New attitude, new music

Carlos Calado
"Tropicalia is the opposite of bossa nova". That’s how singer and songwriter Caetano Veloso defined the movement which, along 1968, revolutionized Brazilian Popular Music’s status quo. The trend, led by the guy from Bahia, attracted composers Gilberto Gil and Tom Zé, poets Torquato Neto and Capinam, maestro Rogério Duprat, the Mutantes, Gal Costa and Nara Leão. Differently from bossa nova, which introduced an original style of writing and performing music, Tropicalia did not intend to synthesize a musical style, but to establish a new attitude: its intervention in the culture of Brazil was, above all, through criticism.

The tropicalists’ intention was not to overcome bossa nova, a style that Veloso, Gil, Zé and Gal admittedly loved. In the beginning of 1967, these artists felt suffocated by the elitist behavior and nationalist prejudice that ruled over the BPM domain. After many discussions, they decided that, in order to freshen up the music of Brazil, the only way out would be to promote the taste for Brazilian music among the youth, who showed an ever growing interest in pop and rock of the Beatles and Roberto Carlos. Claiming that Brazilian music needed a more universal appeal, Gil and Caetano tried to talk composers like Dori Caymmi, Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Paulinho da Viola and Sérgio Ricardo into their ideas. But their reaction made it clear that if the tropicalists resolved to really go on for pop guidelines while trying to break the connection with the political-driven musical production of the period, they would have to do it by themselves.

Regarded as the milestones of the new movement, the songs Alegria, Alegria (Caetano) and Domingo no Parque (Gil) were released and promptly stirred polemic discussions in BPM festivals. The electric guitars presented by Argentinean band Beat Boys, who backed up Caetano, and the Mutantes’ rocking attitude as they backed up Gil, were booed intensely by radical students. For those college kids, electric guitars and rock’n’roll were symbols of the North-American imperialism, and therefore, should be banned from BPM. Nevertheless, the jury of the festival and the public in general approved the new trend. Gil’s song was placed second on the fest (the winner was Ponteio, by Edu Lobo and Capinam). And in spite of having been placed fourth, Alegria, Alegria became an instant radio hit, helping sell 100 thousand copies of Caetano’s single.

Avant-garde arrangements
The brouhaha caused during the festival stimulated the label Philips to accelerate the production of solo LPs by Caetano and Gil, which became the first tropicalist albums. Gil worked with maestro Rogério Duprat, and three avant-garde maestros worked on Caetano’s album: Júlio Medaglia, Damiano Cozzela and Sandino Hohagen. Medaglia wrote the arrangement for the track that Caetano had composed as a manifesto-song for the new movement.

Influenced by the delirious film Terra em Transe, by Glauber Rocha, and by the play O Rei da Vela, by modernist Oswald de Andrade, Caetano synthesized in that song conversations and aesthetic discussions he had had with Gil, with manager Guilherme Araújo, with singer (and Caetano’s sister) Maria Bethânia, with poet Torquato Neto and with graphic designer Rogério Duarte. The result was a type of poetic collage, which drew a picture of Brazil through its contrasts. The photographer (and later, movie producer) Luís Carlos Barreto suggested the name Tropicalia, when he heard the song, by late 1967, and it reminded him of the homonymous work by artist Helio Oticica, which had been exhibited a few months before at the Modern Art Museum (Rio).

But the movement only started incorporating the name Tropicália in 1968, when Nelson Motta published an article on a local newspaper called "The Tropicalist Crusade". In it, the reporter announced that a group of Brazilian musicians, filmmakers and intellectuals had founded a cultural movement with international intentions. The effect was felt immediately: Caetano, Gil and the Mutantes could be seen on television all the time. In May 1968, the collective manifesto-album Tropicalia or Panis et Circensis was recorded in São Paulo. Caetano coordinated the project and selected the repertoire, with unreleased songs by himself and others by Gil, Torquato Neto, Capinam and Tom Zé. Mutantes, Gal Costa, Nara Leão and maestro Rogério Duprat were invited to complete the cast.

The album was released in August, during fake parties promoted in Rio and São Paulo. Songs like Miserere Nobis (by Gil and Capinam), Lindonéia (by Caetano and Gil), Parque Industrial (Tom Zé) and Geléia Geral (by Gil and Torquato) formed the allegorical portrait of a country that was modern and conservative at the same time. Styles like bolero and baião, pairing up with the melodramatic song Coração Materno (by Vicente Celestino), revised by Caetano, indicated the tropicalist procedure to emphasize the tacky and kitsch aspects of Brazilian culture. Tuned in with the hippie generation, the tropicalists also questioned the patterns of the so-called good looks, which they traded for long hair and extravagant clothing.

As they teased the status quo, the reactions against tropicalia also strengthened. During a debate organized by Architecture students in São Paulo in June 1968, Caetano, Gil, Torquato and concrete poets Augusto de Campos and Décio Pignatari were antagonized with booing, bombs and bananas thrown at them by the radical students. The most violent confrontation took place during an international song festival, also in São Paulo, in September. When he sang É Proibido Proibir with the Mutantes, Caetano was attacked with eggs and tomatoes by the audience. The songwriter’s reaction included a speech that turned the whole thing into a historic happening: "So this is the youth that want to take over politics?", he yelled.

Another scenario for confrontation was the nightclub Sucata, in Rio, where Caetano, Gil and Mutantes played a confusing series of shows in October. A flag with the sayings "Be an outcast, be a hero" and the rumour that Caetano had inserted offensive verses into the national anthem served as good enough reasons to have the shows cancelled.

Still in October, the tropicalists managed to run a weekly TV show. Written by Caetano and Gil, the show, called Divino, Maravilhoso (Divine, Wonderful) featured all of the members of the group, besides guests like Jorge Ben, Paulinho da Viola and Jards Macalé. The shows were conceived as happenings and filled with sheer provocation. The influence of the movement was also evident in the many songs that competed in another music festival, in November. The jury’s decision reflected the impact that Tropicalia was producing only a year after the release of its first works: São Paulo (Tom Zé) was the winner; Divino, Maravilhoso (Caetano and Gil) was placed third; 2001 (Tom Zé and Rita Lee) was placed fourth.

Death sentence
By that time, as the military regime hardened its ways, the interference from the Federal Censorship Department had already become usual; songs would have verses cut off, or entire songs would be retrieved and have their release prohibited. As Caetano and Gil were arrested in December, Tropicalia’s funeral was anticipated, although its symbolic death had already been announced during events promoted by the group.

Despite having been as explosive as quick, with little more than a year of official life, Tropicalia continued to influence the production of popular music for the next generations. Direct or indirect descendents of the movement kept popping up here and there, such as singer Ney Matogrosso and the avant-garde from São Paulo in the late 70s, which included Arrigo Barnabé, Itamar Assunção and the band Rumo. In the 90s, songwriter Chico Science, from Pernambuco (NE), one of the heads of the Mangue Bit movement, appeared with his blend of electronic pop and folk beats; in Rio, Pedro Luís, Mathilda Kóvak, Suely Mesquita and Arícia Mess released a project in 1993 called Retropicália.

In 1998, the 30 years of the movement served as official theme for the carnival in Bahia. A tribute CD was also assembled by Carlinhos Brown, Margareth Menezes and Daniela Mercury, besides Caetano, Gil, Tom Zé and Gal Costa.

Outside of Brazil, Tropicália became a cult object for musicians like David Byrne, Beck and Kurt Cobain, causing a whole new wave of interest in Brazilian music.



Alegria, Alegria – Caetano Veloso
Domingo no Parque – Gilberto Gi
Tropicália – Caetano Veloso
Superbacana – Caetano Veloso
Soy Loco Por Ti América (Gilberto Gil/ Capinam) – Caetano Veloso
Marginália 2 (Gilberto Gil/ Torquato Neto) – Gilberto Gil
Panis et Circensis (Gilberto Gil/ Caetano Veloso) – Mutantes
Miserere Nobis (Gilberto Gil/ Capinam) – Gilberto Gil e Mutantes
Lindonéia (Gilberto Gil/ Caetano Veloso) – Nara Leão
Parque Industrial (Tom Zé) – Tom Zé
Geléia Geral (Gilberto Gil/ Torquato Neto) – Gilberto Gil
Baby (Caetano Veloso) – Gal Costa e Caetano Veloso
Enquanto Seu Lobo Não Vem (Caetano Veloso) – Caetano Veloso
Mamãe, Coragem (Caetano Veloso/ Torquato Neto) – Gal Costa
Bat Macumba (Gilberto Gil/ Caetano Veloso) – Gilberto Gil e Mutantes
Saudosismo – Caetano Veloso
É Proibido Proibir, versão integral, com discurso (Caetano Veloso) – Caetano Veloso
Não Identificado (Caetano Veloso) – Gal Costa
Divino, Maravilhoso (Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso) – Gal Costa
2001 (Rita Lee/ Tom Zé) – Mutantes