For the next five days, the streets of Rio de Janeiro will fill with the sounds of diverse musical traditions. The music of carnival has traditionally played an important role in Brazilian national identity, explains Andrew Snyder in “From Nationalist Rescue to Internationalist Cannibalism: The Alternative Carnivalesque, Brass, and the Revival of Street Carnival in Rio de Janeiro,” from the Luso-Brazilian Review. Snyder shows, however, how new movements are expanding Rio’s street carnival repertoires, creating diverse new affinities and identities. In the following interview, he describes the ethnographic fieldwork that led him to write the article, including his experience playing trumpet among the four hundred musicians of Orquesta Voadora (the Flying Orchestra) in Rio’s street carnival.
How did you decide to pursue this topic?
This Luso-Brazilian Review article was part of my dissertation research for my PhD in ethnomusicology, and it examines the national and international repertoires of the brass movement known as neofanfarrismo (“new brass band-ismo”) that emerged from Rio de Janeiro’s street carnival. I came very haphazardly to write my dissertation on this musical community and its engagements in local activism. Though I had always loved and played Brazilian music and had majored in music and Romance languages, my earliest graduate studies were focused elsewhere. In 2011, Occupy Wall Street exploded, and I found at those protests the Brass Liberation Orchestra (BLO), a brass band in the Bay Area that emerged to play solely for protests during the 2003 Iraq War and is still going strong. Though I was also a music major focused on guitar and piano, I hadn’t been playing trumpet much, but I was quickly swept up into playing in the BLO during those exciting political times. Now trumpet is my main performing instrument!
In 2012, we played at the HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in the Boston area, where alternative and activist brass bands play on the streets for free in support of social and political causes. Through that festival network, I learned of a vibrant musical world in Rio de Janeiro where brass ensembles historically connected to the street carnival were experimenting with diverse global repertoires and playing on the front lines of protest. In search of a dissertation topic, I first visited Rio de Janeiro for a preliminary fieldwork trip during the momentous 2013 June protests, which these bands were musically supporting. Still, I couldn’t grasp the full, massive scope of what goes on in the neofanfarrismo community until undertaking fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro between 2014 and 2016 spanning two carnival seasons. This was a fascinating eighteen months between the World Cup and the Olympics and, in retrospect, it was the beginning of the end of the Workers’ Party and the Pink Tide, which had helped set the conditions for the street carnival revival to explode in the early twenty-first century.
What is one part of your research that surprised you, and why?
It would be quite an understatement to say that the neofanfarrismo community “surprised me”—more that it stunned me—but I would say that the biggest thing that stuck with me is the difference between a musical scene and musical movement, the street carnival and neofanfarrismo communities most certainly being the latter. I had no concept of the level of dedication and organization that could be put into community-led mass street music events. The scale of carnival beyond the samba schools, which I also participated in and are also amazing, is bafflingly awe-inspiring. The main group I worked with, Orquestra Voadora, the band that really pushed the neofanfarrismo community beyond traditional repertoires like the marchinha (traditional carnival songs), is a band of about 15 people who organize around 400 people to play for over 100,000 people on carnival day. That’s not even a really big bloco (carnival music ensemble). The more traditional brass bloco Bola Preta brings two million to the streets!
Despite, or because of, this enormity, the neofanfarrismo community is incredibly close-knit and collaborative, with musicians actively working through oficinas (classes or workshops) to teach music to other people. The “-ismo” suffix really underlines the fact that the bands are not just a loosely-connected scene but a social movement. Though the Bay Area also has a vibrant musical scene, I can’t say that there is anything that comes close to neofanfarrismo in the United States; though the international HONK! movement and New Orleans come to mind as related phenomena, they seem quite small in comparison. I certainly believe that this difference between the countries is especially due to the availability of playing in, and yes also drinking in, public space. I have come to see the ways public space is regulated as being a crucial part of the abilities of social movements, especially culturally defined ones, to thrive. Scenes are what evolve in a more splintered cultural worlds like the Bay Area where we are bound to celebrate most often in private clubs.
How did your role as a musician combine with your role as an ethnomusicologist to guide the direction of your research?
As a professional trumpet player, I was immediately “dentro do cordão,” or inside the cords that separate bloco musicians from the crammed audiences that would follow the musicians. It would certainly be possible to study street carnival and neofanfarrismo from alternative perspectives (which some are doing), focusing, for example, on the experiences of the audience or what it is like to be a new musician learning in the movement’s oficinas. But certainly playing trumpet was an asset in accessing “key informants,” getting the insider perspectives, and being a “participant-observer.” That research methodology language really does not capture my experience with the community, however, which could be summed up, with all due respect to more “sober” disciplines, by what I would tell people at the time: if you can’t do academic research while playing music and drinking in the street, is it really worth doing?
As a trumpeter, I was able to play in almost all of the bands and blocos I wrote about. I taught trumpet in the oficinas and participated in their movement of mass musical education. In 2016, I went on tour with the Carioca band Bagunço for five weeks in France. I helped organize the very first HONK! Rio Festival de Fanfarras Ativistas, which Mission Delirium, a band I co-founded, attended in 2015. The HONK! festivals are grass-roots international street/brass band festivals that originated in the US in 2006 and are spreading around the world. There are now five HONK! Festivals in Brazil alone! During preparations for that first festival, I and some co-organizers were robbed at gunpoint in Santa Teresa, and I lost my trumpet, my most crucial “fieldwork tool.” The local community took it upon themselves to organize busking events to help me, an American researcher, with the finances of my loss. I can’t speak for my informants, but I felt known first and foremost as a musician who was firmly part of the movement, rather than a researcher. I wouldn’t want to have done it any other way.
Andrew Snyder’s research explores the political and social impacts of mass public festivity, especially focused on brass and percussion ensembles in diverse locations including Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, San Francisco, and beyond. He completed a PhD in Ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley in 2018 with a dissertation focused on the carnival brass band community in Rio de Janeiro, the basis for his current book project with Wesleyan University Press. Beyond his article in the Luso-Brazilian Review, his research appears in Journal of Popular Music Studies, Latin American Review, Yearbook for Traditional Music, and Ethnomusicology, and he is co-editor of HONK! A Street Band Renaissance of Music and Activism (Routledge 2020). An avid trumpet player in diverse musical groups, he is co-founder of San Francisco’s Mission Delirium Brass Band, which has toured to Brazil and throughout Europe. Currently a Research Associate at UC Santa Cruz, he has taught at UC Berkeley, University of the Pacific, and UC Davis.