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By Brazzil Magazine
As the year 2000 approaches, Caetano Veloso appears more and more likely to be the
single giant among Brazilian artists to have been a truly forward-looking influence on the
music of our time. To grasp this, one would have to look back over a thirty year period
when artists like Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, and Veloso himself were
each making unique contributions and laying the foundation for the future of Brazilian
popular music (MPB). Wholly overcoming the fears of rejection and commercial inviability
that keep composers from following their experimental impulses, Veloso dared to propose
new concepts of song. He talked about seeing music with free eyes, as sound set free, and
about composition as a continual process of expansion, interaction, and transformation.
Comparing the process of composition to cannibalism, he searched for whatever vehicle
would respond best to the realization of his ideasbe it reggae, concrete poetry,
rap, twelve-tone technique or the juxtaposition of all of these.
Veloso has always advocated and continues to demonstrate unexplored, but essential
concepts. In the book Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song: MPB, 1965-1985,
Charles A. Perrone notes that when traditional and nationalist sounds were highly prized,
Caetano emphasized international trends. When musical militancy and activism were in
vogue, he explored romantic and spiritual spheres. In the face of sentimentalism, Caetano
refocused on the development of the mass media and consumerism. And when commercial
viability came into question, Caetano’s experimentalism and individualism surfaced.
Literary and musical references are interwoven in his music, and there is an illusive
sense of reality, one that doesn’t neatly discriminate between fact and fancy. His is an
art of conflict with both enough sharp-edged weight to etch a mood and enough light to let
the emotions soar. But far from being intellectual exercises, Caetano’s music is bursting
with suggestive qualities that have stimulated listeners’ imaginations from the time of
his earliest recordings. His image has changed over time from a rebellious tropicalista
and counterculture guru, to a cultivated, suave media persona; but Veloso has remained a
realist, constantly on the move, always on the lookout for fresh challenges. That this
doctrine has been responsible not only for the quality of Veloso’s music itself but also
fundamental to current directions in music can be seen in the recent "discovery"
of Tropicália in Europe and the United States (see cover story in Brazzil December
1997) and in the appearance of the verb "caetanear" (to Caetano-ize).
Performances aside, in just the past five years Caetano has composed the sound tracks
for the films Tieta do Agreste, the Cacá Diegues remake of Black Orpheus,
and themes for the Italian influenced film O Quatrilho. He recorded and released
two CD’s of Latin American music, Fina Estampa and Fina Estampa ao Vivo, and
is currently planning the production of João Gilberto’s next CD. In addition, he
published Verdade Tropical (Tropical Truth), a book that analyzes and reflects upon
the creation and the consequences of the Tropicalista movement and spawned the CD’s Livro
and Prenda Minha. Verdade Tropical, Livro, and Prenda Minha form
a curious, but complementary whole.
In Verdade Tropical, published by Companhia das Letras in 1997, Caetano speaks
about his influences and preferences in literature and art as well as his relationship
with drugs, sex, rock `n’ roll, and Cinema Novo. Not an autobiography, Verdade Tropical
is a narrative, an interpretation, and an application of critical theory to the
cultural vision and creative surge that grew in the artistic and intellectual communities
of Bahia in the late 1960’s. Tropicalismo generated new philosophies in music, dance,
theater, and the plastic arts. It also scared the hell out of the Brazilian government.
The book analyzes the political left, the military dictatorship, its methods of violence
and torture, Gil and Caetano’s imprisonment in 1968, and their exile in London. Verdade
Tropical is the history and commemoration of a cultural movement that was heard
despite the oppressive gag of governmental censors.
In principle, the book Verdade Tropical and the CD Livro should have been
released at the same time, as the CD is full of citations and homages as is the book. But
after Caetano’s initial enthusiasm for writing Verdade Tropical, he found that the
revisions, editing, completion, and release had left him little time to record. By the
time of publication, he was tired of words, was experiencing writer’s block, and suffering
a kind of postpartum depression. Caetano’s fatigue in completing the book is expressed in
the lyrics to the second tune on the CD, "Livros" (Books). Additionally, the
small ensemble he used for the Fina Estampa tour as well as his work on the sound
track for Tieta do Agreste, which utilized both orchestra and the Bahian percussion
group Didá Banda Feminina, exacerbated his hunger for working with a larger group of
musicians and for the music played on the streets of Bahia. Consequently, although he had
only a vague idea of what his approach would be for the new disc, his interest in the
initial stages was essentially focused on texture and tonal colorings rather than lyrics.
Caetano, contrary to his approach on past projects, composed the music for Livro first,
enlisted Jaques Morelenbaum to create the arrangements, recruited a legion of
percussionists, and only afterward wrote the lyricsmany of them in the studio at the
time of recording. Of the fourteen compositions, only "Um Tom" (A Tone) and
"Os Passistas" (Carnaval Dancers) had complete lyrics when Caetano entered the
studio. Nevertheless, the combining of Morelenbaum’s orchestral sophistication with the
street percussion of Bahia evolved into one of Caetano’s best discs and tours to date.
But Livro is not a companion CD that functions as an interactive guide,
orienting listeners aurally to the subject matter treated on a particular page of the
book. Where Verdade Tropical concentrates on justifying the theories of the
Tropicalismo movement, the disc expands the concept of paying homage and remembering
influences. From Chico Science and Lulu Santos, to Antônio de Castro Alves, Livro is
full of citations, some subtle, others more direct. For example, the woodwind arrangement
for Ari Barroso’s "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" by Luiz Brasil "suggests"
the syncopated guitar phrasing of João Gilberto, who for Caetano is the beginning and the
end of modern Brazilian music. And the tune "Um Tom" is dedicated to both Tom
Jobim and Caetano’s youngest son, Tom, who was born at the time Verdade Tropical was
completed. "Você É Minha" (You Are Mine) was written for Caetano’s wife, Paula
Lavigne, and bears a similarity to another of Caetano’s dedicatory tunes "Você É
Linda" from 1983. The symbolically named "Pra Ninguém" (For No One) is an
homage to Chico Buarque and a direct reference to Chico’s tune "Paratodos" (For
Everybody), in which Chico pays homage to everyone from Jackson do Pandeiro to Hermeto
Just as Caetano’s life revolves around the axis of Bahia and Rio, the 14 tracks on Livro
are a mix of samba and the music of Bahia. The listener discovers the integration of
the two immediately; there is an almost limitless degree of overlapping. "Onde o Rio
é Mais Baiano" (Where Rio is More Bahian) is an homage to the escola de samba Mangueira
that paid tribute to the Doces Bárbaros (Sweet BarbariansGal Costa, Caetano, Gil,
and Maria Bethânia) a few years ago. The first theme is played in a traditional samba
rhythm, the second in samba-reggae. Caetano’s oldest son, Moreno, contributed a samba with
the minimalist lyric, "How Beautiful Could a Being Be." The tune’s single
phrase, repeated over percussion, distorted guitar, and choir induces a flavor suggestive
of Bahian candomblé and is at the same time reminiscent of arrangements by tropicalista
"Minha Voz, Minha Vida" (My Voice, My Life), a tune Caetano originally
composed for Gal, and now one of the most beautiful tunes Caetano has ever recorded
himself, is performed as a bolero with Bahian drums submitting to a sensuous swirl of
strings. It has the simplicity and dancing radiance that has become a fixture in much of
his music. The track that holds the least interest for me is "Não Enche" (Piss
Off). There isn’t enough angst. Caetano’s emotionally detached, almost buoyant delivery is
not aligned with the unremittingly harsh lyrical content:
Prowess for preying, ensnaring, snaring
You slut, you piranha
My energy keeps you afloat up there,
Get out! Get lost,
Get out of my blood, you bloodsucker,
that’s all you know,
Let me enjoy, let me enjoy
Let me enjoy, let me enjoy.
In "Manhatã" Caetano exploits a familiar enunciation from the Portuguese
language and the refined harmonic language and tonal colorings of the Gil Evans/Miles
Davis collaborations. He rhymes Manhatã with manhã (morning) as well as other
words that end with the ã ("eng") sound. The idea stemmed from a nineteenth
century poem that incorporated a similar rhyme scheme with sounds from the Tupi language
written by the Brazilian romantic poet from the Northeastern state of Maranhão,
Sousândrade. In this enigmatic mix of Gil Evans, Sousândrade, and Lulu Santos (to whom
the tune is dedicated); Caetano’s voice hovers above subtle Bahian percussion as he
alludes to Manhattan as Manhatã. Some passages simply seem to float in mid-air as he
sketches a rare vision of New York.
The best track on the disc is "Doideca" whose title refers to the Portuguese
word doido meaning insane or mad and to the musical term dodecaphony, the technique
of composition developed by Schoenberg. The musical term evolved from the Greek words
dodeca meaning twelve, and phone meaning sound. In this homage to Chico Science, the
piccolo introduces a repeated then inverted twelve-tone row over an atmospheric
drum `n’ bass foundation performed by a battery of Bahian percussionists rather than by
synthesizers. Quoting himself, Caetano sings a phrase from his 1970 "London,
London." The major reference here is to Brazilian composer Arrigo Barnabé, best
known for his film scores, his ensembles of dissimilar instrumentation (rock band with
string quartet and percussion), his experimentation with atonal and twelve-tone
composition, and for his reputation for always being on the threshold between popular and
"O Navio Negreiro" (The Slave Ship) is the other great track on the disc. It
is a setting of the magnificent epic poem by Antônio de Castro Alves, the great Brazilian
nineteenth century poet whose themes opposing black slavery clashed with public opinion.
Castro Alves died at the age of twenty-four from tuberculosis, but left behind works at
the highest level of poetic art. On Livro, "O Navio Negreiro" is
transformed into a rap performed alternately by Caetano and Bethânia aloft a foundation
of percussion commanded by Carlinhos Brown while a choir echoes the strophe:
What ship is this that just arrived?
It’s the ship bringing slaves from Angola.
A fiercely emotional performance, the music is informed by a great deal of integrity,
fueled by passion, and marked by a high degree of empathy among the participants.
Livro was released in Brazil in 1997, in Europe in 1998, and is scheduled for
release in the United States on June 1, 1999, roughly one month prior to the arrival of
Caetano’s Livro Vivo tour. Curiously, Prenda Minha, a live recording
extracted from the September 1998 shows of Livro Vivo in Rio, arrived in our stores
first. Prenda Minha (My Sweetheart) is essentially the B side of Livro. The
repertoire, based on its predecessor, pays homage to the great names of popular Brazilian
music and includes several of Caetano’s encore pieces. And like its predecessor, Prenda
Minha incorporates Bahian percussionists and the orchestral palette of Jaques
Morelenbaum. But there are also two pieces for just voice and guitar, "Sozinho"
and Chico Buarque’s "Carolina."
Jorge Benjor’s "Jorge de Capadócia" is here (prefaced by allusions to
Fernanda Abreu, the rappers Racionais MC’s, and Miles Davis) as is the tune
"Meditação" by Tom Jobim. There is a tip of the hat to Djavan with "Linha
do Equador," the funk tune he co-wrote with Caetano in 1992, and a salute to Carnaval
with "Boa Vida" and "Atrás da Verde-e-Rosa Só Não Vai Quem Já
Morreu" (Only Those Who Have Died Won’t Join Mangueira’s Parade), which contains
embedded quotes from "Festa do Interior." Gilberto Gil is acknowledged with
"Drão" from 1981 and one of his earliest compositions, "Bem Devagar"
from 1962. Caetano, however, reserved an even more elegant homage for his close friend and
Tropicália companion with his reading of a passage from Verdade Tropical in which
he reveals the way Dona Canô, Caetano’s mother, once referred to Gil.
With the exception of "Onde o Rio É Mais Baiano" and "Não Enche,"
Caetano has chosen tunes for this CD that were not included on the Livro CD. The
outstanding tracks are the new arrangements Morelenbaum created for the Caetano classics
"Eclipse Oculto" (1983) and "Odara" (1977), which cleverly concludes
with a musical quote from "Doideca." Morelenbaum’s salsa-like score for
"Mel" is vibrant and accessible. The tune, originally recorded by Bethânia in
1979, is performed here by Caetano in both Spanish and Portuguese and demonstrates the
remarkable stylistic synthesis that Caetano is capable of achieving.
Surely the most interesting track is "Prenda Minha" itself, a pearl of Gaúcho
folklore by an anonymous composer. Almost a hymn of Rio Grande do Sul, the tune has been
memorized by school children throughout Brazil, and Caetano delivers it with the
stylistically appropriate Gaúcho accent. Morelenbaum again draws from the Gil
Evans/Miles Davis color wheel as he had for "Manhatã." But here it is with an
ironic wink, as the tune was recorded in 1962 (though not released until 1964) by Miles
for the controversial Quiet Nights album. The liner notes on the Columbia recording
attribute Miles and Evans as the tune’s composers.
It is very difficult to verbalize about music. It feels pointless at times, like making
a statue of a famous painting. The important thing is what each listener brings to and
personally gets from the music. When asked to write an article about Caetano, I was
hopelessly paralyzed. I had no words to describe fully my respect for the man. It seemed
useless to add anything more about the contributions Caetano has made to MPB, as he is
probably the most influential composer alive in terms of impact on the present musical
According to one theory of the arts, the function of a great artist is that of a
teacher, one whose work is to be contemplated and one who communicates ideas of
intellectual and social significance. It is exactly in this sense that Caetano
Velosopoet, author, journalist, philosopher, producer, translator, actor, film
maker, director, social activist, singer, and composerhas been teaching for over
three decades that music, literature, and cinema are passports that remove our blindfolds
to new frontiers. His capacity to go in all kinds of directions and always get to the
nucleus of Brazil in an intellectually and emotionally satisfying manner is unparalleled.
The vision of Brazil expressed in Caetano’s music constitutes a key to an understanding
and an interpretation of Brazil and her people. Be it in a negative or positive form, or
perhaps submerged in a feeling of ambivalence, Brazil’s inner reality has always held a
position in Caetano’s music. His relationship to Brazil is not merely that of a
composer/singer toward his country, and it isn’t just a socio-political reaction on the
part of a poet/author. Caetano lives in Brazil in its totality, as Noel Rosa, and Ari
Barroso had before him, and he dramatizes his own personal feelings toward his country in
terms of his musical creation. Throughout his work, the consciousness of Brazil has been a
motivating force in his creative process.
What Caetano learned originally from João Gilberto and Oswald de Andrade he later
expanded into an individual talent that knew the virtues of assertive expression as well
as the beauties of blurring the boundaries between disciplines. Caetano Veloso, a man who
has seen not only the more sophisticated side of life but also its hardships, has
experienced the academic as well as the mind-broadening lessons not found in books and
institutions. A prolific composer whose works number in the hundreds, Veloso has lived to
see his music both lauded and vilified. Significantly marking the history of Brazilian
music, he has always been and today remains identifiably, Caetano.
The December, 1997 cover story in Brazzil magazine, "Thirty Years of
Tropicalismo/Times of Gall," can be found on the Web at: https://www.brazzil.com/dec97.htm
Caetano’s Web site is: http://www.caetanoveloso.com.br
Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him
through his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
June 27 Beacon Theatre New York, New York
Tropeçavas nos astros desastrada
Tropeçavas nos astros desastrada
Os livros são objetos transcendentes
Encher de vãs palavras muitas páginas
You tripped clumsily over the stars
You tripped clumsily over the stars
Books are transcendental things
Fill whole pages with vain words
Manhatã para Lulu Santos
Uma canoa canoa
Um remoinho de dinheiro
Ah! Pra onde vai, quando for,
| Manhattan for Lulu Santos|
A canoe, canoe
A whirlwind of money
Ah! Where is it going, when it goes,
O Navio Negreiro (excerto)
Stamos em pleno mar
Negras mulheres, suspendendo às tetas
E ri-se a orquestra, irônica, estridente . . .
Presa dos elos de uma só cadeia,
No entanto o capitão manda a manobra
E ri-se a orquestra irônica, estridente . . .
Senhor Deus dos desgraçados!
Quem são estes desgraçados
São os filhos do deserto
São mulheres desgraçadas
Lá nas areias infindas,
( . . . )
Senhor Deus dos desgraçados!
E existe um povo que a bandeira empresta
Auriverde pendão de minha terra,
Fatalidade atroz que a mente esmaga!
| The Slave Ship (excerpt)|
We’re on the high seas
Black women, suckling at their breasts
And the orchestra laughs, ironic, strident . . .
Tied to the links of a single chain,
And yet the captain orders the shady procedure
And the ironic orchestra laughs, strident . . .
Dear God of the unfortunate!
Who could these wretches be
They are the children of the desert
These are wretched women
There, in those expanses of sand,
( . . . )
Dear God of the unfortunate!
And there is a nation whose banner flies
Golden green pennant of my land,
Atrocious fate that minds obliterate!
Minha Voz, Minha Vida
Minha voz, minha vida
Por ser feliz, por sofrer,
Meu amor, acredite
| My Voice, My Life|
My voice, my life,
For being happy, for suffering,
My love, believe me
Tieta do Agreste
Fina Estampa ao Vivo
Tropicália 2 (Caetano and Gil)
Brasil (João Gilberto, Caetano, Gil, and
Maria Bethânia e Caetano Veloso ao Vivo
Muito (Dentro da Estrela Azulada)
Doces Bárbaros (Caetano, Gal, Gil, Bethânia)
Temporada de Verão (Caetano,Gal,Gil)
Caetano & Chico Juntos e ao Vivo
Barra 69 (Caetano and Gil)
Recorded live 1969* Released 1972
Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis
Domingo (Caetano and Gal)
* Horrible sound quality, but a valuable resource.
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