Genevieve E. Dempsey

Genevieve E. Dempsey

Mark Claster Mamolen Fellow Academic Year 2017-18
Ethnomusicologist and Musician
Genevieve Dempsey

Genevieve E. Dempsey is an ethnomusicologist and musician, specializing largely in the musics of Latin America and the Lusophone world. She received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Chicago in 2016. Her ethnographic and archival research has taken her to, among other places, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Lisbon, and Buenos Aires, where she examined music and ritual, race, class, gender, and sexuality. She is the author of a forthcoming article, “Audible Immanence: Music and Myth in Afro-Brazilian Catholicism,” in the Yale Journal of Music and Religion, which explores sound, myth, sacredness, and blackness in Brazil. Her most recent articles, “Queens and Captains: On Gender in Brazilian Congado” and “Gilded Song: Black Festivity in Colonial Brazil,” examine the intersection of history, colonialism, song, and body politics in Afro-Brazilian musico-religious communities. Dempsey has been awarded a number of prestigious fellowships, including grants from the Reed Foundation, American Association of University Women, Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, and the United States Department of Education. Prior to the University of Chicago, she graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in Political Science, Economics, and Latin American Studies.


Project Description

“The Thunderous Consonance of Drums:” Black Festivity in Colonial Brazil

Afro-Brazilians often lead multi-faith lives, finding harmony in worshiping Catholic saints on one day of the week and African deities on another. Engaging in musico-religious pluralism, Afro-Brazilian worshipers deploy music to mobilize the merging and separating of their sacred rituals. Worshipers participate in musical borrowing and spiritual mixing because they believe each ritual to contribute uniquely to their struggle to build matrices of social, economic, and sacred support vis-à-vis societal exclusion. As economically disadvantaged worshipers of African descent, they deflect social exclusion by crossing and reinforcing musico-religious boundaries. My Hutchins Center book project focuses on the musical and religious intersections between the Afro-Brazilian ritual communities of folk Catholicism (Congado), Umbanda, and Candomblé to examine the interpenetration of the sacred and the social. Drawing on ongoing research in Brazil since 2009, it engages with race, gender, and sexuality in contexts of musico-religious pluralism to contribute to a broader debate in the humanities and social sciences about the interaction between and among ethnography, history, and performance.

Congado refers to the groups of disenfranchised Afro-Brazilian laypeople who have venerated Mary and the saints through musico-religious traditions since the seventeenth century, but who do so in ways that both align with and stand apart from Roman Catholic practices. They perform rituals like mass, but they also perform syncretic, African-derived practices that are not officially recognized by Roman Catholic authorities. Umbanda is a syncretic Brazilian religion founded in the 1920s in Rio de Janeiro as an eclectic mix of Spiritism, folk Catholicism, Afro-Brazilian religions, and Amerindian shamanism. Candomblé is a syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion based upon spirit possession and healing that originated in Bahia in the early nineteenth century. Each musico-religious practice helps believers to confront social, political, and economic difficulties in creative ways. There is no doubt that despite local variants of Congado, Umbanda, and Candomblé across Brazil, Afro-descendants engage in musico-religious pluralism to fulfill an overarching purpose: the struggle for empowerment. My Hutchins Center book project thus symbolizes a unique entry into various disciplines such as ethnomusicology, anthropology, and history by exploring how multi-faith Afro-Brazilians use music and ritual as clarion calls for survival, resiliency, and autonomy.

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