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"Coração Vagabundo," Caetano Veloso, 1967, song, Brazil. This illustrates Veloso's use of more traditional bossa nova styles.

"Tropicalia," Caetano Veloso, 1968, song, Brazil.

Brazilian Tropicalia

In 1967, singer/composers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso introduce a new sound in Brazilian music, inspired as much by Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry as by mellow bossa nova. Along with rock musicians Os Mutantes and Tom Ze, they produce a startling collective record, Tropícalía ou Panís et Círcensís (Tropicalia or Bread and Circuses), that mingles traditional Brazilian rhythms with electric guitars and psychedelic flourishes. Their often humorous lyrics poke fun at Brazil's consumer society and other aspects of the contemporary culture.

Many Brazilians see the music as an adulteration of Brazil's musical birthright by an American aesthetic. On occasion, Veloso performs to so many boos, he stops midsong. Nevertheless, over the next year, the Tropicalistas develop a cult following that begins to spread to an entire generation inspired by their music and spirit.

Brazil's military government distrusts the Tropicalistas, who dress in the feathers and velvets of the hippie movement. Veloso's 1968 tune, "E Proíbído Proíbír" ("It is Forbidden to Forbid"), which takes its title from a slogan of the May student protests in Paris, provokes officials further, and they label the musicians a political threat and a decadent influence who will corrupt Brazilian youth.

In December of 1968, the military government consolidates power. They then arrest Veloso and Gil, jailing them without charge for several months, and then recommending they leave the country. The artists remain in exile for four years, spiriting compositions with veiled lyrics from London to Brazil for others to record and perform. Others in the Tropicalismo movement are less fortunate; several undergo torture or forced "psychiatric care." One Tropicalisto, the lyricist and poet Torquato Neto, commits suicide after such treatment.

Gil and Veloso are able to return to Brazil in 1974 and rebuild their careers. Military rule in Brazil ends in 1985 with the election of a civilian president. By then, tropicalia musicians gain worldwide attention, influencing such North American performers as David Byrne and Paul Simon.


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