April 25 2012
Every week, Sound Travels takes flight and travels in a direction. This week, we head back in time and take our trip to Brazil of the late 60's to check out the nascent Tropicalia sound being pioneered by a new wave of artists. A stunningly short-lived sound that came to be in an era of global flower power and spoke in metaphor on the stultifying political problems of a Brazil trapped in the clutches of a dictator and a culture struggling to change with the times.
It started in 1967, when singer/composers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso introduced a new sound in Brazilian music. They were among the first of their generation to reflect the powerful musical changes wrought by artists of a suddenly international stature; from Jimi Hendrix to Chuck Berry to The Beatles. Add to that the sudden rise of Brazilian music like samba and bossa nova, and you've got a new pop, steeped in the sound of an era they knew they were writing.
Along with rock musicians Os Mutantes and Tom Ze, they produce a startling collective record and an album that very much started it all (and the careers of practically everyone involved). Tropícalía ou Panís et Círcensís (Tropicalia or Bread and Circuses), is an album that mingles traditional Brazilian rhythms with rock guitars and psychedelic flourishes. Their lyrics poke fun at Brazil's consumer society and other aspects of the contemporary culture in a way that also provides oblique political commentary.
Initially, Brazilians saw the music as an adulteration of Brazil's musical birthright by an American aesthetic. In fact, while on tour supporting the album Tropícalía ou Panís et Círcensís, Veloso got booed so bad, he often had to stop midsong just to go on. Over the next year however, the Tropicalistas developed a cult following fueling a real musical counter-culture that would in turn spur an entire generation inspired by their music and spirit.
This underground popularity would not go unnoticed. In fact, Brazil's military government distrusted the Tropicalistas, who dress in the feathers and velvets of the hippie movement. Veloso's 1968 tune, "E Proíbído Proíbír" ("It is Forbidden to Forbid"), which took its title from a slogan of the May student protests in Paris, provokes officials further, and they labeled the musicians a political threat and a decadent influence who were corrupting the Brazilian youth.
After the military government consolidated power its power in late 1968, they arrested Veloso and Gil, jailing them without charge for several months, and then recommended they leave the country in de facto exile. Veloso and Gil remained in exile for four years, spiriting compositions with veiled lyrics from London to Brazil for others to record and perform. Others in the Tropicalismo movement (as its also known) were less fortunate; several undergo torture or forced "psychiatric care." One Tropicalisto, the lyricist and poet Torquato Neto, committed suicide after recieving its "care".
Gil and Veloso would return to Brazil in 1974 and rebuild their careers. Military rule in Brazil ended in 1985 with the election of a civilian president. By then, tropicalia musicians had gained worldwide attention, influencing such North American performers as David Byrne, Paul Simon, Curt Cobain, Beck and many, many more.
Today's set featured many of the artists involved with that album. Nara Leao, who gave up Bossa Nova in the late 60's, used her sweet voice to get political on the album and on others in the era. Tom Ze also contributed and enjoyed popularity at the time. Gal Costa wrote four of the tunes on the watershed album that was Tropícalía ou Panís et Círcensís, and would remain popular long after the movement had died. Jorge Ben, though not officially on anyone's list of Tropicalia performers, was nevertheless a big influence on the movement.
Jorge Ben "Si Manda"
Os Mutantes "Panis Et Circenses"
Caetano Veloso "Proibido Proibir"
Gilberto Gil "Procissao"