Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution In Sound

When, in 1968, students were erupting on boulevards and campuses throughout the rich world, something similar was happening in Brazil. A momentous wave of energy that rolled out of the visual arts before sweeping into music and directly confronting Brazil’s dictatorship, the Tropicália movement was short-lived but still very much a revolution.

Ambitiously, for one CD and 50 pages of packed sleevenotes, *Tropicália* seeks to give a sense of how important it was. It is, by necessity, an overview. The album gathers the main players – Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Jorge Ben and Os Mutantes – in a ‘greatest hits’ that gives a flavour of a music that is of its time and place. There was at the heart of Tropicália a curiosity about what made Brazilian music Brazilian, which was a reaction to cultural colonialism.

Os Mutantes’ 1970 song, ‘Ando Meio Desligado’, slithers between a psychedelic groove and a soft percussive Latin groove; Costa’s wonderfully slinky ‘Tuareg’ seeks to throw on, via its Arabesque fripperies, a new exoticism; while Tom Zé’s songs have a dangerous drama.

When did Tropicália end? Following demonstrations in 1968, Caetano Veloso was among those exiled; others managed to survive in Brazil, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the censors. It’s the musical aspect of Tropicália that has proved most enduring, with such diverse artists as David Byrne, Kurt Cobain and Tortoise all captivated. This album is a superb example of why we should be too.

New Internationalist issue 387 magazine cover This article is from the March 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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