There’s a Brazilian expression that goes: everything that’s good can’t last long. It can certainly be applied to Tropicalia, one of the most original cultural movements in Brazil – but lasting only between 1967 and 1969. Artists combined, in an original, anarchic way, by embracing rock and roll and mixing it with Brazilian culture – which, at the time, was thought to be “uncool.”
Tropicalia combined elements that, at a first glance, might seem incompatible. But it’s exactly for this originality that made this movement so special, why its legacy remains strong, and why it had so many haters. It was a collective movement that combined various forms of art including music, theatre, film, literature and sculpture, under the lead of two young musicians from Bahia: Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
Because they dared to draw inspiration from the music of “imperialist countries,” such as psychedelic rock, they were rejected by the music establishment that, at the time, favored a more nationalistic political direction. On the other hand, their anti-authoritarian stance put them at odds with the military dictatorship. Tensions exploded in early 1969 when Gil and Caetano were arrested and subsequently exiled to London, putting an end to the movement.
Brazilian music, though, was never to be the same. The habit of mixing disparate elements was forever incorporated into our music from that moment forward, shaping the melting pot it would later become.
Caetano Veloso – Alegria, Alegria
Perhaps the best-known song from Caetano, it annoyed many when released in 1967 for its electric guitars. However, it became an anthem for freedom because of its verse “strolling against the wind, without documents or handkerchief, I go”.
Gilberto Gil & Mutantes – Domingo no Parque
Now this is a melting pot that defined much of what Tropicalia is all about. Musically it mixes baião (a traditional northeast genre) and avant-garde orchestration, alongside psychedelic rock.
Mutantes – Panis et Circences
By far, the most creative Brazilian band to be part of the Tropicalia movement.
Caetano Veloso – Tropicalia
The words of the song form a collage of surrealistic images. Musically, baião once again meets clever orchestration and modern rock structures.
Gal Costa – Divino Maravilhoso
When she released the song, Gal Costa presented a new persona away from the shy bossa nova girl she was known for. With black power and aggressive singing, she was in tune with the times.
Tom Zé – São Paulo
Very influential during Tropicalia, Tom Zé lived in relative obscurity at the time until he was re-discovered by David Byrne in the 1990s.
Gilberto Gil – Aquele Abraço
This song was composed when Gil was being taken to the airport for his two years’ exile. In it, the composer remarks that despite all its troubles, Rio de Janeiro remains beautiful.
Jorge Ben – Cadê Tereza
The creator of samba-rock joins Tropicalia.
Nara Leão – Lindonésia
Nara another established name when she joined the movement.
Rogerio Duprat – Flying
The composer and conductor was a pupil of Stockhausen before returning to Brazil to revolutionize the country´s music. He created arrangements for most Tropicalia albums. Here’s his take on a Beatles song.