Snyder, Hassel, Blaauw-Hara, Babb, and Ferris
Composition and language teaching in higher education are no strangers to Brazil, where World Englishes is a popular topic. Additionally, the impact of cultural movements, social justice, and identity have been described in sound studies research (e.g., Gray, 1999; Isaksen, 1999; Steven & Kellner, 1999), with some of that work focusing on the Brazilian music scene. For instance, Eduardo Henrique Diniz de Figueiredo (2015) described the strong relationship between identity, World Englishes, and Brazilian cultural-movement musical style known as "manguebeat" in his research. In this webtext, I explore a different type of Brazilian music known as bateria as a conduit for understanding cultural change through composition and language plurality (see Baker-Bell, 2020), which—like literacy education—has been a tool to both oppress and liberate (Vieira et al., 2019).
The Brazilian Portuguese word "bateria" means collection of drums, and this word is only used for rhythms like samba. Most commonly seen at the Brazilian celebration of Carnaval (or what Americans might call "Shrove Tuesday," "Mardi Gras," or "Fat Tuesday") in late February, baterias are the musical component of the parade that happens in the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro. It is comprised of at least 10 different instruments, such as the surdo (a large, low-tuned bass drum), caixa (a snare drum), repinique (a smaller drum), tamborim (a hand-held small drum played with a flexible beater), and my personal favorite, the agogo (a double cowbell). A bateria can be comprised of hundreds of musicians, and much like marching bands in any parade, it forms a unit and marches from point A to point B in between floats, dancers, and other spectacles. This depiction is one of the most formal opportunities to experience a bateria, but this is not the only way.
Away from the Sambadrome, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of baterias that focus on the community aspect of playing samba music throughout the year. The community aspect of the Brazilian bateria is powerful—just like what I see as the ability of composition to bring many populations together through the empowerment of many discourses. I postulate that, through taking a World Englishes approach, the future of composition can be one of community, hybridity, and joy, in much the same ways that the Brazilian bateria promotes these concepts.
The way that the general public understands musical learning as additive could greatly benefit and enhance the way language learning is understood.
Many comparisons have already been drawn from the concept of learning a language as akin to learning an instrument. One could draw connections to the muscle memory of speaking a language and learning an instrument. The music notation system could be connected directly to the concept of suprasegmentals in language (e.g., pitch, tone, stress, and intonation) when reading musical notes is just as much of a semiotic system creating meaning as an alphabet or a syllabary for a language. Music as a parallel is applicable further into the language learning process as we could make analogies such as sentences are as to riffs, paragraphs are to chorus, and essays are to songs. And in fact, the connection between language and music in the human brain has been demonstrated time and time again, but even more forcefully as medical imaging becomes more sophisticated (Jäncke, 2012). A study by Franziska Degé and Gudrun Schwarzer (2011) showed that a music program increased phonological awareness of preschoolers. The connection between learning music and language is already quite tangible.
Critical Theory Hypothesis posits that exposure to language or an instrument before the end of puberty increases one's ability towards second language acquisition (e.g., Lightbown & Spada, 2013; Penfield & Roberts, 1959; Reid, 1998). The more exposure before puberty, the more likely one is to have a learning preference for the instrument or language. When we talk about learning instruments, it is an additive multilingualism framework, where the first instrument does not completely block the second, nor is the first regressed by the second, but the knowledge of each system deepens the other (Cummins, 1981; 1986). There might be some interference or transfer, but the possibility that musical learning is additive could greatly benefit and enhance the way language learning is understood.
If one were to imagine each instrument in the bateria as a discourse, we might be able to identify the instruments that might be called on to solo more, or lead the group (such as the caixa or repinique) as dominant discourses, and the instruments that are perceived as beginning instruments that many people start on (such as the agogo, surdo, or tamborim) as nondominant discourses. Much like a classroom, these more dominant instruments often call out to the rest of the bateria, inviting a pre-rehearsed response, such as the beginning of the famous song by Sergio Mendez "Samba Batucada," specifically, from 0:00 to 1:03.
Continuing to the composition classroom, much like a teacher, this call and response can represent the concept of teacher talk time, and classroom discourse (e.g., Davies, 2011; Nunan, 1989). Moving outside the classroom to a more global context, we could see the rhythm of samba being played (Maracatu, Partido Alto, Samba no Pe, Samba de Gafieira, Samba Batucada, Samba Reggae, Afrosamba, etc.) as varieties of World Englishes (Kachru, 1982)—all mutually intelligible, but pushing the boundaries of what their original language was, yet still defined in similar ways (Nelson, 2012).
The critical parallel here, though, is that one instrument does not make a bateria—the combination of multiple instruments can seek to call themselves a bateria. Many people convene and the necessity of multiple instruments playing separate but equally important parts together bring the importance of what Bruce Ballenger (2017) called ALL-AT-ONCE-NESS in his composition textbook. I am appropriating that phrase for the purposes of this text to mean the euphony that a variety of discourse speakers can create when they come together as a community. Much like Aya Matsuda and Paul Matsuda (2010) recommended for the composition classroom to teach both dominant and nondominant discourses, bateria members cross train on different instruments, and it is the mark of a master to be able to play all instruments at a high level. Although this is the point at which the parallel breaks down, as language is strongly connected to identity, which in turn is strongly connected to marked bodies, and some languages may not be appropriate to appropriate from body to body (e.g., Matsuda, 2014). What if the instrument originally given (read: the first language, or the chosen variety of English or World English) could be the instrument that turned into a dominant discourse? What if there were spaces for each variety to be recognized as dominant in composition? Scholars would argue that World Englishes make this space possible with the understanding that each variety is legitimate and even though the translingual movement has been criticized for duplicating labels for courses, practices, and texts (e.g., Tardy, 2017) perhaps this is what the translingual movement is working toward—encouraging students to write from multilingual stances, code mesh, and push the boundaries of traditional composition (e.g., Canagarajah, 2006; Horner et al, 2011; Horner & Trimbur, 2002; Lu, 1994). If we can see each variety or dialect as an instrument that is rule-governed and has just as much potential and legitimacy as the other (which is currently the definition of all languages), then maybe we can see "difference in language not as a barrier to overcome or as a problem to manage, but as a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening" (Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur, 2011, p. 303).
In many baterias, beginners are usually given an agogo bell. The agogo bell, a double cowbell, or a nondominant discourse, seems more simple than other instruments at first. This first instrument, like a first language, teaches the musician the basic notes, rhythms, songs, choreography, behaviors, and identity as it initiates the musician into the community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). For many, the goal is to move away from the first instrument as soon as possible, as it may not be as prestigious as the more dominant instruments, such as a repinique, which typically leads the group in a solo performance. However, the agogo bell carries with it a covert prestige that composition has been calling for since the turn of the 21st century. The agogo bell is quite the capable and complex instrument, able to solo, and, what might be more important to the analogy, play entire songs in chorus. Musicians who embrace the agogo, or who are encouraged to excel in this instrument, can play every rhythm and then also improvise and solo as shown in this agogo lesson video from Virada drums in Brazil, which sponsors the famous samba school Mangueira. The agogo can then be one of the more complex musical parts, and even surpass the solo instruments by playing complex parts in chorus, as shown here in the video of Portela 2015. In much the same way, if we in composition encourage the development of nondominant discourses in addition to dominant discourse in the composition classroom (e.g., Matsuda & Matsuda, 2010), it could be possible for the bateria of discourses to learn to play together someday in euphony, rather than cacophony. A bateria is not one drum alone.
Perhaps the most important parallel to draw from bateria as composition is not necessarily the immediate applications of music for language learning, or the parallels for the composition classroom and literature, but the spirit of activism and empowerment for the marginalized and oppressed. Olodum is one of the most famous baterias in existence, having played with Michael Jackson, Spike Lee, and Paul Simon. Olodum states in their mission that the group "develops activism to combat social discrimination, boost the self-esteem and pride of Afro-Brazilians, and defend and fight to secure civil and human rights for marginalized people in Bahia and Brazil." This bateria actively raises awareness for people in the favelas of Brazil through over ten high-profile albums, and it regularly conducts community-based cultural activities through its million-dollar enterprise (Crook, 1993). Olodum and its parent bateria, Ilê Aiyê, regularly occupy spaces both physically and symbolically in the community (Guerreiro, 1999).
If we encourage the development of nondominant discourses in addition to dominant discourse in the composition classroom, it could be possible for the bateria of discourses to learn to play together someday in euphony, rather than cacophony.
The history of the bateria itself may teach us more about the potential future of composition. The arts of samba and capoeira, the predecessors of baterias, were an infusion of culture from enslaved African brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonists. Enslaved peoples were barred by law from practicing any form of their previous cultures or religions and forbidden to practice any martial arts as those in power could not afford a cultural or physical uprising. Larry Crook (2001), who writes extensively about the history of samba, maracatu, and the black consciousness, observed that these art forms were created to practice both culturally significant traditions while disguising the activities as entertainment and lethal moves as passionate dance movements. Many have noted the similarity between baterias and militant formation, including the assault of the drum volume on eardrums (Crook, 2001; Tosta, 2010). Capoeira, once the reason that people were discriminated against and murdered, is now a valued tradition and art that has been exported around the world. This subversive history of marginalization and what is now a cultural and commercial enterprise has shown two cultural phenomena that show promise for the future of composition.
In the Sambadrome every February, multiple Escolas de Samba, or samba schools, compete to win Carnaval with their floats, dancers, and baterias. As accepted as this practice is today, it wasn't always the case. One of the most famous schools is Mangueira. The President of the Mangueira Old Guard, Gilda Moreira, in a CGTN America video special on Rio de Janeiro's samba schools described the legal, cultural, and political journey of samba throughout the last centuries:
My grandmother used to say that in the beginning, the samba schools were marginalized, the police wouldn't let them parade, and they arrested them...but then the elite discovered samba, and they saw a joy they didn't have, despite their money and their position. Nowadays, you see people paying a lot for a costume to parade with us. (1:06–1:26)
The shift in cultural status has not been ignored. Antonio Luciano Tosta (2010) noted the elevated status of samba schools and blocos afros like Olodum with the capitalist Brazilian society, despite the mainstream's attempts to silence them throughout history. Tosta noted that "[t]his jump in status is empowering to the community that they represent, not only given the financial gain that this implies, but also due to the improved image that they have acquired as successful and exemplary cultural producers" (p. 183). In Deborah Eade's (1997) view, this might be considered a form of empowerment, as the connection between personal and political aspirations have allowed the blocos afro to gain enough strength, confidence, and vision to empower themselves, as "empowerment is not something that can be done to people" (p. 410; emphasis mine). Ilê Aiyê and Olodum created a subversive cultural capital and found pure joy in it, effectively making the elite jealous enough to value it and want to buy that joy. They empowered themselves through the combination of personal and political gain. Is it impossible for academia to create spaces where a cultural and political shift can happen to language as it did in samba?
Baterias in Brazil and in the United States perform at many different occasions, and most often transcend the parading performance with the spirit of activism. For example, Batalá, an all-female bateria in the Washington D.C. area, performed at the Women's March in 2019. But, consistent with their mission statement—"to empower women through drumming and expose people to Brazil's dynamic Afro-Bahian culture and Samba-Reggae music"—Batalá, in their own booming way, gave a voice to women's rights in the United States. This spirit of activism that both composition and bateria show echo the sentiments of another Brazilian educational visionary, Paulo Freire. He gave his voice to the oppressed, offering support in those times when the fight is long and difficult. Freire (1968) argued,
Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest of human completion. (p. 47)
A major condition for the quest of human completion may be joy, as the elites wanted when they began to appropriate samba. Therefore, the fight for nondominant discoursal freedom in composition must be pursued constantly and responsibly, but it must be pursued through joy in composition. We must make that joy in nondominant discourse something that our cultural elites want, and can get, but cannot fully appropriate.
What is composition's bateria? This trajectory from samba could represent the trajectory of World Englishes and translingual advances in composition and could be placed onto Edgar Schneider's (2003) theoretical model of the dynamics of new Englishes—new Englishes being a concept that emphasizes the diachronic nature of languages as a function of time and geographic movement of humans. In Schneider's model, there are five theoretical steps from identity construction to dialect birth: foundation, exonormative stabilization, nativization, endonormative stabilization, and differentiation (p. 255). It could be said that the translingual movement in composition shows the field as in between steps one, foundation, where there is limited exposure to local languages and toponymic borrowing, and two, exonormative stabilization, where elite bilingualism is spreading, and there is more lexical borrowing. If composition is on this trajectory, there are at least three more steps, and a countless number of decades, but the movement is undeniable. As composition moves toward including normalizing nondominant discourses, decolonizing first-year composition pedagogy through multilingual composition (e.g., Medina, 2019), and "languag[ing] so people will stop killing each other" (Inoue, 2019), composition seems to be moving towards the third step of nativization where there are widespread and regular contacts and accomodation, heavy lexical borrowing, and phonological innovations. It is through rose-colored glasses that we see the fourth step of endonormative stabilization occuring in composition: the acceptance of local norms, positive attitudes about dialects, and stabilizations of new varieties. What would the field of composition look like at that point? Would we move through to the fifth step of differentiation? Do dialects of Englishes have to be born through this process to be legitimate, or can existing dialects claim this status as their own? If the Brazilian bateria is a parallel situation, perhaps this could be an option in the future of composition.
Like the spirit of bateria, the field of second language writing has long been concerned with attaining social justice language plurality, and the field of World Englishes has further legitimized this mission, but there is still a tension between encouraging multilingualism and upholding multiple registers for the appropriateness of the rhetorical situation of monolingualism's status quo—or of white supremacy, as Inoue (2019) asserted. This implicit value of the language of academia and English over first languages that are not of prestige varieties is an uphill battle much like the oppressed cultures of early Brazil. Translingualism, like a bateria at Carnaval, seems to be the first step of taking up the tense space between true multilingual existence and the status quo of monolingualism, encouraging people who might be considered to be in the nondominant groups of language users to exhibit novel uses of codemeshed languages and push against the status quo. However, the endonormative stabilization, as Schneider would have termed it, requires an elite bilingualism, and to inhabit this space is not only tense, but dangerous for the non-elite. Like samba, translingual acts of linguistic defiance could result in consequences, some as extreme as being arrested or death. The key here, though, is the joy in speaking, writing, or living multilingually. When the elite want what the non-elite have, that is a subversive power of joy. Translingualism allows for the freedom of expression that represents the unbridled joy of communication, but second language writing and World Englishes provide the backbone and legitimacy for translingualism.
Is it impossible for academia to create spaces where a cultural and political shift can happen to language as it did in samba?
If we follow the trajectory of samba, the tension of empowering students to write in their own nondominant discourse, while also teaching dominant discourse, is important. The tension allows for the learning process to be a conquest that the student takes into their own hands, owning and molding the language to their needs and wants, taking the top-down and oppressive system that currently is and subverting it. Perhaps through this approach we could tap the potential that Christine Tardy (2017) believed that translingualism has and "move beyond the borders we profess to disavow" (p. 187). Much like in bateria and samba, three possible ways that we can continue the process in the composition classroom are to ascribe additive approaches to language learning and encourage multilingualism, make commitments to opportunities for nondominant discourses to flourish through community, and last, but certainly not least, encourage opportunities in academia for joy over strife in nondominant discourse.
I would like to acknowledge Dr. Patricia Friedrich for her support and encouragement with this piece, and to Bryan Cooperrider, the director of Sambatuque, for the experience of a lifetime playing with his bateria, Sambatuque.
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