As you know I am writing a paper/chapter about the intellectual debates in Lagos between 1880 and 1920, in which I argue that the best way to study the dynamic of the Lagosian intellectual network is through their published debates.
For that, I followed a debate about polygamy (if Christians could be polygamous) in books and newspapers from 1850’s to 1920’s. My theoretical framework goes from Appadurai and his concepts of ‘scapes’ and ‘disjunctures’ to Bourdieu and his famous ‘symbolic capital’ – Really crazy post modern stuff!
But it is all a great theoretically supported excuse to show these debates. They are beautiful: how it develops, how the authors changed their ideas, how other players get included on the discussion…it is fascinating! And the best part, I think, are the arguments used: so many of them, coming from all ideological backgrounds, foreseeing disastrous futures of total corruption and anarchy or brilliant solutions that almost descend from the skies as miracles! Oh, those who defend monogamy do for the most misogynist reasons – “you can’t control more than one wife!!” – to feminist motives – “if a man is allowed to have more than one wife, why women can’t have more than one husband?” – quite right, isn’t it? Supporters of polygamy argue that they have to populate the world, or that there are not enough men for all these women, so better half man than no man at all!
All those articles, lectures, pamphlets, letter to the newspapers are carefully written; a text being weaved, as Karin Barber says. And this is where I ask you: aren’t them a form of art?
I know that debate and rhetoric are considered by some people a kind of art. I learned that in school, and I remember my teacher explaining that it was much more than just the strength of the argument, but also about the voice, the body language, and the perfect timed sarcasm. For him, a good speech was art.
Around the same time ‘my’ Lagosians were debating polygamy, in Rio de Janeiro there was another controversy going on.
Wilson Batista and Noel Rosa were debating about the stereotype of samba musicians (called sambistas). Batista, who grew up in Campos, inland of Rio de Janeiro, when arrived in the capital got fascinated with the laid back style of some sambistas, avoiding work and spending their time singing. Wilson wrote honouring their style, and the controversy began. Noel Rosa, from Vila Isabel, a middle class neighbourhood, answered him saying that this image of the samba musician was only jeopardising the professional: “buy a suit and find a job!”, Noel advised Wilson, to what Wilson answered: “shut up, posh boy!”
Both Batista and Noel Rosa were samba musicians themselves, and this debate was actually happening in the format of samba music, with provocative lyrics inserted in lovely melodies.
The next move was from Noel Rosa. He composed this beautiful samba called Feitico da Vila (Enchantment of Vila Isabel)
In this link you can listen to Caetano Veloso singing it.
Part of the lyric says: “Vila Isabel has a good magic spell, with its name of princess (Isabel was the Brazilian princess who signed the slave abolition in 1888), it changed the samba in a decent spell that holds us. There is no lock in the gate, because in Vila Isabel there are no thieves!”
And Wilson sang back: “That is just talk! I went there to see (…) and they’ve killed the samba!” And he warns us: “before going to sleep, lock twice your door” Click here to listen.
And the debate was closed by Noel Rosa with Palpite infeliz (unfortunate remark).
“Who are you who does not know what you are saying? We salute Estacio, Salgueiro, Mangueira, Osvaldo Cruz and Matriz (all neighbourhood where sambas were composed by locals) that always knew that Vila Isabel does not want to steal the show, just want to show that it can also compose samba”
This is Joao Gilberto (father of Bossa Nova) singing it.
Anyway, this samba-debate makes me think about the Lagosian debate as art. They were not composing samba, but there is beautiful work on each of these articles, that when I read them, I can’t avoid questioning beyond the colonial history that contextualised them.
I would love to get your comments on this.
ps: is that obvious that I can only think about going home?