The "Musical Human" and Colonial Encounters in Minas Gerais, Brazil

John Blacking's most lasting legacy to ethnomusicology has been his view of humanity as inherently musical. He claimed that it is precisely because humans are endowed with "musical intelligence," that they are able to communicate transculturally. By drawing on historical material associated with colonial encounters in the eighteenth century gold mines of Brazil, this paper assesses the ways in which music mediated social relations in this tense environment. The discovery of gold in the region now known as Minas Gerais, prompeted a rapid relocation that placed thousands of people of diverse backgrounds in a single isolated setting, including white metropolitans and vast numbers of African slaves of diverse ethnicities. Soon a mulatto population would emerge, out-numbering whites by around 1740. A central strategy in organising this complex social sphere involved musical performance and pageantry within a theatrical baroque street culture promoted by lay brotherhoods. The grand processions associated with these festivals created spaces for a range of musical performances, testing their potential for transcultural communication. The analysis of these musical spaces suggests that musical performance was one of the few arenas for human-human interaction across the economic and racial divides in this slave-based society.

Journal South African Music Studies
Year 2009
Volume 29
Pages 61-80

Reily, Suzel Ana (2009) The "Musical Human" and Colonial Encounters in Minas Gerais, Brazil. In: South African Music Studies, Vol. 29, pp. 61-80. Available at


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