Tropicália: Sonic Resistance, Relationships, and Reframing

Laura Robinson

Tropicália as Sound of the South


In 1964, the military dictatorship in Brazil seized political power and extended its domain to many facets of Brazilian society. In this context of repression, artists and musicians created the powerful yet short-lived cultural movement called Tropicália. This paper examines the sounds of the Tropicália in response to the call to remap sound studies to include sounds of the “South” issued by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes in their edited volume Remapping Sound Studies. Concerning the terms “South” and “North,” they critically probe conceptualizations of the South not only in terms of geography but also as implicit bias in power relations. Significantly, they argue against the use of the “South” as an oversimplified binary that is contrasted with framings of the conceptual “North.” Instead, they argue that the terms are fluid and indicate both “empirical categories” and “ideological constructs” (Steingo and Sykes 2019: 3).


Taking issue with the hegemonic influences along multiple axes of power, Steingo and Sykes argue for the fundamental need to examine sounds from the South as constituting an important but often neglected genre in the large field of sound studies. To fill this need, they make three proposals for the remapping of a new cartography of sound theory. First, in terms of sounds’ relationship to technology, Steingo and Sykes urge for exploration of the constitution of culture through techniques made possible by technological innovation. Second, they argue for sonic studies to move in a relational direction to illuminate the relationship between listener and what is heard. Third, they encourage scholars to unpack the elements of sonic studies that reveal friction and antagonism, particularly in terms of social relations, a shift that moves the field beyond the perceptual qualities of sound toward the emotional and relational constructions of sounds as they are interpreted by listeners. 

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