Critical World
Thinking Globalization Through Popular Culture
Musicality and Environmentalism
Categories: Critical World Book

This article was created to accompany a text that appeared in the edited volume entitled “Music and Globalization:  Critical Encounters” (Indiana University Press, 2012). For more information, visit:

In 1989, Raoni, the chief of the Txukahamãe Indians in Brazil, and Sting, the British rock superstar, travelled to Europe, where they were formally hosted by government officials and dignitaries of various orientations and stature.

Following this initiative, Raoni started to participate in concerts and related events in Brazil and overseas not only with Sting but also other figures of the international popular music scene.  In 1991, Raoni participated in a show with Elton John, Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Red Crow (a North-American Sioux leader). This encounter was witnessed by a crowd of excited fans who believed in the music as much as in the cause (Carvalho 1991).

The concert’s primary objective, as in the case of Raoni and Sting’s trip to Europe, was to raise funds for the protection of the tropical rainforest and Indigenous rights in the Amazon and the initiative was supported by the Rainforest Foundation, which then had a Brazilian branch called “Fundação Mata Virgem”

—Rafael José de Menezes Bastos

In 1981, while I was doing fieldwork among the Xinguano Yawalapití, Raoni was being initiated in Xinguano shamanism under the supervision of Sapaim, a virtuoso shaman and flutist. At that time he was a host in Eymakapúku (the Yawalapití village) where Sapaim taught him shamanism and Kanátu—a great phytoterapist—gave him lessons in phytotherapy.  Being the great chief he was, Raoni received all the honors he deserved from Kanátu and Sariruá, who were retired chiefs, and also from Aritana, the chief of the Yawalapiti at the time.

Not long after, Raoni, still under the tutelage of Sapaim, participated in the healing ceremony organized to cure the naturalist Augusto Ruschi, a ceremony that was sponsored by the Brazilian ex-president José Sarney.

This impressive episode took place in 1986 (the same year as the naturalist’s death) when Raoni appeared on the national stage as a prominent Indigenous political figure, a cultural mediator who would not be satisfied with a role limited to local politics and sought pan-Kayapó prominence as well as recognition for the Xinguano.

In 1987, Sting made his first visit to the Xinguano sanctuary. What exactly was Sting, a neo-Eldorado hunter, looking for, he, who was to become the prey of Raoni, hunter of the caraíba?

—Rafael José de Menezes Bastos

Western art music—according to its aficionados the “universal language”—is built up as a cultural domain based on various identifiable criteria:  acoustic-mathematical (Weber 1944, 1985), aesthetic-philosophical (Hegel 1974) or psychological and socio-cultural (Kunst 1959).

Compendia and handbooks about Western music history (Brum 1897) are fertile ground with regards to the routine use of these criteria. In spite of the variation in the criteria adopted in various sources, all of them agree with one basic premise:  the affirmation of the distinctiveness of this type of music in comparison to all the other types of music, be it traditional, popular, Oriental, or even the music of ancient societies such as Greek or Roman.

As evidence of this point, note that the compendia and handbooks under consideration systematically situate studies about Greek and Roman music in the introductory chapters of the text.

Starting from this basic premise, they seem to be constructing myths about origins, using a historical form of expression to justify their conclusions.

Thus, the identity of Western art music is articulated in contrast to an absolutely unrecoverable past.

—Rafael José de Menezes Bastos

When I studied the Yawari’s canto for the first time, I was surprised by its extraordinary thematic and processual likeness with the Brazilian Amazonian folk tale “A Onça e o Jabuti” in The Jaguar and the Turtle and the famous Brazilian Northeastern folk musical duel between a feline and some other animal like the turtle or a dog (Cascudo 1980).

Taking into consideration the importance of the similarities found in these three forms, I suggested a parallel comparison between Brazil (that of the aforementioned North-Northeastern folk manifestations) and the Indigenous (of whom rites such as the Yawari are pertinent in either historical or structural terms) (Menezes Bastos 1990).

In this comparison, there are two aspects that I consider particularly relevant. The first is the vision of power relations as constituents of sociability, instead of something that comes from outside and assaults society (Menezes Bastos 2001).

The second is the mingling of tragedy and comedy, which points to the fact that “inferior” beings (comedians and their enticements), and not “superior” ones (tragic ones – and their truths), work on the principle of sociability.

—Rafael José de Menezes Bastos

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