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A Respectable Spell

Transformations of Samba in Rio de Janeiro

Tracing the history of samba music in the early twentieth century

A landmark in Brazilian music scholarship, A Respectable Spell introduces English-speaking readers to the rich history of samba from its nineteenth century origins to its emergence as a distinctive genre in the 1930s. Merging storytelling with theory, Carlos Sandroni profiles performers, composers, and others while analyzing the complex ideologies their music can communicate in their lyrics and rhythms, and how the meaning of songs and musical genres can vary depending on social and historical context. He also delves into lundu, modinha, maxixe, and many other genres of Brazilian music; presents the little-heard voices and perspectives of marginalized Brazilians like the African-descended sambistas; and presents a study in step with the types of decolonial approaches to ethnomusicology that have since emerged, treating the people being studied as not only makers of music but also of knowledge.

Incisive and comprehensive, A Respectable Spell tells the compelling story of an iconic Brazilian musical genre.

"At long last, we can celebrate the publication of this groundbreaking study in English. Carlos Sandroni's brilliant ‘historical ethnomusicology’ of samba laid the foundations for many subsequent studies, and continues to set a standard in the field. Sandroni is equally adept at fine-grained musical analysis, rich sociohistorical contextualization, and crisp, clear explanation. Michael Iyanaga's sensitive and graceful translation makes this accessible to a broad international audience for the first time. This book is fundamental for all those interested in samba's emergence and evolution."--Bryan McCann, author of Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro


Carlos Sandroni is a professor of ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Anthropology at the Federal University of Pernambuco (Recife). He was chairman of the Brazilian Association of Ethnomusicology from 2002 to 2004. His books include Mário contra Macunaíma: Cultura e política em Mário de Andrade. Michael Iyanaga is an assistant professor of music and Latin American studies at the College of William and Mary. His books include Desafios e particularidades da produção antropológica no Norte e Nordeste do Brasil.

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