River of Tears

Country Music, Memory, and Modernity in Brazil

River of Tears

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 5 figures, 3 tables, 2 maps Published: October 2009

Author: Alexander Dent

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Music > Ethnomusicology

River of Tears is the first ethnography of Brazilian country music, one of the most popular genres in Brazil yet least-known outside it. Beginning in the mid-1980s, commercial musical duos practicing música sertaneja reached beyond their home in Brazil’s central-southern region to become national bestsellers. Rodeo events revolving around country music came to rival soccer matches in attendance. A revival of folkloric rural music called música caipira, heralded as música sertaneja’s ancestor, also took shape. And all the while, large numbers of Brazilians in the central-south were moving to cities, using music to support the claim that their Brazil was first and foremost a rural nation.

Since 1998, Alexander Sebastian Dent has analyzed rural music in the state of São Paulo, interviewing and spending time with listeners, musicians, songwriters, journalists, record-company owners, and radio hosts. Dent not only describes the production and reception of this music, he also explains why the genre experienced such tremendous growth as Brazil transitioned from an era of dictatorship to a period of intense neoliberal reform. Dent argues that rural genres reflect a widespread anxiety that change has been too radical and has come too fast. In defining their music as rural, Brazil’s country musicians—whose work circulates largely in cities—are criticizing an increasingly inescapable urban life characterized by suppressed emotions and an inattentiveness to the past. Their performances evoke a river of tears flowing through a landscape of loss—of love, of life in the countryside, and of man’s connections to the natural world.


River of Tears is a fluently written and entertaining book that will repay several rereadings. The anecdotes that Dent provides to underline his arguments are engaging and aptly chosen. . . . This a study of immense value for anyone interested in Brazilian studies in general and not only those concerned with Brazilian popular music and culture. I would suggest that even if you are familiar with Brazilian country music you may never view it in the same light again after reading this book.”
— Sean Stroud, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[An] insightful analysis of caipira public culture.” — Jack A. Draper III, The Americas

“[F]or scholars of popular music, or Brazil, or Latin American public culture, it offers a trove of insights and evidence. And for any scholar interested in how popular culture can and should be studied, River of Tears is an impressive example of the power and delights of theoretically informed ethnography.”
— Joli Jensen, The Latin Americanist

“[T]his well-written interpretation of the kinship relation between country musicians will be a valuable resource for those interested in Brazilian music and culture. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” — K. W. Mukuna, Choice

“Dent’s extended theoretical arguments rest on a solid ethnographic foundation. In clear, well-structured prose, River of Tears makes a significant contribution to scholarly conversations on Brazilian rural music, rural performativity, and expressive culture in the context of neoliberalism.” — John Murphy, A Contracorriente

“This is the most comprehensive ethnography about country music in Brazil. . . . [A]n essential read for scholars in the field.” — Vânia Castro, Journal of Folklore Research

“…[T]his book is an excellent example of dismantling potential paradoxes in cultural studies…Dent’s research strength lies precisely on the fact that he discusses the commercial circulation of music, but never loses sight of the human subject, and concentrates his efforts on the grass-roots, folk counterpart of Brazilian country music.”  — Alessandra Santos, Luso-Brazilian Review

River of Tears is a brilliant exploration of a vital aspect of recent Brazilian culture that has received little scholarly attention. Each page brings new insights marshaled in the service of a pioneering argument. All subsequent scholars of recent Brazilian culture will need to reckon with it.” — Bryan McCann, author of Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil

River of Tears is a wonderful book. Alexander Sebastian Dent has a first-rate ability to move fluidly between various critical theoretical accounts of popular music’s meaning, the political economy of its production, and richly evoked ethnography. His thinking is sophisticated, his writing is superb, and his ethnographic voice is rich, clear, vivid, and exceptionally humane.” — Aaron A. Fox, author of Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture

River of Tears is essential reading for ethnomusicologists, social scientists, and all those who think they know Brazil. It is a wonderful, passionate, and sophisticated study of música sertaneja, a genre immensely popular within the country but little known outside of it. By examining the development of this music and the reasons for its popularity, Alexander Sebastian Dent reveals the profound significance of música sertaneja for an understanding of both rural and urban Brazil.” — Anthony Seeger, author of Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Alexander Sebastian Dent is Associate Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Rural Music, Intimacy, and Memory 1

1. What Counts as "Country"? Rural Performativity in the Twentieth Century 29

2. Country Brothers: Kinship as Chronotope 57

3. Mixture, Sadness, and Intimacy in the Brazilian Music Field 83

4. Hick Dialogics: Experiencing the Play of Rural Genres 108

5. Teleologies of Rural Disappearance: Interpreting Rural Music 136

6. Digital Droplets and Analogue Flames: The Circulatory Matrices of Brazilian Country 162

7. Producing Rural Locality 186

8. Hicks of the World: The Country Cosmopolitan 211

Conclusion: Postauthoritarian Memory and Rurality 239

Notes 251

Discography 267

Bibliography 269

Index 285
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4537-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4520-6
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