Rogério Duprat: the avant-garde maestro speaks out

Tired of living up to his reputation as a ‘lonesome genius’, the maestro talks about his plans for the future

Tom Cardoso
Why would a maestro in his forties be holding a urinal, side by side with talented longhaired artists on the cover of a 1968 LP? To answer this question, one ought to listen to the album Tropicália, which originated one of the biggest Brazilian music movements ever, revealing Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Torquato Neto, Rita Lee, Gal Costa and Arnaldo Baptista, all at once.

Leading the group was arranger Rogério Duprat, a former colleague of Frank Zappa’s, with whom he shared the classes given by Karlheinz Stockhausen at a school in Darmstadt, Germany. Tired of the square attitude and inflexibility of orchestras and dying to put his experiments into practice, Duprat created the most beautiful arrangements for the Tropicália album, which can be appreciated in songs like Baby, Panis Et Circencis, Geléia Geral and Batmacumba.

In 1967, Duprat had already conquered the tropicalists with his bold orchestration for Domingo no Parque (Gilberto Gil), inserting electric guitars into Brazilian music for the first time – and making the purists very nervous indeed. Mentor of the movement Música Nova, in 1963, which gathered people like his brother Régis Duprat, Julio Medaglia and Damiano Cozzela, Rogério was referred to by his friends as "the Mutantes’ George Martin".

Besides participating in the first recordings by Rita Lee, Arnaldo and Sergio Baptista, Duprat kept seducing popular musicians – he wrote the epic arrangements for Construção and Deus lhe Pague (Chico Buarque, 1971). At the same time, he would give his orthodox comrades the creeps for being a wild rebel – he was seen and photographed "conducting" the chaotic traffic in the streets of São Paulo.

In the 70s and 80s, Duprat built a big studio and produced jingles and movie soundtracks. The long hours in studio damaged his hearing, and he decided to hide in a farm, on the countryside of São Paulo, where he now works as a carpenter and practices yoga.

Along the nineties, he accepted only two invitations to write arrangements – for the track Tempo/Espaço (in the 1997 disc by Lulu Santos ,Liga Lá) and for the track O Gosto Azedo (Rita Lee Acústico MTV, 1998). His Zen routine shall be interrupted in October, when a big concert will be held in São Paulo to celebrate his career.

Rogério Duprat talked to AllBrazilianMusic in his office in São Paulo. In pretty good shape for a 68 year-old, the arranger and culture promoter had his say on movies and festivals, and admitted to be missing the work with the tropicalists. "I no longer intend to foment my reputation as a lonesome genius. I’m happy to meet everyone again and can’t wait to write new arrangements".

AllBrazilianMusic – Have you been listening to Brazilian music?

Duprat – Very little. I don’t wanna sound boring, but Brazilian music, or maybe music in general has been turned into one giant business machine. It’s all too repetitive. Today, I listen to classical music; that’s what I enjoy.

ABM – What do you think of electronic music? Have you listened to drum’n’bass?

Duprat - You can call this and that electronica, or something, but if you listen carefully, everything sounds kind of the same. Movements like Tropicália, which enabled shit to hit the fan, won’t come up from day to night. It was so daring that it didn’t last too long – they sent Caetano and Gil away. And popular music has been turning too commercial and not new at all.

ABM – Why did you quit writing music scores for movies?

– I have suffered with hearing problems for over 20 years, now. So I necessarily needed help from other musicians. Besides, the last score I wrote was thrown down the drain.

ABM – Tell us about it.

– I was asked to write the score for "Marvada Carne" (directed by Andre Klotzel) in 1987. When the movie came out, I noticed they hadn’t used it, except for a few short passages. I don’t know what happened and never talked to the director again. What’s surreal is that the soundtrack received an award and they were stupid enough to try and give it to me, but I obviously turned it down.

ABM – You were a juror in some festivals and felt the heavy hand of censorship and military repression...

– The organizers were always censoring the jurors, in fear of the militaries. In 1972, for instance, the whole body of jury was dismissed because we had agreed to place Walter Franco’s Cabeça as the winner, and the militaries hated the song.

ABM – And you were assaulted by the security guys...

– Roberto Freire (juror, psychiatrist and writer) was pissed with the organization’s decision and was making plans to go up on the stage and reveal the farce. He actually did it, but the booing was so intense that nobody heard him. The security guys were very rude, got him off the stage and started beating us up. I had my share, that night (laughs).