For the Afro-Brazilian musicians of popular Catholicism, or Congadeiros, who live precariously on the urban and rural margins of Brazil, ritual undergirds their struggles for subsistence, spiritual fulfillment, and racial equality. When Congadeiros create ritual, they enter into a tradition begun in the seventeenth century in Brazil by their enslaved African and Afro-descendant ancestors who intoned songs of redemption. In keeping with their ancestors’ evocations of dignity during slavery, worshipers in the present day embed multiple kinds of vested interests within ritual festivity to achieve racial equality. This article explores Congado, the ceremonies of these disenfranchised musicians, to gain a broader understanding of how they use the expressive modalities of music and myth as warrants of truth in their struggles against racism. Insofar as myth and music speak of racial pride and socio-religious transformation, they are reflective of practitioners’ efforts to build a collective epistemology through an acoustics of justice. Indeed, the pursuit to redress social disparities is no more clearly betokened than in the music and myth of Congado vernacular traditions. Thus, this article contributes an ethnomusicological perspective to an interdisciplinary conversation about the conditions of possibility that Congado music and myth afford for the attainment of socio-political transformation. In brief, I investigate the entwinement of music and myth to illuminate the racial economies of Afro-Brazilian devotional expression and call for an understanding of Congado as a crucial site for the poetics and politics of survival.

Author Biography

Genevieve E. V. Dempsey is an ethnomusicologist and musician, specializing largely in the musics of Latin America and the Lusophone world. She is currently the Mamolen Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University for the 2017-18 academic year. She recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Reed Foundation as a Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund Fellow in Washington, D.C. Prior to this, she received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago in 2016. Her ethnographic and archival research has taken her to, among other places, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Lisbon, and Buenos Aires, where she examined music and ritual, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Dempsey has been awarded a number of prestigious fellowships, including grants from the American Association of University Women, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, and the United States Department of Education. Prior to the University of Chicago, she graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in Political Science, Economics, and Latin American Studies.

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