Department of Music Lecture: “‘I’m not Black, but I can feel it, too!’: Sensing Ancestrality and Cross-racial Belonging in Capoeira Angola”

  • Friday, October 1, 2021 • 3:00 pm
  • Music Classroom Building, Room 102

Esther Viola Kurtz, Assistant Professor of Music, Washington University in St. Louis, presents her paper titled “‘I’m not Black, but I can feel it, too!’: Sensing Ancestrality and Cross-racial Belonging in Capoeira Angola”.

This paper explores embodied and temporal aspects of call, response and response(ability) (Madison 2018; Schneider 2018) in capoeira Angola, the Afro-Brazilian music-movement form. For many Black players in Bahia, Brazil, moving in the capoeira circle summons powerful sensations of “ancestrality” and visceral images of a lived past under enslavement. This calls them to imagine and fight for a better future, one in which Black lives have value. White practitioners also claim to sense ancestrality while playing capoeira, suggesting that the affective experience of moving together may foster cross-racial belonging. However, despite the commonality of sensing ancestrality, ethnographic interviews and participant-observation revealed that interpretations of this experience diverged along racial lines. Instead of white Brazilians also feeling called to Black movement activism, many white group members reproduced harmful Brazilian racial ideologies. For instance, the notion that capoeira is “democratic,” because it equally includes Black and white players, echoes the Brazilian myth of racial democracy, which erroneously posits that racial mixture precludes racism. When white players described sensing Black ancestrality, they staked their claim to Africaneity on the basis of their Brazilian citizenship. Such claims reproduce colonialist modes of encounter and possession (Ahmed 2000; Moreton-Robinson 2015), undermining the possibility for white practitioners to translate sensations of ancestrality into senses of political urgency to combat anti-Blackness in Brazil. By revealing how diverse practitioners respond differently to the call of ancestrality, I argue that experiences of moving and listening are racialized in the afterlife of slavery (Hartman 2008).

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