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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Studying and listening in Amazonia

Within the city of Alter do Chão, the place my professor lived, conventional Paraense carimbó music dominated everybody’s social lives. As an undergraduate who was double-­majoring in music, I made a decision to affix the city’s main carimbó group, Grupo Cobra Grande. Regardless of my rudimentary grasp of Portuguese, I knew that I may talk with the group by way of music. With the assistance of offline Google Translate and charades, I managed to be taught not solely the intricate rhythms and dance strikes concerned on this conventional musical model, but in addition the meanings of the lyrics and the related folklore. We started each rehearsal and efficiency with a track calling the legendary frog Muiraquitã into the Lago Verde lake to guard the city and the individuals from evil spirits. The dance strikes in carimbó replicate tales in regards to the well-known Amazonian pink dolphin coming to land within the evenings to court docket younger girls—males put on hats to cowl their dolphin spouts and dance in circles across the girls like dolphins leaping out and in of the water. 

Talia Khan in the foliage
Talia Khan ’20 within the deserted metropolis of Velho Airão earlier than she realized that killer ants had pushed its individuals away. Her good friend had an allergic response when bitten, however fortunately, Khan had an EpiPen.


I used to be fortunate sufficient to return to Brazil two years later as a Fulbright scholar in Manaus, Amazonas, the place I bought to check pure rainforest supplies similar to curauá fibers and Marasmius yanomami fungi within the lab, analysis their conventional makes use of in artisanal crafts, and discover their potential as sustainable structural supplies. I additionally volunteered on the Nobre Academia de Robótica, a company that provides youngsters from impoverished backgrounds, together with Indigenous youths from the São Sebastião neighborhood, free entry to schooling in coding, science, and expertise. They be taught to make use of drones for land surveillance and develop sensors to observe environmental situations, honoring their cultural legacy and increasing it with technological capabilities. 

Once I met an area clarinetist named Abner on the Manaus synagogue, he invited me to look at as he recorded music with Eliberto Barroncas, an artwork professor at an area college who performed devices he crafted from repurposed “discovered” objects similar to cardboard tubes, rubber tires, and marbles. As Abner performed the clarinet, Barroncas created a background that immersed the listener within the sounds of Amazonia: croaking frogs, flowing water, shaking leaves. Afterward, we mentioned the interconnectedness of nature and music over espresso. Barroncas’s philosophy is that making music ought to come from the soul, as a tangible expression of 1’s pure environment. This concept resonated with me, inspiring me to deepen the scope of my extracurricular analysis on eco-organology—the research of how devices are linked to the pure world. I shared a number of of his quotes after I introduced my analysis on the American Musicological Society annual convention within the fall of 2022.

By my work with the Nobre Academia de Robótica, I additionally met the native music producer and arranger César Lima, who developed a virtual-reality app referred to as “The Roots VR” to introduce customers to over 100 Amazonian devices. This app permits customers to work together with quite a lot of these devices in digital settings, creating an accessible approach for individuals worldwide to have interaction with and respect the wealthy musical heritage of the Amazon. His work demonstrates how trendy expertise could be harnessed to protect and promote musical traditions.

“I informed Fred that everybody wanted to return to the Amazon. Everybody wanted to style the tingling jambú flower, drink suco de taperebá, and carry out within the well-known Teatro Amazonas opera home.”

I discovered myself sharing tales of those unimaginable individuals with my music buddies at MIT and with Fred Harris, director of the MIT Pageant Jazz Band, a gaggle I joined as an undergrad. I informed Fred that everybody wanted to return to the Amazon. Everybody wanted to style the tingling jambú flower, drink suco de taperebá, and carry out within the well-known Teatro Amazonas opera home. We needed to not simply introduce different college students to the music of the Amazon, however take them there so that they, too, may collaborate with Indigenous performers. Within the spring of 2023, Fred introduced some 80 MIT scholar musicians, none of whom spoke Portuguese, to the Rio Negro in the midst of the Amazon rainforest. These college students, together with roughly 20 employees, college, and visitor artists, communicated with the locals by way of science and music.

The undertaking Fred led, referred to as “Listening to Amazônia,” was a testomony to the ability of interdisciplinary collaboration. Influenced by my experiences within the Amazon, and additional impressed by visitor artists Luciana Souza, Anat Cohen, and Djuena Tikuna, it culminated in a live performance that includes Brazilian and Amazonian music influenced by the pure world. Working collectively, we created a musical narrative of the Amazon’s magnificence and the looming threats it faces. We went on to carry out it each at MIT and within the Amazon.

Fred Harris, senior lecturer in music and director of wind and jazz ensembles at MIT, will get a conventional sample painted on his face with pure plant dye by a lady within the São Sebastião neighborhood.


This undertaking transcended the normal boundaries between schooling and activism. Bringing MIT scholar musicians to the Amazon supplied a platform for experiential studying not like another. It wasn’t nearly enjoying music; it was about understanding music as a residing entity, deeply entwined with the atmosphere the place it originates. 

In planning the journey, we knew that partaking with the Indigenous communities was important. We partnered with the Nobre Academia de Robótica to go to the São Sebastião neighborhood so the entire group may find out about their tradition, their traditions, and the methods during which science and tech are serving to them shield their land and keep their fishing economic system. We additionally took half in workshops with César Lima and Eliberto Barroncas. The chance for college students to play Professor Barroncas’s devices and participate in an impromptu jam session was a strong demonstration of music as a common language, transcending boundaries and connecting us to the atmosphere and one another. He and Lima influenced us past the realm of music, providing insights into the broader implications of cultural sustainability and environmental stewardship. Their work demonstrated that the preservation of cultural practices and pure ecosystems is just not solely a creative or environmental problem but in addition a matter of world accountability.

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