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March 20th, 2015

Tropicalia: The Music of a Brazilian Revolution

The Tropicália movement burst into life in 1967, incorporating visual arts, poetry and music. It was a cultural revolution heavily influenced by the concept of ‘cultural cannibalism’, a phrase coined by Oswald de Andrade in his Manifesto Antropófago in 1928. ‘Cultural cannibalism’ is based on the idea that a nation’s culture can be made stronger and richer by blending a wide range of disparate cultural elements, both national and international, in order to create something new and unique. In musical terms, the Tropicália movement championed this concept by marrying classical Brazilian bossa nova music with the Afro-Brazilian rhythms of samba and the rock and roll riffs and jagged guitars of London’s swinging sixties. The product of this cultural fusion was an exciting new genre of politically conscious music. Tropicália countered the oppressive military rule of the time through its overt defiance of the strict censorship that was being imposed on Brazilian culture.

Despite only spanning a five year period between 1967 and 1972 (some argue its lifespan was even shorter than this due to two of the founding musicians being arrested by the military government in December 1968), Tropicália has undoubtedly left a lasting impression both within and outside of Brazil. As well as paving the way for modern Brazilian pop music, the movement influenced countless international musicians including David Bowie, Beck, Damon Albarn and David Byrne. However, perhaps the biggest indicator of its enduring legacy lies with Gilberto Gil, one of Tropicália’s most famous musicians. Having spent his youth battling for socio-political change within Brazil, leading to a brief period of incarceration in 1969 and a stint spent living in exile in the UK, Gilberto Gil went on to assume the title of Brazil’s Minister of Culture between 2003 and 2008; a position from where he could proudly promote the incredible diversity of Brazilian culture.

If you’re new to the genre and fancy delving into the anarchic and surreal world of 1960s Brazil, these are my top three recommendations to start you off on your Tropicália journey...

No 1: Caetano Veloso – Caetano Veloso (Tropicália) (1968)

The first official record of the movement is a wonderfully eclectic affair bringing together elements of bossa nova, Bahian beats and psychedelia as if this were the most natural union of styles. The first track, entitled ‘Tropicália’, was named after an art installation of the same name by Hélio Oiticica, and was later adopted as the name of the whole movement. From the album’s curious opening of discordant strings and African drums on ‘Tropicália’, to the melodious US rock sounds of ‘Alegria, Alegria’, Caetano Veloso’s gentle, unwavering vocals defy the political chaos of the era and make for an incredibly intriguing and beautiful record.

No 2: Os Mutantes – Os Mutantes (1968)

A friend played me the first track of this album, ‘Panis Et Circenses’, as we were travelling across the Bolivian salt flats and it seemed strangely in keeping with the other-wordly landscape. The raucous energy of this record is highly contagious and my initial confusion as to what on earth I was listening to (it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before!) was soon replaced by an overwhelming desire to dance energetically to each foot tapping song on the album, especially ‘A Minha Menina’ and ‘Bat Macumba’. Taking influence from the Beatles’ 1967 album ‘St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, the record is jam-packed with catchy riffs and fuzzy guitars. Luckily the more delicate tracks, such as ‘El Relógio’, do not disappoint either - I could listen to singer Rita Lee’s dreamy, Nico-esque vocals all day long.

No 3: Jorge Ben Jor – Jorge Ben (1968)

Although this was Jorge Ben’s sixth studio album, this self-titled record was an innovative, stylistic break from his previously recorded samba records and his first time recording with the Trio Mocotó; now famous musicians within their own right. The record intelligently fuses samba, bossa nova, jazz and soul with Jorge Ben’s satirical and playful, esoteric lyrics and imploringly soulful tones. In fact, some of the lyrics to these catchy, upbeat tracks were reputedly investigated by the Brazilian government for promoting political dissidence... Listen to ‘País Tropical’, one of Jorge Ben’s most celebrated tracks and Brazil’s unofficial national anthem!


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