Chris Estrada, Assistant Professor in MSU’s Department of Romance and Classical Studies, has received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Brazil where he will work with collaborators at the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco (UFPE) during portions of 2022 as part of the “Every Day Is Carnival: Improvisation and Cultural Preservation in the Rural Maracatus of Pernambuco” project.
Maracatu de baque solto, also known as “rural maracatu,” is a carnival performance combining music, poetry, and dance that has developed over the last 100 years among workers on the sugar plantations in the state of Pernambuco and is practiced in the small towns and cities of the interior to the northwest of Recife.
The project Estrada will be working on aims to create a common resource that will be useful both to scholars and to the maracatu groups by developing a virtual archive and website documenting the all-night sung poetry contests (sambadas) supplemented by historical and geographic information systems (GIS) data on the poets, their groups, and the communities where they operate.
“This Fulbright Scholar award will enable me to collaborate with people in the music and anthropology departments at UFPE, the federal university there, in finally launching a virtual archive and website,” Estrada said. “In addition to digitizing the analog cassettes of sambadas, I also plan to make my own field recordings from 2009-2012 available, and to supplement the sambada material with historical and GIS data on the places where all of this takes place, with as much specificity about the people making it as possible.”
Up until now, most of the attention maracatu has received from scholars has been focused on the aspects surrounding carnival, but there is another aspect to maracatu that outsiders rarely see surrounding the sung poetry. Each year, traditionally beginning around August or September, the time of the sugarcane harvest when workers have a little more pocket money, maracatu groups begin holding open rehearsals with their poets, as well as sambadas, which are densely structured competitions between two master poets that begin on a Saturday evening and continue until the break of dawn on Sunday.
I learned that these sambadas were crucially important to maintaining all kinds of things within the maracatu community, and also that practitioners and enthusiasts of maracatu had a habit of documenting these events for themselves in the form of recordings.Chris Estrada, Assistant Professor
“I learned that these sambadas were crucially important to maintaining all kinds of things within the maracatu community, and also that practitioners and enthusiasts of maracatu had a habit of documenting these events for themselves in the form of recordings, and revisiting those recordings over and over throughout the years,” Estrada said. “These days people are doing it on cell phones and distributing them through Whatsapp or YouTube, but they used to record sambadas on analog cassettes since the 1980s.”
As a Fulbright Scholar, Estrada will share knowledge and foster meaningful connections across communities in the United States and Brazil while expanding his professional network.
“I have wanted to see this project happen for a long time, but I was also a bit anxious because the project was originally supposed to begin this summer, and Brazil’s leadership has badly mishandled the Coronavirus pandemic and every day brings more tragic news,” Estrada said. “The Fulbright Commission has decided not to allow awardees to begin their research until 2022, which I think is a wise decision. Hopefully things will be more under control then.”
Hear more about Estrada’s research, which is featured in two of the most recent episodes of “Massa,” a podcast focused on Brazilian music and culture, at www.essefoimassa.com.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Fulbright Program, which is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, funded by an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support.