tradition and mediated through audio recording, and that Ceará’s soundscapes are constructed through community actions and legislation, by music industries, and through conflicting subjectivities. I also suggest that discourses of musical sustainability can be complexified by the example of forró, which was originally commercial popular music but has since become traditional music.