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  • UNESCO Collection Week 8: Brazil and Mexico: Beyond Soccer

    Week 8 of the UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music features recordings from two nations squaring off in the World Cup this week: Brazil and Mexico. No winners are declared here, other than the listeners that delve into Brazil: The Bororo World of Sound and Mexican Indian Traditions.


    by Jackson Sinnenberg

    One of the most immediately notable characteristics of the two UNESCO releases for this week is a focus on ritual and celebration. The dances featured in Mexican Indian Traditions (1992) showcase the celebrations of life:  adolescence (“Danza de pascola: Canción de la pubertad”), the beauty and mysteries of nature (“Danza de Los Quetzales”), healing (“Danza de Los Negritos”) and cultural history (“La danza de la pluma”). Brazil: The Bororo World of Sound (1989) captures the music of a Bororo traditional funeral and the activities that make up the event, including dance and chant. The ritual marks the transfer and journey of the Bororo's soul.

    Even though the subject matter of these dances is different, they share a common goal in helping the body and soul connect to one another and their ancestors. The Mexican Indians celebrate living nature and community, while the Bororo look to the life of the soul.

    In track 5 of Brazil: The Bororo World of Sound, a dance game is performed. Dancers use the marido, or wheel made of palm sticks. The marido are lifted above their heads, and the participants dance to the point of exhaustion.

    Mexican Indian Traditions
    Mexican Indian Traditions features music and dance from different indigenous Mexican communities. Track 5, “The White Horse,” is part of a larger collection of dances from the Mayo ethnic group. Percussion instruments accompany three dancers, one wearing an animal mask and carrying a flower.  These two objects are believed to represent the duality of good and evil within human nature and the joint human and animal essence of the Mayo Indians.1

    Brazil: The Bororo World of Sound was recorded during the events of an actual funeral, while Mexican Indian Traditions was recorded at the 1992 Avignon Festival. This difference in recording process does not take away from the significance or quality of the performances. In fact, it is interesting to note the similarities in the two presentations. Despite the ostensible "performed" presentation of the Mexican Indian dances, they still contain of all the energy of their original setting. The power and beauty of the dances are preserved impeccably in this form. 

    The marvel of the bird-like qualities that the performers take on in Dance de los Quetzales is no less potent in this setting. The transformative power of the dance is emphasized when the participants gather onto a moving platform, evoking a quetzal in flight.2

    In a similar way, the intense communal power of the Bororo rituals is captured from the chorus of voices that open the album (“roia kurireu”). One hears – and can almost see – these rituals come to life as the entire Bororo village gathers to begin the funerary process.

    Lastly, these two recordings demonstrate disparate development of native music in Latin America. Brazil: The Bororo World of Sound is a snapshot of a long-lost tradition and a world which few people in the twenty-first century can still imagine. Mexican Indian Traditions represents a mix of traditional instruments and song forms as well as those influenced by Western European culture (such as the use of guitar and violin).

    Drum KA/Tambour KA

    Drum KA/Tambour KA

    Jackson Sinnenberg
    Freelance Music Critic and Journalist
    B.A. American Musical Culture and English, Georgetown University

    1 Alfonso Muñoz-Güemes, liner notes to Mexican Indian Traditions, UNESCO Collection of Traditional Music, 1992, compact disc.

    2 Ibid.

    UNESCO Collection Week 8: Brazil and Mexico: Beyond Soccer | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings