Life of Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso has been called the Bob Dylan of Brazil -- a popular musician who has made staggering artistic and intellectual contributions to his country. The New York Times recently dubbed him "Brazil's unofficial poet laureate".
Veloso, currently touring the U.S. in support of his latest album, is well into the fifth decade of a legendary career that shows no sign of ebbing.
Born in 1942 in Santo Amaro de Purificão, in the province of Bahia in eastern Brazil, Caetano Veloso grew up immersed in the arts. His first loves were writing and filmmaking, but he soon turned to music. He cites his earliest and most profound influence as bossa nova, the traditional Brazilian Jazz genre, and its master musician and composer, Joao Gilberto.
During his years studying philosophy at the Federal University of Bahia, Veloso met many fellow musicians, including future collaborator and friend Gilberto Gil.
Along with a tight-knit group of musician friends, he moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1965 to launch a music career. His earliest performances and recordings were in the traditional bossa nova style; Veloso also began to play Brazil's wildly popular televised music festivals.
In 1967 he released his first album, a collaboration with singer and friend Gal Costa titled "Domingo."
Throughout the late 1960s, Brazil's rightist governmental regime influenced Veloso heavily. The chaotic political situation peaked in 1968 when a military junta removed the civilian government in Brasilia.
"We saw the coup simply as a decision to halt the redress of the horrible social inequities in Brazil and, simultaneously, to sustain North American supremacy in the hemisphere," Veloso writes in the introduction to his memoir, "Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil".
Following the coup, Veloso and his circle began to produce music expressing political, social and new artistic themes. This new music evolved into a movement called "Tropicalia" that became wildly popular in Brazil and provoked the ire of the new government. (Read about Tropicalia.)
"At the first public presentation of a Tropicalia song -- at a Sao Paulo music festival -- Veloso startled the audience by forgoing the usual tuxedo for a checkered brown suit and bright orange turtleneck. More shocking, he had an Argentine rock band behind him," writes Hector Tobar of the Los Angeles Times.
Throughout 1968 the Tropicalia artists continued to release albums and perform at music festivals. At one such event Veloso was booed for his song "É Proibido Proibir" ("It is forbidden to forbid"). In response, he lectured the audience for its lack of openness and understanding.
A crackdown on artistic freedom in Brazil began in December of 1968. Veloso and Gil were arrested for having "disrespected the national anthem and the Brazilian flag." They were jailed for about three months. When they were released the government warned them not to perform in public.
Facing the threat of future jail time, Veloso entered a self-imposed exile to England. While in London, Veloso continued to grow musically drawing inspiration from the psychedelic rock of the era, most notably that of The Beatles.
When the Brazilian government began moderating its position on cultural matters in 1972, the political situation eased and Veloso and Gil returned home to resume their careers. They toured the country and wrote, performed and collaborated with fellow artists. In 1974 Veloso began producing records for other musicians.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Veloso's music continued to evolve; critics heard Disco, New Wave and other influences in his work. Throughout the 1980s his music also began to reach beyond Brazil, finding new audiences in other Latin American countries, Europe and some parts of the U.S.
Veloso and Gil turned 50 years old and the Tropicalia movement turned 25 in 1992. The friends marked the moment with a nostalgic album called Tropicalia 2, released in 1993. The album had Veloso still practicing Tropicalia, but now incorporating reggae and rap into his music.
In 1997 Veloso published Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, his history of the Tropicalia movement, and released a companion CD, Livro. In the book, Veloso traces the birth and development of the Tropicalia movement and comments on his own place in Brazilian history.
Veloso admitted to some weariness in the late 1990s, stating he was "bored with Brazil." The words caused an uproar in his native land. But just at this moment he found a new spark in an old source, a book by 19th century Brazilian abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco. Sparked by the material, he released Noites des Nortes (Northern Nights), an exploration of the history and legacy of slavery in Brazil, in 2001.
"As I read it I started thinking again about the central, the key aspect to grasp the phenomenon of Brazil, which is race. I wanted other people to listen to what he had written. Because in fact what we need to talk about in Brazil is a second abolition [of slavery], and he was one of the first people to see this," the musician told the Los Angeles Times.
Now 60, Veloso has released a new album (Live in Bahia) and recently completed a world tour. He draws large crowds in the United States, which he says puzzles him because of the nuanced style of his writing in Brazilian Portuguese.
"In the beginning, I thought it was completely impossible, because my songs were not very well recorded, and I was convinced that people would have to speak Portuguese and be familiar with the historical, political and cultural situation of Brazil to be interested. I still don't know why anyone else would be drawn to what I do," Veloso told the New York Times.
But the crowds keep coming, drawn to the troubadour from Brazil, a country that Veloso calls the other "giant of the Americas" and the "negative mirror image" of the United States.
-- By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour