Portuguese sounds in american spaces music of the Grandes Festas in New England

Jamie Corbett


How does public space become ethnically marked by sound? What work does genre do
to express collective identities during the outdoor summer festival Grandes Festas do Espírito
Santo? This paper explores the diversity of musical performances in New England’s Lusophone
community during the summer festival season as a sonic occupation of public space. Sonic
occupation involves not only music, but also the sounds of crowds, floats and speech amplified by
sound systems. Building on fieldwork conducted in the Portuguese neighbourhoods of Cumberland,
Rhode Island and Fall River, Massachusetts in 2015, I extend this inquiry into the constellation of
Portuguese genres that contribute to the festa soundscape. In terms of genre, I focus on the music
of ranchos folclóricos (multi-generational music and dance troupes that perform folk repertories)
and bandas filarmónicas (marching wind bands) that contribute to music of festa processions, thus
filling New England neighbourhoods with Portuguese sounds. I also look to the dance music of the
arraial, or open-air party that occurs after the procession has ended. Drawing on Gerd Bauman’s
(1990) theory of multiculturalism, I explore the ways in which ethnic identity is presented in relation
to religious, Catholic identity through music and movement in Portuguese New England.


ethnicity; genre; processions; Catholicism

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