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Friday, June 02, 2006

It's Forbidden to Forbid - Tropicalia

A potted timeline of events in Brazil in the 60's is needed to appreciate the balls of the people behind the Afro/psychedelic/bossa nova/folk music 'Tropicalia' (aka 'Tropicalismo') movement...

1964: Almost 20 years of political instability in Brazil leads to a military coup under Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, who deposes the left-wing president João Goulart on March 31.
Washington immediately recognizes the new government, stating that "democratic forces" had defeated the influence of international communism in Brazil
Castelo Branco purges Congress and expands presidential powers, but steps down in 1967.

1967: Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva takes over control of the government. Although using the expanded presidential powers as a basis for authoritarian rule, he maintains some vestiges of democratic process.

1968: Hard-line top brass in the military 'force' Costa e Silva into promulgating the Fifth Institutional Act on December 13, granting dictatorial powers to the president. Congress and state legislatures are dissolved, the constitution is suspended, censorship imposed.

And now, a more human look at concurrent music events in that unhappy country:

In 1967, musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, both 23 years old, inspired by the Beatles and other English-language rock musicians, move on from bossa nova and begin to produce songs with politically charged, socially aware lyrics. 'Tropicalia' is born, a fusion of the smooth bossa style, with rock, Bahia folk music, African music and the melancholy Portuguese 'fado' sea shanties. At the same time, a cadre of Brazilian directors launch 'Cinema Nova', focusing hard-hitting films on the many Brazilian poor.

Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil [Pic: EuropeJazz.net]

During '67 and '68 the Tropicalia crowd record several albums, successful in Brazil but ignored in much of the rest of the world. Gil and Veloso are joined in many of their outings by Os Mutantes (The Mutants), an inventive and innovative rock band from São Paulo. Times were heady - the people were responding to what was happening to their country, and one of the few true counter-cultural movements of the '60's was beginning to flower. These guys not only were musical; they were articulate, angry and had integrity. They took it upon themselves to test the unwanted boundaries imposed upon their freedom of expression from above.

Caetano Velosol
Caetano Veloso [Pic: Dusty Groove America]

Things, predictably, got heavier, and in December 1968, fresh from the suppression of constitutional rights, the authoritarian government cracked down. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were arrested in December, and held in jail for several months as 'anti-governmental activists.'

On their release in 1969 the duo hightailed it to London. Gil began playing with the UK rock crowd - Pink Floyd and Yes - whilst continuing his solo career. He returned to Brazil and helped introduce reggae to his homeland with a cover of Bob Marley's 'No Woman, No Cry' in 1980. Veloso returned to Brazil in 1972, but always lived under the wrathful eye of the Brazilian military government until its fall from power in 1985. However, both artists now had an international following by now, which protected them somewhat.

A fitting capstone to Gilberto Gil's career came in 2003 when newly-installed President Lula da Silva chose Gil to serve as Brazil's new Minister of Culture. In 2002 Caetano Veloso published an account of the Tropicalia movement, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil.

So today, King of Bongo urges us all to spare a thought for all people suffering under the yoke of restrictions to their freedom of expression, and to enjoy the joyous sound of people who, whilst repressed, knew they were going to prevail. Ladies and gentlemen:
Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso: Bat Macumba (1968) [mp3 | 2:37 mins | 213 kbps | 4.13 MB]
File under: Forbidden Music

Soul Jazz Records Presents Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound Buy Soul Jazz Records Presents Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound featuring 20 tracks including 2 versions of 'Bat Macumba' from Amazon

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