On Monday, December 9th, CLACS hosted its last lecture of the Fall 2013 research colloquium series, “Afro-Latin Soundscapes.” The lively performance and subsequent talk was led by Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, an award-winning recording artist who has worked with various musicians within different genres, including Yo-Yo Ma, John Zorn, and Carlos Santana – just to name a few.
After an introduction by Professor Dylon Robbins, Batista began his talk mentioning the Brazilian avant-garde predisposition for cannibalistic consumption of the West. Baptista’s remarks were a perfect precursor for the rest of the dazzling, performative lecture, where he expressed that Antropofagia is, in fact, what his music is about. He emphasized that in some ways, his musical stylings are about “the colonial impulse of wanting everything that does not belong to him.” Referring back to his first experience in U.S. musical education in Woodstock, NY, he proudly explained that through his music, he continually “eats Celine Dion, George Bush and John F. Kennedy.” The conversation surrounding his musical practice continued in a jovial, humorous way, despite the fact that Antropofagia primarily deals with the seriousness of confronting and re-interpreting Western cultural imperialism.
What began as a colloquial introduction then abruptly led into his wonderfully eccentric percussive performance. It was a celebratory end to the semester-long lecture series with such an intoxicating medley of instruments: a custom-made Berimbau, a variety of bells and whistles, plastic tubing, a heavy-duty construction “sifter,” a hardware store-bought gas pipe, some flip flops, and a mess of colorful bottle caps attached to a string. Other music toys and gadgets remained hidden and unknown to me, but overall, I was dazzled by the hypnotic rhythm of the unorthodox instrumentation.
He concluded by answering some questions and engaging the audience in informal dialogue. An audience member asked about Baptista’s 1997 solo-recording titled “Villa Lobos/Vira Loucos,” which consists of a medley of the artist’s own tunes with those of Brazilian modernist composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. This recording, although evocative of the drama of Antropofagia, still maintains the underlying tension of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Baptista himself lamentably explained how he believes “Brazil to be an anti-imperialist nation, but one that still idealizes the ultimate neo-colonizer, the U.S.” With this seeming paradox in mind, I left Baptista’s presentation that day reflecting on the broader conversations we had amongst classmates in the Research Colloquium throughout the semester. Conversing over wine and cheese, we considered how soundscapes can reconstruct national identities, promote alternative histories, and how performance can serve as narrative memory.
Posted by Alex Santana