Despite dire predictions that participatory musical traditions would inevitably decline in capitalist modernity in which producers are increasingly distinguished from consumers, Rio de Janeiro’s street carnival revival, on the rise in the past two decades, shows that participatory music can thrive under capitalist relations. Much of the street carnival revival celebrates the free events in the streets as forming an uncommodified, musical social movement that presents an alternative to the expensive, presentational, and commercialized samba school spectacle. Theories of musical participation (Keil, Turino) likewise depict participatory musical practices as emancipatory and oppositional to capitalist relations. The vitality of street carnival, however, depends on oficinas, or for-profit classes that teach a wide variety of Brazilian and international styles for students to play with professional teachers in participatory carnival ensembles (blocos). In probing teachers’ “pedagogical labor,” this article portrays oficinas as comprising a “capitalist participatory music industry.” By offering a case study on a carnival brass band community turned activist musical movement whose growth has been fueled by oficinas, I show, however, that the commodified status of oficinas does not necessarily deprive them of the capacity to build an anti-capitalist musical movement. These musicians navigate, take advantage from, and challenge capitalist realities.
“To create a movement, you have to make people pay,” trombonist Clément Mombereau mused as we set off to play in one of Rio de Janeiro’s blocos, one of the city’s myriad participatory and mobile musical organizations of carnival.1 Blocos are musical institutions of Rio de Janeiro’s “street carnival” (carnaval de rua), referring to the free participatory musical ensembles that take the streets during carnival, rather than the city’s famous samba parades. Ranging from a handful of unofficial carnival revelers to the two million people that flock to Bola Preta, street carnival blocos are the heart of the ever-growing street carnival revival “movement” that had been previously repressed during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964−85). Many participants portray the festivity as a kind of democratic, utopian movement that allows the musical inclusion of all people and fights against the commoditized carnival of the samba schools. So what’s money got to do with it? How do we understand the connection between capitalist exigencies and musical participation in Mombereau’s comment?
Despite offering almost entirely free events, street carnival is a big industry. Riotur, which organizes the event, expected six million revelers (foliões) in 2018, including one and a half million tourists, and estimated a profit of three and a half million reais, or almost one billion dollars.2 But Mombereau’s comment above refers to the financial structure of musical participation of the ensembles themselves. The explosion of the street carnival movement is predicated on the growth in the past twenty years of oficinas, workshops or classes that generally meet weekly and provide musical education for Cariocas, or Rio’s residents, to learn musical skills and perform in a bloco. These oficinas are usually managed by a smaller band that specializes in a given style, and the band thus derives significant income from teaching students. For example, Orquestra Voadora is a brass and percussion band with about fifteen permanent members. The band’s oficina attracts about three hundred students, some of whom have no previous musical experience, and prepares them to play in the band’s bloco, an ensemble with about four hundred musicians that performs annually for upwards of 100,000 people on carnival Tuesday (Figure 1).
When participants refer to the street carnival as a “movement,” they often mean an almost revolutionary participatory social movement that fights against the commodification of carnival, especially represented by the expensive entrance price to the sambódromo route of the samba schools’ parades. Much of the street carnival revival views itself as countercultural, alternative, and avowedly anti-capitalist. But Mombereau’s ironic comment suggests that the existence and propulsion of this movement is based on the financial relationships, or possibilities for capitalist accumulation, offered by oficinas. Indeed, Orquestra Voadora is part of an ever-expanding brass bloco/band movement known as neofanfarrismo (or “new brass-bandism”), which emerged during the street carnival revival of the past twenty years. While the band has managed an open, participatory, and free bloco since its founding in 2008, it was the opening of the for-profit oficina in 2013 that helped that particular bloco and the larger movement of neofanfarrismo explode, as had much of the larger street carnival revival.
Accounts of cultural production under capitalism have accounted for the deep divides between producers and consumers, specialists and spectators, that have arisen throughout the world. In her book on the decline of participatory practices such as carnival, Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, illustrates how the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and bourgeois capitalism have ultimately left us in a world in which “there appears to be no constituency today for collective joy.”3 But widening her scope beyond the North Atlantic history she considers to a capitalist, neoliberal city like Rio de Janeiro, such a drastic statement is clearly not fully true. How, then, do we account for the fact that participatory musical culture can clearly thrive under capitalism? What do we make of the political economy of oficinas, an example of what I call “participatory capitalist music industries?”
The case of Rio de Janeiro’s oficinas has led me to take seriously the idea that the financial opportunities available to professional musicians do not necessarily orient them only to prioritize presentational performance, depriving others of the potential to create music and relegate them to spectator status. Rather, these opportunities can magnify musical participation through offering professional musicians compensated teaching. In this article, I do not seek to merely point to a gap between theory and practice, or to the occlusion of money in a utopian participatory musical movement. In engaging with and critiquing the literature on music and the politics of participation, I want, rather, to understand where this view, that musical participation and capitalism are in some way anathema to each other, comes from. Furthermore, I ask what this messiness between complicity and resistance in capitalist systems offered by the street carnival oficina case means for an account of musical participation that is not treated as apart from capitalism but entangled with it. Ultimately, I argue that musical participation may indeed be a product of capitalist opportunity available to musicians surviving under capitalism but that this fact does not deprive participation of its resistant, or even revolutionary, potential. Indeed, revolutions must be funded.
MUSICAL PARTICIPATION, CAPITALISM, AND PEDAGOGICAL LABOR
Neofanfarristas’ belief that participatory blocos fight against the commodified spectacle of carnival is not simply a local anomaly that disavows the role of money when it is plainly present. Rather, it is structured into what I argue is a “traditional morality” of popular music studies and ethnomusicology as well as cultural studies more generally, a scholarly approach that originated with the Frankfurt School’s application of Marxism to cultural production. To simplify, the implicit argument behind this view is that when expressive culture is commodified, it is brought into the marketplace of circulating goods. It becomes something outside the control of the laborer who creates it, reified as having a fetishized life as a commodity whose existence is defined, and sullied, by market relations. The status of music as a commodity that can be bought and sold creates a divide between artistic laborers from artistic consumers, those who perform and those who spectate. Economies of scale consolidate and centralize artistic production in the hands of fewer and fewer people and erode incentives to engage in participatory practices because they are not profit-oriented. From this perspective, engaging in participatory practices despite their lack of financial incentive might be thought to destabilize capitalist relations by eroding the divisions between laborer and spectator created by capitalist production.
This anxiety about capitalism’s role in eliminating musical participation and the prizing of participation as an antidote to social fragmentation has a prominent history in ethnomusicology, the field in which I have been trained. In this sense, capitalism is a problem for ethnomusicology. The roots of the field lie in much genuine sympathy for the marginalized, those oppressed by capitalist relations and whose cultural practices we have sought to valorize, as well as romanticization of particular modes of musical production over others. Though certainly not embraced by all ethnomusicologists, such views animate much scholarship. Here, I problematize the theories of two prominent ethnomusicologists: Thomas Turino’s division between presentational and participatory fields distinguished by the degree to which spectators are expected to participate in the performance, which treats participatory music as somehow outside of capitalist relations.4 His theory builds on Charles Keil’s theory of “participatory discrepancies”5 as well as on a longer scholarly tradition of “Vulgar Marxist” critique, or the notion that the “base” economic relations determine the cultural “superstructure.”
My critique of these theories resonates with David Hesmondalgh’s recognition of these works’ shortcomings in which participatory music “is presented as emerging only from threatened egalitarian enclaves of capitalist societies . . . We need accounts that can find enrichment in the more demotic, mundane, and compromised forms of sociality to be found in modern urban life.”6 This article responds to Hesmondalgh’s call by providing a case study that shows that participatory musical culture can benefit from, thrive under, and destabilize capitalist production. Moreover, I build on recent work in music studies that criticizes the view that capitalism promotes a particular kind of cultural production that is necessarily harmful to what we might view as the “musical good” and, by extension, the social good. Martin Stokes, for example, encourages us “to resist the teleological, historicist assumptions about the inevitably dominating ‘incursion’ of money into musical worlds that a simplistic reading of Marx seems to supply.”7 Likewise, Timothy Taylor argues that “It has been commonplace for decades . . . to write against the music industries . . . Most studies simply assume a capitalist mode of production and the commodity status of popular music, or conflate capitalism with money, instead of viewing it as a social form that profoundly shapes not only production and consumption, but also social relations and perceptions.”8 Building on these insights, I suggest here that musicians are entangled with capitalist relations, but that their roles and actions are not reducible to them. Moreover, I understand “capitalism” itself not as a singular or stable set or relations but as a messy set of contradictory tensions through which musicians are animated by, but not wholly defined by, the profit motive.
While ethnomusicologists have recently dealt in nuanced ways with capitalism, commodification, and labor, the majority of this focus has been on what Turino calls the presentational field, that is, on how performing musicians sell their labor.9 In contrast to ethnomusicology, popular music studies has taken on the problems of capitalism since the field’s beginnings. While the first theoretical preoccupations with mass popular culture may not initially have been friendly toward it, nuanced understandings of how capitalist production does not necessarily foreclose resistance to or destabilization of “the system” have been a part of field since the Birmingham School’s contribution to cultural studies.10 Recent work in popular music studies has shown the continuing importance of musical participation in engaging with commodified popular music, such as studies on collective singing at Bob Dylan concerts, karaoke singing, and collective singing in American movie theaters in the 1920s and 30s.11 Here I put ethnomusicology’s traditional interest in participatory musical acts in conversation with popular music studies, a field that initially emerged as a study primarily of presentational music and the culture industries that produce it. Indeed, Turino’s own model, which puts musical participation and presentation on a spectrum of musical activity, pushes us more fully to account for participatory music making as a crucial element of capitalist music industries.
This article complements this work in both fields, but it offers an account of a capitalist participatory music industry that is propelled not through participatorily engaging with presentational forms, but through examination of the financial and social structures of the oficina industry where conventional dichotomies become quickly blurred. By consuming musical education in oficinas, these carnival musician students eventually become musical producers, complicating boundaries between musician and audience, professional and amateur, artist and spectator.
Despite this blurring, however, distinct differences in roles remain apparent if we pay attention to the direction of financial flow from students to teachers and consider the teachers as laborers and paid facilitators of musical movement building. The celebration of diminishing alienation by means of musical participation, both on the ground and in Keil and Turino’s theorizing, occludes consideration of what I call “pedagogical labor.” The tendency to focus on performance and commodification of artistic products in relation to labor has sidelined considerations of pedagogy as musical labor, compensated labor that disseminates musical knowledge beyond teachers, as has occurred in the oficina industry. As Matt Stahl points out, despite the romanticization of the artist as a non-capitalist being, musical laborers, such as the recording artists he researches, “do not operate outside the broader political, economic, societal, and legal structures.”12 Through carnival musicians’ pedagogical “affective labor,”13 which Marié Abe describes as offering products “that are inherently intangible and social,”14 they produce “sociality,” a “process in which people are inevitably engaged with one another and with their surroundings.”15
In considering the oficina industry, I draw our attention to the production of sociality that creates the experience of participation from the perspective of the music teachers who live precarious laboring lives, an approach Matt Sakakeeny calls the “view of the cultural economy from the bottom looking up.”16 Furthermore, I show how romanticization of participation obscures the contractual relationships that often form its condition of possibility. In this sense, the building of a “participatory movement” cloaks not only the financial relationships but the very real precarity of the teachers’ lives, those who “play for work,”17 while amateur students in oficinas often hail from professional careers and do not share with their teachers the exigencies of surviving from music. In focusing on this financial complexity between teachers and students in the creation of a musical movement, I point to ways that these musicians at once navigate, survive under, and challenge capitalist relations.
My argument shows that capitalist relations are indeed the name of the game and that it is in an important sense impossible to play outside of them, as Keil and Turino seem to imply that certain traditions do. Sympathetic, however, with these same ethnomusicologists and with those in search of alternative models within capitalist production, I underline that capitalist relations are also contradictory and unleash forces they cannot control. That is, in critiquing Keil’s and Turino’s models, my account is not pessimistic: musicians who “play the system,” in this case through commodifying and selling participatory music making, can also work to destabilize that same system.
In a post-Derridean world, simply pointing out that a binary between presentational music as commodified and participatory music as outside of capitalist relations is in fact a false binary is not exactly novel. From this perspective, a further question, then, is not whether these theories are empirically true of false, but how did this belief in participatory music making, if there is such a distinct thing, as a kind of anti-capitalist act emerge? Do musicians invested in participatory music and living in the capitalist world say these things? How does ethnographic examination of such a case fit in or complicate this paradigm? Ultimately, the equation of presentational performance with capitalism and participatory music making as a form of resistance appears not to be an absolute description of reality under which all musical phenomena fall but rather a belief system and an articulation of value, what I am terming a “musical morality.”
In what follows in three sections, I introduce the oficina culture industry and the larger street carnival as participatory movements governed by capitalist rationales, show the limitations of current models of participatory music in ethnomusicology, and demonstrate how a particular carnival brass movement fueled by the oficina industry has positioned itself as avowedly anti-capitalist and in service of leftist movements, complicating the notion that the oficina industry’s commodified status makes it necessarily compliant to capitalist interests. While not celebrating capitalism, I illustrate what kinds of musical participation are possible within it, as musicians navigate and shape Rio’s local popular music industries.
RIO DE JANEIRO’S OFICINA INDUSTRY AND NEOFANFARRISMO
Every night in Rio de Janeiro, one has a huge variety of options to study a new instrument, folkloric tradition, or dance practice. At a relatively low price, various institutions, schools, and venues offer weekly oficinas, or classes, to train beginning musicians, amateurs, and experienced professionals in a wide range of styles. Managed by established bands, these classes that run throughout the year often provide instruction to participate in a band’s bloco, or participatory carnival music organization, with the ultimate goal of playing in Rio’s annual “street carnival.” Given the expense of participating, the street carnival oficina industry is primarily marketed to the city’s middle class. Perhaps surprisingly to many readers, much of the street carnival that takes place in Rio’s somewhat insecure public spaces is indeed a middle-class and whiter phenomenon than the city’s famed samba schools, which mobilize tens of thousands of blacker populations hailing primarily from Rio’s poorer neighborhoods.
As street carnival has grown in the past decades, oficinas have proliferated in order to offer musical education and access to play in a bloco, making paying to learn music a fashionable way to participate in and support the street carnival movement. By all accounts, musical education is sorely lacking in schools, but many middle-class adults have started to learn a variety of musical traditions through these institutions, sometimes learning music for the first time. With more than five hundred official blocos in Rio’s street carnival, it is impossible to generalize about the political philosophies related to participatory music making of each one. But within the relatively middle-class and whiter brass movement of street carnival that I studied between 2014 and 2016 and related oficinas in central Rio de Janeiro, participants conceptualize street carnival as a kind of socio-political movement. In their view, it counters the prevailing logic of the capitalist status quo through participatory music making that is understood to erode class barriers and divisions between producers and spectators.
Professional musicians who participate in carnival blocos, which are known as free events, expect, however, to be paid. Much of street carnival’s funding depends on sponsorship from beer companies, especially Antartica, as well as private money funneled toward cultural support through the Law of Incentive for Culture (1991, also known as the Lei Rouanet). Musicians capitalize on other opportunities as well, such as one bloco I researched, the rehearsal of which was recorded by Airbnb for a commercial called “Stay with me” before the 2016 Olympics. These sponsorship facts alone complicate any notion that street carnival is an anti-capitalist, or at best non-capitalist, manifestation beyond interrogating the financial relationships involved in oficinas.
In the past fifteen years, one movement originating in the street carnival revival, neofanfarrismo, meaning “new brass bandism,” has popularized participatory brass and percussion ensembles in Rio that play a wide variety of genres, from traditional Brazilian carnival marches to other global brass genres and renditions of popular songs. At the turn of the millennium, brass musicians had gone back to the streets during the revitalization of street carnival in blocos such as Céu na Terra (2001) and Cordão do Boitatá (1996). These ensembles, which initially focused on reviving particular Brazilian genres within carnival that they felt had been sidelined by the samba schools, have official members who lead the ensemble and are paid by corporate sponsorship. Financially insured by sponsorship, the blocos have also been open to amateurs who wanted to learn the music and parade in carnival, offering a free space for musicians to hone their craft. The result entails huge ensembles into the hundreds coordinated by a core of professionals and amplified by just about anyone else who would like to take part. Notwithstanding some variations in tuning that result, the overall sound is driving, loud, and mobilizing to the tens of thousands of people who attend.
With the rise of the internet, many of these musicians, professionals and amateurs, who had cut their teeth on street carnival began to experiment with alternative repertoires. Orquestra Voadora, founded in 2008, is the band that has done the most work to launch and popularize the neofanfarrismo movement as a musical movement that dialogues with musical resources from throughout the world, including Balkan and New Orleans brass and popular songs from Brazil and outside, both within and beyond the context of carnival. The name Orquestra Voadora, or “Flying Orchestra,” refers to a variety of musical manifestations along Turino’s presentational-to-participatory spectrum. Voadora is a fifteen-person professional band from which band members seek to earn a living through selling, or commodifying, their performances on the musical marketplace. The name also refers to the band’s carnival bloco in which band members have, in the tradition of Boitatá and Céu na Terra, taught for free some of their repertoire to musician friends interested in participating in their gigantic carnival performance described above.
Neofanfarristas argue that such musical participation in the public commons has the capacity to erode social barriers and the senses of exclusion that characterize life in a capitalist and profoundly unequal city. They seek to create what many of them call a “horizontal” musical movement that levels distinctions between leader and follower, musician and spectator, producer and consumer, as well as class distinctions among participants. These practices have allowed the movement to grow exponentially beyond the world of relatively more professional musicians. They have fueled a discourse of musical populism that has led scores of adults to engage in music making in the streets for the first time.
But, and here is where the story gets complicated by money, until opening their oficina in 2013, Voadora’s “open” bloco was much smaller and really only “open” to those who already had some chops on their instruments. Here Voadora saw an economic opportunity on which many other street carnival performance groups had already capitalized. Oficinas offer the chance for a band to teach a musical style to interested fans and prepare them to perform alongside them in the bloco, thus magnifying their own fan base and blurring the distinction between participant and fan. Students in Voadora’s oficina, numbering at about three hundred, are often complete beginners on their instrument of choice. They pay about fifteen dollars (fifty reais) per week to learn their instruments alongside the performers they fetishize on stage and imagine being. In fact, the oficina does allow them to become fetishized performers on stage. This educational institution in the center of Rio has provided a meeting ground for interested musicians to found their own bands that have come to circulate on the marketplace of brass band performances. These new bands specialize in different forms of music that they pass on to their own open, participatory blocos in which they teach their music to other interested musicians, thus further expanding the movement. The oficina has continued to exponentially expand the number of new brass bands, with “student” bands of Orquestra Voadora, such as Damas de Ferro (an all-women band with a feminist stance), Ataque Brasil, and Black Clube now establishing their own blocos and educating their own students. Ironically, Orquestra Voadora, capitalizing on the opportunities of pedagogical labor, has produced bands that now compete with it financially.
During the oficina, Orquestra Voadora divides the students into sections by instrument (naipes), and instructors begin by warming up and teaching basic technique. The students are then divided by ability and sent with individual instructors who might be teaching twenty beginners at a time. Subjects vary and include music theory, technique, repertoire, and improvisation. Though much of the oficina is spent in individual sections, the goal is to bring all of the sections to play together and participate in the band’s carnival bloco. Students are encouraged to collaborate and play together in different formations. Commenting on her experience of learning trombone in the oficina, engineer-by-day and street-musician-by-night Cristiana Campanha relates with delight, “It was a revolution in my life that an instrument of which I didn’t even know the name some years past entered my life. But this same revolution is happening in the lives of many people. Orquestra Voadora is creating a revolution in Rio de Janeiro.”18 (Figure 2)
Closing the first full year of the oficina before the culmination of the 2014 carnival, the students created an auto-documentary about the experience of learning a new musical instrument and engaging with the world of neofanfarrismo, entitled Learning to Fly (Aprendendo a Voar) in reference to the “Flying Orchestra” (Orquestra Voadora).19 In the film, musicians speak of the knowledge gained in the oficina as an exchange (troca), a horizontal passing of knowledge between teachers and students. Some students describe the oficina as a form of “therapy” in which they sought a “cure” to their life problems through engaging in music. The possibility of gaining access to musical education outside of the formalism of the academic settings of much musical education was described as profoundly liberating by many students. Absent from the video is acknowledgment that this access comes at a price, one unaffordable to many Cariocas and one without which Orquestra Voadora’s professional musicians would not sell their labor.
Despite the inherent hierarchy involved in the oficina, students often spoke of the “horizontal” relationships they developed with the teachers who would play and drink with them after the oficina and encourage them to lead songs and take on new roles. While there exists a set of agreed upon goals to prepare students to play with the bloco in carnival, teachers confessed to me that much of the oficina was an experiment in attempting to provide musical education that would not feel like formal training. Former Voadora trombonist Márcio Sobrosa suggests in the documentary that
We are in a way creating something new. We don’t know what it is. There is no specific model that we are presenting to the students. There is desire and pedagogic space. Everyone has to put her/himself in it because we work with horizontality. I am not the holder of knowledge. Everyone has knowledge, and we are creating a pedagogic environment to exchange it.
Drawing explicitly on Freirian pedagogy,20 Sobrosa intends not to be viewed as a fetishized performer with a specialized form of knowledge but rather a facilitator of musical and pedagogical participation. Absent from this portrait of exchange, however, is the very financial exchange of pedagogical labor that does put each person in the oficina in a different role, as the professional teachers would not, by contrast, pay the students to gain the pleasure of “horizontal exchange” with them in the oficina.
Indeed, as a trumpet player in Rio researching the neofanfarrismo movement, I taught once a week in the oficina of Orquestra Voadora. These eight hours of monthly labor paid me $200 dollars per month, or two-thirds of my rent. While enjoyable, this experience was not without senses of alienation, discomfort, and compulsion. Aside from my interests in the institution as a researcher, my primary interest in taking part, as a professional musician, was motivated by profit. The oficina is part of several entrepreneurial strategies that the band employs to enable its professional members to live off their music. The for-profit oficina has provided an opportunity to mobilize and expand the neofanfarrismo community that the free bloco could not, where the barrier for participation in the bloco is knowledge of a particular instrument. While members of the band would sacrifice their Sunday afternoons each summer without immediate economic reward in order to teach their music to other musicians to perform in carnival, thus advancing their band’s profile, they would not also agree to teach people every week year-round how to play their instruments for free. It was the opportunity for financial gain of the oficina that set the conditions for the explosion and proliferation of the participatory neofanfarrismo movement in the last five years. Through commodifying musical participation, Orquestra Voadora has found a way to survive in the capitalist city of Rio de Janeiro.
Rio’s oficinas clearly invite us, therefore, to rethink standard tropes of capitalism as fostering spectacle, presentational forms, and passive consumption. As we have seen, it is through consuming musical education provided by one’s favorite local bands that these student musicians come to participate in blocos, start their own bands and blocos, and thus further the movement. In turn, bands gain income as well as a growing fan base in the process. In this sense, neofanfarristas are what Alvin Toffler called “prosumers,” or those who produce through consuming.21 The notion of a prosumer complicates the Marxist model that divides producers and consumers in a market driven primarily by the profit motives of the bourgeoisie. Toffler imagined in his 1980 book The Third Wave that these roles would increasingly merge in a post-industrial economy, and much of the theorizing of prosumers has primarily involved use of new media. Prosumers customize the products available to them and use them for their own entrepreneurial endeavors. In some activist takes on the concept, prosumption is an alternative to relying on the corporate market place to provide us with commodities. This is very much what these new brass musicians have achieved through participating in Orquestra Voadora’s oficina and learning the instruments of the traditional brass band, not what most would call “new media.” Complicated tensions arise in prosumption, therefore, including the occlusion of pedagogical labor and the eventual increase in competition that results when these “prosumer bands” begin to compete with the original professional bands on the market of brass band performance and education.
WHY IS IT BELIEVED THAT MUSICAL PARTICIPATION AND CAPITALISM ARE ANATHEMA?
Why indeed, if musical participation can in fact thrive under capitalism as it does in Rio de Janeiro? For Karl Marx in Das Kapital, The Economic and PhilosophicManuscripts of 1844, and elsewhere, the capitalist production system creates a society in which laborers are alienated from their Gattungswesen, or “species essence.” This is a state of freedom from the labor economy, freedom from commodification and the selling of the products of one’s labor on a market place ruled by the interests of the bourgeoisie. If we extend this model to music, musicians in the capitalist model of production are a proletarian laboring class whose goals are governed by the bourgeois rationale to extract the highest surplus value possible from them. In this model, if one wants in any way to live from musical production in a capitalist economy, one must enter into the bourgeois exchange economy of music to be consumed and submit to the capitalist logic of transforming music into a commodity circulating in the market place.
As William Roy22 and Matthew Gelbart23 recount, the anxiety regarding this mode of production in nineteenth-century Western Europe led to a prominent belief in the incompatibility between capitalism and expressive culture, as well as a theoretical division of musical culture between the categories of art and folk music, both threatened by capitalism. Despite, or because of, the incursions of capitalist relationships into European feudalistic society in the nineteenth century, Romantic artists articulated notions of genius as autonomous and individualistic. Embracing “Art for Art’s sake” and the “Work Concept,”24 “true artists” were understood as somehow operating outside of the exigencies of capitalism, which might sully artistic freedom. In contrast to the experimental and individualistic notions of Romantic genius, Johann Herder25 portrayed folk culture as the traditional, authentic, communitarian, and rural spirit of “the people,” in danger of being lost to the corrosive effects of capitalist modernity. In distinction to the “autonomy” of art, folk culture was understood as “functional,” embedded in the social rituals of the unitary folk, which could be “elevated” if used as “raw material” in art music, thereby losing its functionality. The elisions of social hierarchies and divisions within the folk category would lead to a notion of the folk as participatory in contrast to the presentational mode of art music. If capitalism promoted a commodified and alienated culture with specialized laborers and consumers, “folklore” was the authentic and egalitarian cultural expression of “the people.” Folklore and art music arose, therefore, as industrial capitalism’s “others” in very different ways.
The later emergence of mass media further created a tripartite division among art, folk, and the popular in a hierarchy of value in that order, with the popular understood as the cultural expression of mass capitalism itself.26 Folk music would then be understood specifically in opposition to mass-mediated popular music and art music, and folkloric tropes would be deployed by musical activists as oppositional to capitalism, such as in the American folk revival or Brazilian música popular brasileira. Early twentieth-century cultural theorists’ attacks on the “culture industries” were foundational to the musicologies’ long dismissal of popular mass-mediated music as being worthy of study. Theodor Adorno believed that the culture industry undermined the autonomy of art, leading to a debased popular culture with regimes of values based solely on profit motive and fetish. For Walter Benjamin, the mechanical reproduction of art led to its loss of “aura,” implying that that which was accessible and functional had less value.27 Jacques Attali28 viewed music in the late twentieth century as in a stage thoroughly determined by capitalist production, while Guy Debord29 argued that twentieth-century capitalism had commodified social life to such an extent that consumption of spectacles replaced “genuine social life” and allowed the maintenance of capitalist exploitation, which for him could only be undone through revolution.30
Here is where ethnomusicologists have at times proposed participatory music making as their own contribution to the revolution against capitalism. In contrast to the above critiques of cultural studies, which saw popular culture as degrading both art and folklore, some ethnomusicologists have viewed the presentational mode of both the art and popular categories as inherently oppressive, eventually replacing the much critiqued divisions among art, folk, and popular with a division between participation and presentation.31 In his influential 1987 essay, “Participatory Discrepancies and the Power of Music,” Charles Keil claims that “participation is the opposite of alienation from nature, from society, from the body, from labor,” as it overcomes the divide between laborer and consumer.32 Participatory music, in Keil’s writing, sounds quite like Marx’s Gattungswesen, a state in which one is not alienated from one’s potential for self-fulfillment by another’s interests. It stands in opposition to the capitalist logic expressed by what Turino would later call the “presentational field” of music. For Keil, micro-timed and micro-tonal “discrepancies” represent a resistance to the western philosophical and sonic ideals of perfection and abstraction. Participatory music is “out-of-time” and “out-of-tune,” as musical discrepancies from diverse participants become audible. These expressions might only sound “bad” or “wrong” to an “alienated” ear, one that does not want to hear the participation of oppressed others.
In his follow-up article published eight years later, “The Theory of Participatory Discrepancies: A Progress Report,” Keil more clearly frames participatory discrepancies in opposition to capitalism, a model that maps onto a variety of other binary oppositions, including process vs. product, primary reality vs. civilized reality, and live vs. recorded. Explicitly aligned with a Marxist frame, Keil argues that participatory music is “the necessary complement to Marxism,” providing “healings of those alienations from body, labor, society and nature that permeate late capitalism . . . to recreate ourselves, our communities and our cosmologies.”33 The participatory frame, for Keil, constitutes what he calls “primary reality,” which appears as a sort of musical Gattungswesen as opposed to civilized reality, which “tries to fix the flux of both nature and culture . . . by codifying, standardizing, controlling, powertripping, monoculturing, ego-rigidifying, routinizing, over-rationalized and alienating our lives, keep[ing] up a relentless attack on our diversity of cultural possibilities for fusing with primary reality.”34 The participatory field is much more possible in the live musical context, which, for Keil, falls outside the frame of the commodity. The recorded musical product, by contrast, is “always limited in at least a few ways by electricity, machinery and commodity forms.”35
In some respects, Keil’s theory appears commonsensical. “Western civilization,” and the classical music culture Keil criticizes in particular, are perhaps based on conceptions of absolute perfection that he traces back to Plato. Many people do feel alienated from the possibility of musical participation in the context of Western classical music. It is not far-fetched to claim that Western classical music asserts a strong divide between performer and spectator and that large ensembles, such as orchestras, are not participatory because they are directed in an authoritarian manner that seeks to eliminate discrepancies. Many neofanfarristas, speak of experiences of liberation in the possibility to create “participatory discrepancies:” to make mistakes, to participate, and to encourage others to participate no matter if the end result does not model the precision, structure, and form of a musical “work.”
In another respect, however, Keil’s strong articulation of binary oppositions would make a post-structuralist skeptical. Keil proposes non-Western music, especially Afro-diasporic genres, as an antidote to what the West has lacked and, in this sense, accuses Western civilization of racism in its supposed denial of participatory discrepancies. Implicit in his writing, however, is a strong racialized opposition of the “West and the Rest” that maps onto binaries between complicity with capitalism and resistance to it. Conversely, this model suggests that non-Western music, and especially black music, might not uphold “civilized” notions of perfection, structure, or syntax as important; rather the “magic” for Keil is just in the groove that anyone can engage in. Such a flattening of non-Western music and the strong assertion of difference between Western civilization and other cultural forms flirt with exoticism and essentialization. Furthermore, Keil asserts that participation is the opposite of labor, which is clearly not the case if we consider the pedagogical labor in a capitalist participatory music industry like the oficinas.
Thomas Turino explicitly develops Keil’s insights regarding participatory music as a way to solve Marxist alienation in his 2008 book, Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation, to argue that participatory music falls outside of capitalist production—the last chapter, titled “For Love or Money,” gives the reader a sense of his own allegiances. Turino suggests that music constitutes, “not a unitary art form,”36 but a variety of sound-producing social activities, which he places on a spectrum of what he calls presentational to participatory “fields.” Arguing for the importance of reclaiming participatory music as an inherent element of our being with language reminiscent of Keil’s cure for alienation, he suggests that “musical participation and experience are valuable for the processes of personal and social integration that make us whole.”37 Asserting a notion of “primary process” based on Gregory Bateson,38 not unlike Keil’s “primary reality,” participatory music making forges the “feeling of oneness with others,”39 providing experiences that “emphasize our sameness,”40 rather than difference, and the “ideal human relationships” of communitas.41
According to Turino, the emergent “cosmopolitan” framework transformed “musicmaking as a social activity to music as an object,”42 fostering a music industry that objectifies and commodifies performances, performers, and artistic products. The emergence of capitalism forged distinctions between “role relationships, social positioning, and status of actors and activities” inherent to the presentational field.43 Participation, by contrast, is based on an “ethos that everyone present can, and in fact should, participate in the sound and motion of the performance.”44 In the participatory field, “there are no artist-audience distinctions, only participants and potential participants performing different roles.”45 Indeed, for Turino, a participatory frame does not mean that all will perform the same roles in the forging of a musical act, as he introduces a distinction between “core and elaboration.” Orquestra Voadora, the band, might be the “core” in relation to Orquestra Voadora, the bloco, as the “elaboration,” but all are participating.
For Turino, participation cannot be captured by capitalism’s urge to turn everything into a commodity: “participatory music and dance is more about the social relations being realized through the performance than about producing art that can somehow be abstracted from those social relations,”46 and “the participatory field is radical within the capitalist cosmopolitan formation in that it is not for listening apart from doing . . . Participatory performance is also radical in that it hinders professionalism, control, and the creation of commodity forms.”47 As the “most democratic field,” participatory music making creates “cultural cohorts that stand in opposition to the broader cultural formation” of cosmopolitan capitalism.48 Turino opposes cyclical and repetitive open forms to the structured, or “closed,” forms of the presentational field. Creating “a fairly undifferentiated wall of sound” with what Keil would call many “discrepancies,” participatory musical traditions do not comply to the commodified sound product fetishized and desired on the musical market place.49 For Turino, participatory traditions are mainly aesthetically valuable as a participant rather than as a listener, which, for him, makes them more socially valuable since they “solve” many of the divisive ills of capitalist life and experience.
Like Keil’s theory on which Turino builds, there is much that is commonsensical about Turino’s framework. Some traditions do appear more open to participation than others, some traditions prize long-scale forms over cyclical ones, and some traditions expect audience members to sit quietly and listen, whereas others expect them to pick up an instrument and jam however they may know how. But, like Keil’s theory, Turino’s binary oppositions look suspect, even though he frames them as on a spectrum. He opposes “doing” to “listening,” which, for him, is why participatory music making appears “radical” within the capitalist cosmopolitan formation that relegates everyone but musical laborers to passive listeners. The emergent fields of sound and listening studies,50 however, investigate listening as an active, ideological, and contingent process. From that perspective, one could ask why listening would not be considered a form of doing? Is this not to assert Western classical practices as somehow absolutely distinct from others? Why is dancing a form of participation rather than a way to spectate? Such oppositions, again like Keil’s theory, reify oppositions between capitalist and “democratic” modes of musicking and map onto problematic differentiations between the West and the rest. Marié Abe’s theorization of the production of sociality through “resonance,” the “capacity of sound to implicate all vibrating bodies and objects within its proximity,” problematizes the dualistic viability of Turino’s categories.51 In the case of the oficinas, the communitas Turino describes is produced by people with distinct roles and financial incentives.
Though both theorists present these models as universally applicable, consideration of Brazilian popular music also reveals their limitations. Jeff Packman52 notes that presentational musicians in Salvador da Bahia play with audience members’ familiarity with repertoire in order to incite them to sing along. The extent to which audience members musically participate often determines the success of a performance. Indeed, musical performance that is led by a presentational core of musicians but promotes audience participation is a defining feature of Brazilian popular music. This practice can be observed in a roda de samba (samba circle) where spectators sing enthusiastically around a core of musicians,53 in the 1960s song festivals where a song’s success would be judged in part by audience participation,54 and in the samba schools which mobilize mass ensembles of up to three thousand members to sing along as well as the “spectators” in the stands of the sambódromo, the structure built for the parade in 1984. Brazilian popular music is, in this sense, built on capitalist participatory music industries.
Complicating Keil’s culturalist assumption, such a participatory ethos is based not only on the country’s Afro-descendent heritage but also on the French Orpheonic Song tradition instituted in Brazil by Heitor Villa-Lobos.55 Unlike Turino’s belief that participatory forms prize ostinatos and repetition, Brazilian popular songs, and even the “Afro-Brazilian” samba schools’ samba-enredo songs, are known for their formal complexity, harmonic sophistication, and unexpected melodic turns. Likewise, Orquestra Voadora’s arrangements are highly orchestrated and play through long song forms that also use Afro-diasporic ostinatos and grooves. Packman notes, therefore, that “while the range of fields that Turino posits certainly exists in Salvador, a surprising number of musical events, indeed, I would argue most, are strongly informed by aspects of both the participatory and the presentational fields.”56 His observation of the “mixed-field” approach of Brazilian popular music perhaps renders Turino’s model in effect useless for interpreting one of the world’s most famously participatory musical cultures.57
It cannot be denied that, like the Marxist theory upon which they explicitly base themselves, Keil and Turino seek not only to describe the world, creating categories through which we can understand it, but to change it. They articulate a “musical morality” in which musical participation is presented as a form of resistance to the ills of capitalism, something even outside of it, as a well as to art music, another presentational form that has also been presumed to be outside of capitalism. Their views are predicated not only on a tradition of lefty scholarship that, in my view, rightfully mistrusts capitalist rationales and exigencies, but also on the real and lived experience of those who are marginalized by capitalism and its cultural products. In this respect, they are right: many communities do assert participation as a form of resistance to buying into the mainstream, commodified, presentational field.
In this sense, Turino’s and Keil’s theories are not so much empirically wrong—though when applied to particular case studies, such as Brazilian popular music, they can quickly lose utility—but rather, insomuch as any binary opposition can be deconstructed, they are articulations of value, reflective of ethnographic engagements like Rio’s street carnival, in which such beliefs are explicitly espoused. My aim, in the rest of this article, is not, then, to “apply” their theories to Rio’s oficina industry and participatory street carnival blocos but to examine how the articulations of similar values by these musical communities in Rio de Janeiro confront the ways they navigate the capitalist relations that mediate and shape their musical projects. Moreover, the next and final section shows how the opportunity for financial accumulation through pedagogical labor that has spurred the neofanfarrismo movement has also helped a musical movement grow that does seek to challenge capitalism itself, making the case quite a bit messier.
AN ACTIVIST BRAZILIAN BRASS MOVEMENT
The animated video, “Hino da Orquestra Voadora”58 (“Anthem of Orquestra Voadora”), presents the idea that participatory music making in public space is an effective mode of resistance to and transformation of capitalist urban society. In the cartoon, a foreboding voice narrates over bleak urban images of trash, sanitary catastrophes, and urban chaos: “Like all metropolises, Rio de Janeiro meets the biggest enemy of humanity: pollution . . . Who will be able to intervene?” The beginning of a carnival march rhythm then accompanies a super hero image of Orquestra Voadora, occupying a Transformer robot who fights a monster character personifying pollution and urban chaos. Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue heads the transformer, and as the monster punches the Transformer, musical instruments fly out of it into the hands of the terrorized people in the streets. As the people begin to play, the pollution monster is distracted and starts dancing, letting the Orquestra Voadora Transformer easily dispatch him. The Christ statue retakes its place on Corcovado Mountain, and a new beautiful day dawns on Rio de Janeiro.
The video is an illustration of a musical protest of the citizenry who have taken up the arms of musical instruments against the monstrous personification of pollution, capitalism, and urban decay. Rejecting the safety-valve belief that carnival is a hedonistic distraction used by elites to maintain order, Orquestra Voadora positions carnivalesque musical participation as a form of political activism. The video also portrays the expansion of a musical movement led by Orquestra Voadora toward a musical mobilization of the entire city. Beyond a musical protest oriented toward a particular target, the video playfully presents city-wide collective music making in the public commons as a defiant and effective way to counter the challenges, corruption, and disintegration of urban, capitalist life. Orquestra Voadora presents itself as a revolutionary force in much the same ways that Keil and Turino present participatory music making.
In neofanfarrismo, musical participation is celebrated and articulated through the supposed ideals of carnival, a tradition laden with its own romanticized participatory and resistant discourse. Like musical participation, carnival has long been considered a manifestation of anti-elitism and proto-anticapitalism, what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the “second life” of the people that exists alongside their lives as laborers in a stratified society. For Bakhtin, “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people: they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people.”59 Carnivalesque experience reduces social hierarchy and promotes what Victor Turner calls the experience of “communitas.”60 Indeed, carnival historically has been an opportunity for exploited peoples to imagine becoming the owners of the means of production, and on many occasions, the festive occasion was accompanied by open revolt. In the colonized Americas, carnival was an important contested opportunity for indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples to openly manifest their expressive cultures. In the context of Brazil, Roberto DaMatta’s study of Rio de Janeiro’s carnival61 reifies the notion that carnival promotes an experience of communitas in an otherwise rigidly hierarchical society.
For those animated by the idea of carnival as a participatory, resistant tradition of the oppressed folk, the commercialization, commodification, and spectaclization of carnival are akin to sin. In the case of Rio de Janeiro, a popular story of the famous samba schools that annually mobilize tens of thousands of poorer residents to parade through the closed spectator space of the sambódromo, entered at a high price, is one of commodification of the cultural practices of an oppressed majority. Alison Raphael, for example, argues that Brazilian elites “co-opted and undermined a genuine manifestation of popular culture,”62 and Robin Sheriff63 refers to this historical trajectory as a “theft.” In contrast to this view of corruption of the “principles” of Brazilian carnival, Rio de Janeiro’s resurgent street carnival and its blocos present themselves as a valorized bulwark of resistance. For trombonist Juliano Pires, “The sambódromo represents a false carnival according to the principles of carnival. The street carnival is the carnival in which you are equal with everyone together. Over there [in the sambódromo], it is just a stage, just observing, not participating.”64
Beyond neglecting the presence of money and distinct roles in the street carnival as well as the clear ways that financial opportunity mediates relationships in the movement and allows it to grow, Pires’s critique is also complicated by whom the “you” he addresses is presumed to be. Participants in Rio’s famous samba schools are generally lower-income, blacker, and many hail from Rio’s favelas. The schools are much cheaper for participation than oficinas, deriving their funding from the city’s tourism agency Riotur, as well as institutionalized gambling lotteries (jogo do bicho). When I joined the samba school Estácio de Sá, I made a one-time payment of fifty reais (about fifteen USD) to participate in all their yearly activities leading to the annual carnival parade in contrast to the two hundred reais per month paid by participants in Orquestra Voadora’s oficinas.
I suggest, then, that the musical mobilization of the three thousand people within a single school could only be understood as non-participatory by Rio’s whiter middle class because the samba schools do not create a space of middle-class sociality. The decrying of samba schools’ commercialization as therefore non-participatory appears to be more a form of middle-class “distinction”65 and value for “art” than an accurate assessment of distinct forms of cultural production and consumption between the two. They position the street carnival as non-commercial, artistically “autonomous,” and “free” (“art”) in contrast to the “traditional,” single-genre samba schools (“popular” or “folk” working class), which I have shown to be a problematic distinction. Indeed, the members of both the samba schools and the blocos could be understood either as participants or producers with distinct roles mediated by financial relationships. Likewise, both ensembles animate audiences who could be understood as spectators, through consuming a performance, as well as participants, through singing along and dressing in costumes, again all with distinct roles mediated by financial relationships. Street carnival and the samba schools are, then, both “popular” festivities in the folkloric sense of “of the people” and the capitalist sense of being commercial. Both audiences, musicians, and students participate in different carnival spheres that are dependent on capitalist production as a matter of taste related to class, race, and other social categories. While street carnival may be free for audiences, ironically drawing the people most likely to afford a ticket to the samba schools, they produce their own forms of exclusion by creating a space of middle-class sociality. In other words, who qualifies as a musical participant is quite vague and often more a statement of value.
Importantly, the incursions of money in the samba schools or the street carnival have not completely deprived either groups of the possibility for protest, showing that the fact of commodification does not clearly bend musical participants to the will of capitalism. The samba schools, though historically an arm of state propaganda, have recently enacted notable musical protests, such as Paraíso do Tuiuti’s 2018 carnival song, “My God, My God, Is Slavery Over?” The song expounded upon the legacies of slavery in the present and portrayed then-President Michel Temer as a bloodsucking “neoliberal vampire” during the parade. Like the samba schools’ recent musical protests, for many participants, neofanfarrismo is indeed a movement as the -ismo suffix implies, as is the larger street carnival of which neofanfarrismo is an extension and a part. Neofanfarristas are generally left-wing; they either support the center-left Workers Party or the much further left Party of Socialism and Liberty; and it is not uncommon to meet avowed communists and anarchists among them who eschew “bourgeois” party politics altogether. Neofanfarrista bands have supported some of the most visible left-wing protests in recent history, such as the 2013 protests that criticized the hosting of the World Cup and Olympics, as well as the protests against the legislative maneuvering that led to the impeachment of Workers Party President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, an act that many considered a right-wing coup. Since the jailing of former Workers Party President Lula da Silva in attempt to prevent him from running for president again, the movement has supported many “Free Lula” (Lula livre) protests, as well as the protests that challenged the eventual election to the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro whom they view as a neofascist (#Elenão, or “Not him”).
Many musicians trained in Orquestra Voadora’s oficina are a vital part of the city’s “unofficial carnival,” referring to street carnival events that refuse to inscribe themselves into the official city registry with all the required infrastructure because they view carnival as a form of resistance to all officialdom. Such events comprise a movement called “Desliga,” meaning “disconnect” and playing on the officialdom of the carnival ligas (leagues, or official groupings of blocos). Desliga’s invitation to the annual “Official Opening of Unofficial Carnival” on the first Sunday of the year expounds on the principles of carnivalesque resistance to officialdom:
The Desliga dos Blocos, which fights against the excess of rules and commodification of carnival . . . has had a decisive role in the resistance of the authentic popular festival that is carnival. If on the one hand, blocos and leagues have succumbed to the call of capital and profit, on the other dozens of blocos have been created in Rio following the example of the free carnival . . . Long live the authentic and popular street carnival of Rio de Janeiro!!!66
Unofficial carnival events, which themselves can attract tens of thousands of revelers, are viewed by corporate sponsors as actively threatening to their control of street carnival, and police have dispersed unofficial blocos with tear gas in order to discourage such practices.
Neofanfarrismo would consolidate itself as movement beyond carnival in 2015 with the launching of the now annual HONK! Rio Festival of Activist Brass Bands, which framed the movement specifically around activism. Drawing much of its funding from crowdfunding and rejecting corporate sponsorship, HONK! Rio is, in some respects, a festival of prosumers. That is, the economic conditions for its possibility are based on musicians’ collaborative labor, and they make up a large part of the festival’s own audience.
It is especially in their prioritizing of musical participation that musicians consider neofanfarrismo to be an activist movement. After every Orquestra Voadora oficina on Tuesday night, these beginning musicians meet with other more advanced musicians and members of the Voadora band to play in a musical jam session that can last until 4 a.m. They call this event cracudagem, referring to the act of using crack, both because they play as if they are addicted and because they play in the streets where often the people most affected by street drugs, so-called “cracudos,” come into brass band circle (roda) to rap, breakdance, or try out an instrument. The for-profit oficina, therefore, has led to a chaotic free space of musical participation that is very much, to quote Keil, “out of time and of tune,” as it accommodates beginners and professionals, the curious and the inebriated, the homeless and the housed (Figure 3).
Despite these radical endeavors, for some, neofanfarrsimo’s capitalization on the possibilities offered by for-profit oficinas has corrupted the movement from its origins in the free participatory bloco setting. Márcio Sobrosa, a former member of the band of Orquestra Voadora and former trombone instructor in its oficina, suggests that the oficina’s introduction of financial relationships with students paying for instruction compromises the very idea of neofanfarrismo as a social movement that destabilizes capitalist relations.
Voadora is turning into a product captured by capitalism. The oficina creates a new relation that wasn’t there before. [Before] we taught in the bloco for whomever wanted to come. There was no obligation or relation to a product to be consumed . . . and suddenly they pay and want a return, the relation of consumer and product. This is something that is eating our work [even though] we come from a movement.67
In this view, a horizontal movement is anathema to the clientelistic relationships that form through capitalism. For Sobrosa, neofanfarrismo has become a compromised movement at risk of being “captured by capitalism,” and he would later leave Orquestra Voadora entirely. On the other hand, the opportunity for financial gain through pedagogical labor has expanded the market of potential musicians and has provided musical education to many for the first time. The diversity of opinions within the movement on this question shows just how difficult it is to reduce this participatory musical phenomenon to complicity with or resistance to capitalist rationales. The situation is quite a bit messier than such dichotomies can allow.
PLAYING THE SYSTEM
The spread of neofanfarrismo, a participatory movement that for many is avowedly anti-capitalist, has been predicated on the opportunities of capitalist entrepreneurialism that Orquestra Voadora’s oficina provides its musicians in their roles as pedagogical laborers. Together with the students, they comprise a participatory community with hierarchies mediated by money. While some other street carnival manifestations may be less politicized than neofanfarrismo, these groups are largely organized similarly and value the “decommodified,” “uncommercialized,” and free performances of street carnival that are often only made possible through the for-profit oficina “culture industry.” Clearly, then, “resistant” musical participation and capitalist music industries are not so opposed. Indeed a parallel could be made to union dues, the payments made by workers to an agency they hope will defend their rights against capitalist interests, or to what is ironically called the “non-profit industrial complex,” referring to the array of professional agencies that promote social goods. These agencies’ missions are formed in relation to the complex exigencies governed by funding and are built not primarily on good will but on the work of paid activists. These too are forces unleashed under capitalism but not necessarily in service to it.
This account of capitalist participatory music industries is not an apology for capitalism, and I want to make clear my own affinity for the Marxist paradigm in aiming to understand how musicians survive under and aim to destabilize capitalism. Rather, I want to suggest that the ways some ethnomusicologists use Marxist critique cast capitalist relations as perhaps more totalizing than they are. They might foreclose resistance as possible only under particular conditions, or as necessary when it might not be there. Indeed, the example of neofanfarrismo’s growth through the for-profit industry is unthinkable within the models offered by Turino and Keil, which reduce role distinctions in a celebration of communitas that occludes pedagogical labor. Rather, it appears that participatory musical communities can exist within, profit from, and challenge capitalist rationales. Espousals of participation as outside of capitalism and denunciations of commercialism and presentational forms can be just as much statements of value and distinction from others than accurate descriptions of musical and social reality.
Neofanfarrismo, in its direct challenges to the capitalist status quo carnival spectacle, is, as Turino writes, “radical within the capitalist cosmopolitan formation,”68 but not really for the reasons Turino sets forth in which radicalness is uncorrupted by money. Capitalism appears then not to be an all-encompassing or totalizing system, but rather a haphazard and volatile set of relations. It unleashes forces it cannot control, commodifies dissent that might still provoke challenges to its hegemony, and bequeaths new forms of agency to consumers to make themselves into producers, potentially undercutting the work of the laborers they have paid to teach them. I suggest, then, that Keil’s and Turino’s theories are primarily useful, therefore, not for creating absolute systems of universal applicability, but for understanding how a particular belief system about capitalism and participation arose, a system that is often articulated in various forms “on the ground.” In certain cases, they are no doubt correct that musical participation fights against capitalist relations. But placing musical practices on different sides of the participatory/presentational spectrum along with a series of other binary oppositions is unlikely to yield new insights and may blindsight us to other complexities taking place.
The question for further research into participatory musical communities now, then, might not be how do musical traditions align on one side of a spectrum or another, or how are they resistant or complicit to the forces that seek to control them? Rather, we might ask how they navigate, take advantage from, and challenge the possibilities in front of them—in short, how they survive under capitalism, improvising and playing within it. This is a question that does not fit well into grand constructivist theories or “fields” but that rather gains nuance from the ethnographic particularities of every case. Indeed, navigation is just that—a movement into the world in which we find ourselves, not the construction of a grand map. If we are to valorize the musical possibilities we have within the capitalist world in which we live, we have to go beyond theorizing that puts spectacle, presentation, and capitalism in one camp and participation, carnival, social movements, and utopian socialism in another—theorizing that posits that good culture is tainted by bad capitalism. In other words, these musicians are not just subject to the system—they are playing the system.