“Some regions are more regional than others,” as J. Lorand Matory once noted in reference to Brazil's Northeast, long regarded as a national repository for cultural authenticity. And the more “regional” regions often play an outsized role in determining what constitutes “national” cultures. A curious paradox attends the formation of modern regionalisms and nationalisms: just as national cultures are often most indebted to regions that are economically marginalized, regional cultures are often founded on the expressive and material cultures of disadvantaged and stigmatized groups. How this happens is the central topic of Scott Ickes's new book about Bahia, its capital Salvador, and the development of baianidade, arguably the most powerful discourse of regional identity in Brazil.

Focusing on the period between 1930 and 1954, Ickes analyzes the gradual valorization of Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia, which mirrored broader efforts to forge an...

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