Tropicália Thunder

Forty Years Ago in Brazil, A Cultural Upheaval Foreshadowed Modern Music

BY Alex MolotkowPublished Sep 30, 2008

Drawing from stereotypes and oversimplifications, you might call Brazil’s Northeast region the nation’s id — the primitive unconscious underlying the developed South. Once the heart of colonial Brazil, the drought-prone area has been depressed since the 18th century, when the nation’s economic and power centre shifted from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro. The mythological Northeast is home to bandits, hot-blooded rural vigilantes, and religious rituals passed down from West African slaves and Catholic colonizers. With some of the lowest literacy and highest poverty rates in the country, it’s been considered the cultural centre of the nation, the heart of Afro-Brazilian existence, and the source of that which is "authentically Brazilian.”

The Northeast is also the birthplace of Tropicália, a short-lived moment in Brazilian pop music which has had a profound — though delayed — influence on music worldwide. In the early ’60s, future tropicalistas Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia (Veloso’s sister), Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Tom Zé met in Salvador, Brazil’s third largest city and the capital of Bahia, the Northeast’s largest state. At the Federal University of Bahia, they read the works of Heidegger and Sartre and studied the compositions of Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage. At leisure, they wandered through the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia, watched films by Antonioni and Godard, listened to Ray Charles, Chet Baker, and especially João Gilberto, the "Father of Bossa Nova.” Salvador, the capital of the Northeast, was as cosmopolitan as a city could be; its university was a hub where avant-garde ideas connected to local traditions and practices. To those who clung to prejudices about Northeastern identity, this was difficult to fathom. Within five years, the tropicalistas would move to São Paulo, where they’d use electric guitars, wear outlandish costumes, and redefine American and British pop music with ideas gleaned from their experimental educations and Northeastern upbringings.

That the Northeast — the poorest region in the nation, at one time idealized as a symbol of pre-modern cultural purity — could dialogue so intimately with the European and North American avant-garde is as counterintuitive as Tropicália itself. For years, Brazil has signified eternal leisure in the Western imagination. And yet Tropicália — a movement that lasted all of 1968 — predated movements and trends that are still only germinating; 40 years later, we’re still trying to understand what it all meant.

Tropicália was borne out of tremendous social and political pressures. Brazil’s military government was stifling civil liberties while receiving support from the United States. As a result, Brazil’s predominantly leftist (but often socially conservative) cultural elite often dismissed music that wasn’t politically charged or culturally "pure”; adapting "authentic” music from the Northeast and the hills of Rio, they attempted to create a popular music that would mobilize the working classes. Having tired of the sanctimonious left, Tropicália’s members transformed from conventional MPB (Música Popular Brasileira, or Brazilian Popular Music) musicians to something altogether different. Tropicália had no allegiances; it plundered and mixed styles from wherever, reworking music from Brazil, America, and Europe, whether it was in fashion or not. They preferred confrontation over didacticism, and they rejected the idea that pop music was at odds with tradition or innovation. While they were just as opposed to the military dictatorship as any of their contemporaries, their "enemies” came from the left and the right — whoever attempted to dampen artistic production was a threat to the "evolutionary line” of Brazilian music.

"It’s amazing to see your music outlast you,” says Sérgio Dias, guitarist for Os Mutantes. His band are one of Brazil’s biggest-ever rock groups, and in the late ’60s they served as the teenaged face of Tropicália. Outside of Brazil, Os Mutantes are as important to music fans as the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or Can, and their international fan base includes Beck, Stereolab, Kurt Cobain, Yuka Honda and Devendra Banhart (who recorded with the reformed band). Comprised of Dias, his brother Arnaldo Baptista and singer Rita Lee, Os Mutantes began imitating the Beatles as teenage prodigies; as they grew older, they built their own version with local materials. In 2006, Os Mutantes played their first show in 30 years at London’s Barbican Theatre (with Zélia Duncan on vocals in place of Lee) as part of "Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture,” a Tropicália-inspired art exhibition (featuring Hélio Oiticica’s 1967 "Tropicália” installation, from which the movement got its name) which toured major cities worldwide. Afterwards, the group embarked on the first international tour of their careers, playing major events including the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2006. "The kids needed to see us,” Dias says. "That was a very beautiful gift that we received. If you saw the [Pitchfork] gig in Chicago, there were like 18,000 kids… there are no Brazilians in Chicago!”

Since then, Os Mutantes’ catalogue has been redistributed by Light in the dsAttic, and Chicago’s Dusty Groove has reissued some of the hardest-to-find Tropicália releases. In 2006, Soul Jazz Records released Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound (complete with full booklet) to almost universally rave reviews. Brazil 70, a collection of post-tropicalist music, followed in 2007. This is nothing new. The non-Brazilian world was formally introduced to Tropicália in 1989, when David Byrne released the Beleza Tropical compilation. In the mid- to late ’90s, the movement influenced an entire wave of contemporary bands — Beck, Stereolab and the High Llamas, to name a few — sparking features in The New York Times and other major publications. "It was in the early ’90s that I came across Os Mutantes, and it was like we discovered a goldmine,” says Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab. "And that’s this extraordinary thing, you go from one goldmine to the next… there was this discovery and inspiration of Brazilian music, and I think that that’s [how] our music became more sophisticated, a little less linear.”

Tom Zé — who had been largely forgotten, but working steadily since the end of the ’60s — found a new patron in Byrne, who released a retrospective of his material in 1989. Championed more by international indie rock audiences than his compatriots at the time, Zé toured with Tortoise in 1999 and released several records of new material on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. "It gave anyone listening [to Tropicália] a new source of inspiration to draw from, much in the way that the tropicalistas drew from different types of music, indigenous and foreign, to create their mash-up of sound,” says Mac McCaughan, who, as Portastatic, released an EP of Tropicália covers (De Mel, De Melão) in 2000.

The latest revival is not the same as the last, however. Ever since Tropicália’s emergence in the non-Brazilian world, new developments in European and North American music have elicited a sense of deja vu among those in the know; Tropicália’s influence has spread everywhere from Animal Collective to Hot Chip. In the ’90s, indie rock artists began to reach beyond the standard guitar rock mould, creating new musical starting points from different genres. Now, in the wake of the iPod, the boundaries between genres and subcultures seem to have all but dissolved. Listeners are proud of their eclectic tastes, formerly guilty pleasures are now perfectly acceptable, and seemingly clashing genres are frequently cut up, shuffled and played one after the other. Even the limits of what constitutes Tropicália seem to be expanding; the art exhibition "was trying to make this point that we needed to try to understand Tropicália in an interdisciplinary way… more in its totality, and not just as a musical movement,” says Christopher Dunn, author of the Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture and a professor of Brazilian studies at Tulane University. Dunn acted as a consultant to Carlos Basualdo, the exhibition’s curator. As he points out, a big part of Tropicália’s enduring appeal is the prismatic nature of the movement itself. "There’s no way you could say there’s a tropicalist song,” Dunn says. "Tropicália was so many different things — it was not about creating a new style of music. It was about making reference… citing rock, citing Spanish American music like bolero and mambo, citing a little bit of bossa nova, Northeastern rhythms, everything kind of mixed together and juxtaposed. There was not an attempt to create a fusion of any sort that would generate a new style. It was an aesthetic of pastiche and juxtaposition.”

"I think [it’s] a very Brazilian characteristic to mix things,” says Kassin, a Brazilian musician who experiments with myriad styles from the past and present, and whose work with Moreno Veloso (Caetano’s son) and Domenico Lancellotti arguably follows an "evolutionary line” from Tropicália. "We are a mixed colony — African, European, Indian, Japanese. There’s no pure Brazilian, we have no past,” he says. As the inscription on Oiticica’s installation read, "purity is a myth.” Knowing this innately, the tropicalistas embraced impurity. Inspired by the concept of antropofagia — or "cultural cannibalism,” as expressed by the modernist poet Oswald de Andrade in his "Manifesto Antropófago” ("Cannibal Manifesto”) — the tropicalistas preserved (and advanced considerably) the Brazilian tradition of "eating” ideas from abroad and reworking them into new, uniquely Brazilian forms. "[Tropicália] is, in some ways, really quintessentially Brazilian,” says Lawrence Kay (a.k.a. Joe Sixpack), a Bay Area music writer and radio veteran whose website,, contains a guide to countless Brazilian records. "With American music or European music, it’s sort of easy to describe things — you can say ‘blues plus country equals rock ‘n’ roll,’ or ‘rock plus jazz equals fusion,’ but with Brazilian stuff, their whole culture is based on this sort of cross-cultural mixing… with something like Tropicália, single artists could be doing dozens of kinds of music on the same record — it’s a little harder to put your finger on.”

The story begins with bossa nova. In 1964, two records competed for the number one slot on the American pop charts. As distinct as two styles could be, they would find an unlikely union in Tropicália. In the U.S., A Hard Day’s Night and Getz/Gilberto would lay the groundwork for two distant worlds in pop music; in Brazil, the two worlds would fight viciously for the same territory. In the U.S., the latter — particularly its ubiquitous single, "The Girl from Ipanema” — would mark bossa nova’s progression from exotic craze to classic, and, of course, cliché. The same year, in Brazil, a military coup — as well as the foreign debt and massive inflation that contributed to it — was putting an abrupt end to the optimism that spawned bossa nova. The carefree attitude that made the music so appealing in the States had inspired its makers to radically change its format. The second wave of bossa nova reviled rock’n’roll, considered mindless and a symbol of Western imperialism. While the tropicalistas adored bossa nova, they would receive rock with a critical embrace. The Beatles would win the chart battle.

Bossa nova had started six years earlier in Brazil, with João Gilberto’s "Chega de Saudade” single in 1958. The next year, the artist’s debut LP left the country awestricken. Hearing João Gilberto was a turning point for musical youth throughout the nation; for a few teenagers in Bahia, the pre-tropicalist phase had begun. Gilberto Gil put down the accordion he had been playing since childhood and turned to the acoustic guitar. For Salvador-born singer Gal Costa, it marked the starting point of her musical development: "I don’t even remember the way I sang before hearing João Gilberto,” she told The Morning News. As Caetano Veloso writes in his autobiography, Tropical Truth, he was "overwhelmed” by the new sound; at 17, he and his friends would gather at a local bar in his small hometown of Santo Amaro to hear the record they couldn’t afford themselves. These Bahians would succeed in mastering the techniques of bossa nova, but the influence of two Carioca musicians who had failed at the same attempt would make their music interesting: Jorge Ben, whose inability to mimic João Gilberto’s guitar techniques inspired him to invent his own; and future rocker Roberto Carlos, a working-class youth whose social status undercut his success as a bossa nova performer. Unfit for Gilberto, Carlos converted to Lennon.

The year of the coup, Gil, Veloso, Costa, Maria Bethânia, Tom Zé started performing at the alternative Vila Velha theatre in Salvador. The group had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Brazilian music and an unwavering love for bossa nova; though members had separate agendas, they worked synergistically. Soon enough, MPB sought them out; their talents caught the attention of Nara Leão, the "Muse of Bossa Nova” and the star of Opiniao, a popular theatre production which mixed folk music with political dialogue. When Leão left the production, she chose Maria Bethânia—then a teenaged unknown—to replace her. Caetano followed his sister to Rio, bringing his songs with him; the rest didn’t stay behind for long. The Bahians’ Northeastern roots gave them credibility, although the fascination with their backgrounds was at times more exploitative than genuine. Nicknamed "the Bahian Group,” Gil, Veloso, Bethânia and Costa would build conventional careers for themselves through regular television appearances and MPB albums.

By 1967, Gil and Veloso had become disenchanted with the genre. Veloso fell in with a group of intellectuals whose work had already articulated his doubts. They were inspired by the work of Oswald de Andrade, filmmaker Glauber Rocha and the experimental theatre group Teatro Oficina. He had also fallen in with his sister’s manager, a flamboyant producer named Guilherme Araújo whose promotional methods were just as brazen as the music he would soon be making famous. Both Gil and Veloso admired Jorge Ben, whose O Bidú — an album that combined sounds from Rio, the Northeast, and electric instruments — anticipated the tropicalist project before it had even begun. They began making plans for a movement that would launch their careers and "unleash the truly revolutionary forces of Brazilian music,” in Veloso’s words. While their friends in MPB didn’t take them seriously, the former Vila Velha group was ready to commit. "When I met Gil and Caetano in 1961, they were making bossa nova and were already really competent musicians and songwriters. I was doing something a little more barbaric, with raw verses laid over a really simple style of music made to more to showcase those words, which were more important,” Zé says. "You can see that in a situation like this I couldn’t really imagine a ‘great movement growing within our culture,’ let alone anything that wasn’t about fighting to gain your own space in the world as a human being… It’s clear to see that our musical ideas weren’t identical. However, we stayed together because they drew me in.”

The Bahian group had made their public debuts during a pivotal time in Brazilian pop culture. The national culture industry was developing rapidly, and the mid-’60s saw the consolidation of MPB and rock, the two major competing communities. The show O Fino da Bossa, hosted by diva Elis Regina, served as the prime time-ready face of the leftist post-bossa nova movement (and the site of Gil’s national debut). Airing in the same time slot was Jovem Guarda, hosted by Roberto Carlos, which showcased "ie-ie-ie” — apolitical, Brazilianized rock’n’roll — to a huge audience of largely working-class youth. Jovem Guarda was popular; MPB was populist. The two worlds were fiercely at odds, and dual membership not allowed: Jorge Ben, whose own music was too brilliant to classify, was blacklisted from O Fino…after appearing on Jovem Guarda. The same year saw the first televised song festival, a spectacle that would serve as the crucible for Brazilian popular music over the years to come. Attended mostly by students, intellectuals, and others at the leftist vanguard, song festivals provided a democratic outlet — a safe place to wave signs, throw debris, shout praises and holler invective.

São Paulo was the media hub of the nation, a city so big that the standards of good taste held little sway. Bassist Arnaldo Baptista had met singer Rita Lee Jones at a high school talent contest. The two started a relationship, and Lee began jamming with Baptista and his brothers Claudio Cesar, a self-made engineer who could craft instruments and noisemakers out of just about anything, and Sérgio Dias, a guitar prodigy who had dropped out of school at 13 to focus on his instrument. The Baptistas came from a musical household. "We used to turn the radio on shortwaves to the BBC, and listen to the early, early stuff — we started listening to the Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee, and before that, the Ventures, Nat King Cole,” says Sérgio Dias. "And the Beatles, definitely, we’d tune into the BBC and record [them] on a small tape recorder. The day they released ‘Help!’ in Brazil, we played it on TV… we recorded it a few days before, and we learned it by listening to the recording that we made from the radio.” Os Mutantes started out as a conventional rock’n’roll group, but quickly outgrew the formula. "We [were] more into the Ronnie Von program instead of the Jovem Guarda — [it] was not as pop as Roberto Carlos,” says Dias, referring to The Small World of Ronnie Von. "For example, sometimes we would go to Ronnie Von and we would sing a Bach fugue a cappella — there was a lot of freedom to do music and explore. We were always searching for that.” Os Mutantes understood Tropicália’s mission intuitively, and were already realizing the theories that Gil and Veloso had been laying out over meetings and discussions. "The beautiful thing was the intelligence and the culture,” Sérgio Dias says. "Caetano and Gil, they had this beautiful knowledge of all the poets from Brazil, and all the things from the Northeast, which was like another country for us… suppose you fall in love with somebody and you know you’re going to leave in three days – you know, that rush, that hurry to trade information. It was a very intense passion and love for each other and for each other’s information and music and art. So we were always together, and always playing, and always creating.”

Awash in ideas, and spread-eagle between two oppositional worlds in Brazilian music, Tropicália lacked only a cohesive agent; its members would find it in Música Nova, a group of avant-garde composers who admired the works of Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage. Música Nova believed that the worlds of pop culture and the avant-garde could be reconciled; they envisioned a Brazilian avant-garde with a pop casing, ready for dissemination through mass media. Moreover, they acknowledged the value of Brazilian pop music in itself: in the words of Gilberto Mendes (quoted by Dunn), "It’s difficult to interest the youth in some boring concert... when they have the best popular music ever made in the history of music at their disposal. It’s necessary to turn art music into an object of mass communication.” The tropicalistas’ alliance with the Música Nova group would produce some of the most outlandish arrangements of the time period: Julio Medaglia, Damiano Cozzella, and especially Rogerio Duprat translated the theories underlying Tropicália into abrasive sound effects, ostentatious horn parts and exaggerated strings. With Duprat’s help, the tropicalistas would develop a lurid pop sound as seductive as it was garish. Duprat — who had studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany — juxtaposed dissonance with pure melody, creating an accessible sound with an ominous undercurrent. "He was a magician, really,” says Sérgio Dias, "The things that he did, I never heard before. And I still don’t.”

By late 1967, the group — the Bahians, Os Mutantes, and their Música Nova allies — was ready to launch its movement, and a song festival, TV Record’s Festival de Música Popular Brasileira (Festival of Brazilian Popular Music), was the perfect forum for its debut. Gil and Veloso would present the songs "Domingo No Parque” and "Alegria, Alegria,” respectively. "Gil showed us ‘Domingo No Parque,’ and that blew my mind, because it was not the samba that you normally used to listen to, it was something much more outrageous in terms of harmonies and depth, in terms of composition and lyric and everything,” Sérgio Dias says. Thanks to Araújo, Tropicália’s premiere was organized meticulously. Instead of the standard uniform of coiffed hair and a tuxedo, Veloso appeared with his unruly curls in full spring, wearing an orange turtleneck and a brown checked suit. His backing band, an Argentine rock cover group called the Beat Boys, wore pink and played electric guitars, a strict taboo among the MPB crowd. The booing began before the song did; by end, however, the tune received applause. Gil performed with the playful Os Mutantes — electric instruments and all — to his left, and a berimbau (traditional one-string instrument) player to his right. Behind him was a full orchestra, in formal attire. "[It was] this visual and sonic synthesis of tradition and modernity, all in one package,” says Dunn. "That was very appealing to people, who had been told that well using electric guitars was something that’s not Brazilian, or something that’s associated with rock’n’roll, a music of North American imperialism. That was a very liberating gesture at the time.” Gil finished fourth, while Veloso came in second place. "Alegria, Alegria” became a hit, and Veloso an unlikely sex symbol.

In 1968, Tropicália exploded. Veloso, Gil, Os Mutantes and Duprat released their "Tropicália” records, and the group recorded their "record-manifesto,” Tropicália: Ou Panis et Circencis (Tropicália: Our Bread and Circuses), featuring Veloso, Gil, Costa, Os Mutantes, Duprat, Zé, lyricists Torquato Neto and José Carlos Capinam, and, significantly, Nara Leão, who was closely associated with bossa nova. The album — adorned with a satirical "family portrait” of the Tropicália group — sold well, and Tropicália became a favourite topic of the national press. According to Dunn, Tropicália was never a top ten music — but the ones who did hear it listened well. The average fan was "a middle class kid, living in a city, that bought records and certainly listened to MPB, but also really loved the Beatles... there’s a lot of anxiety about [the military dictatorship], and the discourse coming out of the left was very despairing. It tended to be a more serious, ‘we shall overcome’ kind of sound, which is important… but there was a way in which Tropicália was seen as this great expression, a kind of cathartic expression of joy in the face of a very difficult political and social context.”

The illusion of order was becoming more absurd with each year of military rule. The tropicalistas made a spectacle of that absurdity. The tropicalistas reclaimed he tropes of Northeastern folklore and tropical idyll, adopting Brazilian stereotypes as icons for the movement: Carmen Miranda, bananas, bright colours and "exotic” sound effects. Most importantly, they embraced the developing mass media, a choice that seemed offensive to good taste. "We were born in the same part of Bahia, the Recôncavo, a world where the principle source of education is [based around] an oral culture, absolutely dislocated and different from the formality of traditional schooling,” Zé says. "When we were in São Paulo, in 1968, it was at that exact moment that the second Industrial Revolution started to appear on the horizon, and it came to dislodge the dominion established during five centuries by the Gutenberg printing press. All of our songwriting friends from around Brazil at the time — Chico Buarque, Edu Lobo, Vinícis de Moraes, etc — had been taught with the written word as the main form of transferring knowledge. Maybe being presented with the fall of this cultural universe, they came to hate everything that was arriving in the hull of the new revolution: the processing of data, the language of signs, the dominance of the television, and the computer in itself. To us, coming from an oral tradition… the inventions of the second Industrial Revolution didn’t cause any type of scare. Quite the opposite, we saw these novelties sympathetically and, principally, with curiosity. As such, our music became the aural arm of this Industrial Revolution. And, mainly owing to the genius and the marvellous melodies of Gil and Caetano, the Brazilian press gave this part of the revolution the name ‘Tropicalismo.’”

Tropicália’s power over disenchanted students and thinking rock’n’rollers reached its apex just as state suppression was nearing its nadir. The group seized the song festivals that year, both through subversion and legitimate participation. Gil and Veloso performed at TV Globo’s Festival Internacional da Canção in São Paulo. Gil was disqualified in the preliminary rounds — his Hendrix-influenced performance of "Questão de Ordem” had confounded both the audience and the judges — but Veloso’s "É Proibido Proibir” ("It is Forbidden to Forbid,” the slogan of the May 1968 Paris uprising) made it to a chaotic second elimination. Veloso appeared onstage in a green plastic suit, wearing a mix of animal teeth, religious beads and electrical wires around his neck. The song opened with pure cacophony, and an American hippie joined Veloso onstage to stagger and scream. The audience threw tomatoes (which Gil bit and threw back) and pieces of wood. Veloso started on a long rant, comparing the audience to the Comando de Caça aos Comunistas (CCC, Command for Hunting Communists). Though Veloso was promptly disqualified — and electric guitars banned from the festival the next year — his rant was sold as a single, according to Dunn. In civilized Rio, Gal Costa’s performance of Gil’s and Veloso’s "Divino, Maravilhoso” would serve as her national debut. She would finish third in the contest, while Zé placed first with "São São Paulo, Meu Amor.” In October, Jorge Ben joined the tropicalistas for their official TV program, Divino, Maravilhoso.

In December, the military regime passed the Fifth Institutional Act (AI-5), suspending civil liberties and silencing dissent on pain of imprisonment, torture, and, in some cases, execution. The desperation wrought by AI-5 would see guerrilla groups and armed resistance replace poetry and song. In December, Dunn writes, the tropicalistas held a mock funeral for Tropicália on Divino, Maravilhoso. Two days after Christmas, Veloso and Gil were arrested by the military police and placed in solitary confinement; they would spend the next two months in military prisons. The official reasons for their arrests were never provided, though a performance in an upscale nightclub (which had featured a subversive banner by Helio Oiticica) was cited provisionally. "We were living under a terror regime — you have no idea what it was,” Sérgio Dias says. "Most of the days, you would [hear that] somebody was arrested, or somebody died, or somebody was tortured. And we were under threat of being tortured or being arrested, but when you’re young, you have this indestructibility feeling, you think that you’re immortal and nothing’s going to happen to you… we were lucky enough that our image was too clean for them to be able to say [we were] polluting the image of the youngsters. There was that blonde kid, Rita, with blue eyes, and we were clean, and well-dressed, and playing very well, so it was hard for them to find a [way] to catch us. And so we were damn lucky they didn’t catch us. But when they were exiled, it was a huge loss. They basically cut the head off the monster, you know, the movement. It was very, very bad. For us, it was a disaster.” After their release, Gil and Veloso were "invited” to leave the country; they remained in exile in London for two years. By that time, many of the most important figures in Brazilian music had fled the country, either by choice or by coercion.

Throughout their stay in London, Gil and Veloso continued to record. While London’s music scene had an impact on the two performers — they were able to witness their long-time favourite artists in action, and both developed an interest in reggae — the Brazilian sounds they had carried with them from home failed to take hold among their English colleagues. "When Gil and I were in England in the ’70s, we would play people Mutantes records and the reaction would always be the same, ‘it sounds like a Beatles rip-off.’ We knew they were much more than that, but nobody else in England did… until now,” Veloso told The Guardian. Back in Brazil, Costa, Duprat, Os Mutantes and Zé were refining the ideas that had burst out of the supernova of 1968.

When Gil and Veloso returned from exile in 1972, they were greeted with heroes’ welcomes. In the wake of AI-5, the musicians who had remained in Brazil had had to direct their political angst inward, turning to poetry, self-transformation, spiritualism, and, of course, drugs in lieu of outward protest. As Dunn explains, Tropicália — with its emphasis on personal liberty — had set a huge precedent for the counterculture that erupted after its sudden demise. Artists had been imprisoned and tortured, exiled, or forced to publicly recant their radical beliefs and actions. The military police had crushed the armed resistance, and the Federal Censorship Service had subjugated the creative world. Dodging the censors became a creative pursuit in itself: "In Mutantes, we wouldn’t change the lyrics, we would mutilate the music,” Sérgio Dias says. "For example, if you listen to ‘Dom Quixote,’ there’s a noise coming on there like an audience applauding — that’s to cover the [censored] word "sword”… that would be considered extremely violent against the coup d’état and the right wing.” Under extreme pressure, the rock and MPB worlds united; attitude won over rhetoric. Costa became the "muse” of the hippie movement, and Gil’s enthusiasm for "New Age” living — spiritualism, macrobiotic food, and astrology — made him a role model for the Brazilian counterculture. Os Mutantes moved to a commune outside of São Paulo; the three Baptista brothers built three houses, which became popular hangouts. LSD was in abundance (unfortunately, Arnaldo’s drug use led to institutionalization; he attempted suicide by throwing himself out of a window in 1982). Artists like Os Novos Baianos, Raul Seixas, Ivan Lins, and Geraldo Azevedo continued to experiment with homegrown and foreign styles, sometimes paying homage to the tropicalistas, sometimes renouncing their influence altogether. Vibrant scenes erupted in Pernambuco and Bahia, extending the limits of Northeastern genres and instrumentation. In the late ’70s, black Brazilians adapted American soul music to address racial inequalities within Brazil and express solidarity with other African diasporas. Ben was revered by the black Brazilian movement, and Gil supported it enthusiastically.

Though Tropicália took decades to catch on, it’s since been a constant in the Brazilian consciousness, coalescing in revivals and commemorative events in regular cycles. It made its way into the American consciousness through unlikely routes; David Byrne discovered Tom Zé while record shopping in Rio de Janeiro; he bought Zé’s Estudando o Samba thinking it was a samba record. Arto Lindsay, the former DNA front-man, sought out Veloso while the Brazilian singer was visiting New York. Lindsay had been a fan of Veloso’s while growing up in Brazil; he produced Veloso’s Estrangeiro in 1989 and introduced him to his label, Nonesuch records. Lindsay’s work has been a major influence on Moreno Veloso, Kassin and Domenico Lancelloti; the three have also worked with Sean O’Hagan (the High Llamas) and John McEntire (Tortoise), both of whom have cited Tropicália as an influence. "I think the ability of these artists to change and grow and remain relevant is one reason that those early records are still relevant — they were crazy and new at the time, but they are also part of a linear history that is still happening,” McCaughan says. Within Brazil itself, Tropicália’s work has largely been completed. "There’s a way in which Tropicália, and the tropicalist paradigm is dominant in Brazil, it’s not subversive anymore,” Dunn says. "It might have been in the 1960s, but it certainly isn’t anymore. That’s not to say that artists working within this paradigm can’t make works that are very critical, but the idea of the sort of cultural cannibalism is not as radical as it once was.”

Tropicália’s defining features — total irreverence for the status quo and its alternative, a tendency to plunder and mix styles from wherever — seem essentially modern. But the tropicalistas’ genius allowed them to make "modern” advances without the aid of modern technology. From their various stations in the pantheon of Brazilian popular music, they’ve continued to nurture the ideas they pioneered. Gilberto Gil, one of the movement’s leaders, became Brazilian Minister of Culture in 2003 under President Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva, a far cry from the military dictators under which he launched his career. He fought to reform intellectual property laws, increase free access to Brazilian songs and support open source development. Thanks, in part, to his efforts, you might say that sampling is state-sanctioned in Brazil. "I think that somehow, we sounded the collapse of the prearranged media thing,” Sérgio Dias says. "We proved that you don’t need to pay the radio station … we don’t have a gold album, we don’t have people behind us, now or then, promoting us. [Musicians] can see that they don’t need a huge machine behind them to be able to survive from it, to be able to have a good living, and to be able to touch everybody’s soul. Because it doesn’t depend on the media. It depends on the energy of the world, if you know what I mean.”

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