Tropicália (Slight Return)

Ah, can't you just feel summer coming? And as spring loosens its sloppy grip and all the smelly muck trapped underneath the snow until now has finally rotted into growth (flourishing into something new), what better way to brace yourself for all the people crowding the sun and grass with their disposable barbeques, bottles of beer and reasons to live than some tropical sounds?

During the Amsterdam winter I'd escape into my iPod, absurdly dreaming away to the strains of Tropicalist music, the swirling colours that bounced off the sea, beach, plantations, favelas and street demos in my head in no way related to the grey, leafless cityscape outside the tram window on my way to my little soul destroying office job. But it helped! And so here's a bit of culture and respite—a little socio-political seriousness wrapped in jaunty joy for you to cling on to like the last crumb of happiness:

TROPICALISM, vol. 2—14 Super Sucessos [.zip file]
[Download disabled.]

A while back, I posted some of the most historically significant Tropicália numbers, but it wasn't the artsy-fartsy intellectual masturbation or political posturing that lured me into the world of Tropicalismo. That other stuff is great conceptual art—some of it is even great music—but this, dear reader, is the shit.

Of course, there are heaps more fantastic Tropicálista tracks worth checking out, but I've tried to limit myself to posting only one song per album. I don't want to give other people's stuff away for free—I want to titillate you all into supporting these deserving artists by purchasing their product! (For starters, I'd especially recommend Gilberto Gil's self-titled album from 1968 and, above all, the first of Gal Costa's two confusingly self-titled albums, both from 1969, this one sometimes known as Não identificado. Every song's a winner!)

1. Gilberto Gil & os Mutantes: «Luzia Luluza»
I don't understand Portuguese, but the cinematic little universe of this song comes off as an expression of its god's empathy and tenderness towards his subjects, Gil one minute blessing Luzia with joy, the next
endowing her with a melancholy feeling not of loss («saudade»), but of dreams in the face of impossibility, where the hopelessness can only be countered by escape into reverie—or into the movie theatre…
(Buy the album.)

2. Os Mutantes: «Fuga N° II»
Baroque psychedelia at its best.
(Buy the album.)

3. Caetano Veloso: «Enquanto seu lobo não vem»
When people discuss Caetano Veloso, critics (and he himself) tend to focus on the lyrics, his message, his arty concepts and agitational strategies, etc. Yet as a songwriter Veloso has a remarkable sense of melody, and both his velvety voice and tender delivery rarely get the attention that this song, for one, so clearly demonstrates that they deserve. Who but Caetano Veloso could implant a melody in people's heads—one set to almost mystically political lyrics, at that—and have them walk down the street singing the name of a Brazilian president and suicide from the 1950s? «Presidente Vaaargas… Preidente Vaaargas…»

Like Gil's «Luzia Luluza», «Enquanto seu lobo não vem» showcases Rogério Duprat's excellence as an arranger. By now, the long tradition of rock has sedimented, and by far most of the genre's music merely repeats arrangements. At the very least, arrangements are kept within a
limited scope, at best recombining a few established elements to deliver the goods we've come to expect. But in 1968, an arranger with a classical background and finding himself in a sea of bossa novas, such as Rogério Duprat, was free to think originally when orchestrating a popular song, unfettered by 50-odd years of refined craftsmanship and almost exhaustive experimentation. Duprat's arrangement of «Enquanto seu lobo não vem», so separate from the works of other rock producers and arrangers (both in style and geography), has existed in an alien universe from that of insufferably trend conscious fashions up through the years (British Invasion, psychedelia, prog rock, punk, new wave, grunge, etc.), and so sounds refreshing even today.
(Buy the album.)

4. Nara Leão: «Mamãe, coragem»
Their PR people's airbrushing skills notwithstanding, contemporary female singers are admired mainly for their ability to squeeze in as many unnecessary notes as humanly possible into one single word (let alone a line), and for doing so with exaggerated and less than convincing emoting. The nasality of the Portuguese language, however, doesn't allow for R&B wailing, its limit on the vocal chords rendering pretentious singing a near-impossibility…
Who woulda thunk a nasal whine could sound so grace- and beautiful?
(Buy it? Good luck!)

5. Claudette Soares: «Deus vos salve esta casa santa»
Suave Soares was a bossa nova darling when she recorded Tropicália compositions by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso for a 1968 album. This one was written by Veloso and poet Torquato Neto.
(Buy it? Good luck!)

6. Tom Zé: «Quero sambar meu bem»
There's something odder about Zé than his fellow Tropicálistas, which is perfectly illustrated by his weird vocalising at the beginning of this track, from his 1968 debut. And check out the funky drummer!
(Buy it? Good luck!)

7. Ronnie Von & Caetano Veloso: «Prá chatear»
The same year Veloso went electric, TV show host Ronnie Von
discovered os Mutantes and the Beat Boys (probably before the Tropicálistas became hip to them), both of whom backed him on his third album, which opens with this gorgeous duet with Veloso. Can there be a better interplay between melody and rhythm than on this track? Instant singalong.
(Buy it? Good luck!)

8. Caetano Veloso & os Mutantes: «Eles»
Prime slice of '60s R&B psychedelia, with swirling, swelling organ and a guitar that slips and slides, just like it should—the keys circling, embracing, massaging the jutting, poking strings(!)…
(Buy the album.)

9. Gilberto Gil & os Mutantes: «Bat macumba»
No one ever got away with faking a sitar like os Mutantes do here. So joyfully delivered, and revolving as it does around a silly pun (on «Batman» and Brazilian slang for black magic), this is pure innocence. Who can resist it?
(Buy the album.)

10. Jorge Ben & Trio Mocotó: «Barbarella»
This is the second Jorge Ben track arranged by the manic Rogério Duprat, this one given a space-age arrangement in what one has to assume is a tribute to camp 1968 sci-fi flick Barbarella—Queen of the Galaxy, in which Jane Fonda is a total muse.
(Buy the album.)

11. Gilberto Gil: «Aquele abraço» (versão integral)
Constantly name checking unwitting Tropicália mascot Chacrinha, and dedicated to samba legend Dorival Caymmi, bossa nova originator João Gilberto and grand architect of Tropicália, Caetano Veloso, this jaunty
samba was written and recorded during house arrest, upon Gil's release after two months' political imprison- ment. The guy's happy-go-luck is ir- repressible…
(Buy the album.)

12. Caetano Veloso: «The Empty Boat» (TG 25% stereo mix)
… unlike that of Veloso.

Imprisonment didn't do Veloso much good; he was already struggling with the consequences of a bad ayahuasca trip before he was arrested. Then, shortly before going into exile, he recorded this simple and sincere encapsulation of depression (one of the most accurate this blogger has ever heard). Remarkably plain by Veloso's standards, this song eschews the endless cultural references and clever puns. Having contrived to create great art and to convey important messages throughout his career, this song is a watershed, in that it's finally more of an outpouring than a construction.

(I've turned the last half of the song into a mono mix (by merely duplicating one of the channels), because in the original, arranger Duprat had a mysterious guitarist—referred to simply as «Lanny»—play a would be-freak out guitar solo full of random notes. I never could stand this «Lanny» fellow's clumsily elephantine attempts at plagiarising Jimi Hendrix (it ruins both Veloso's and Gil's 1969 albums), so I removed it. Now you get to actually hear Duprat's marvelously jazzy arrangement, the strings so typically soaring and psychotic…)
(Buy the original version.)

13. Gal Costa: «Saudosismo»
Bossa nova chanteuses come across as so delicate it's dizzying. Costa's voice, too, makes me swoon, her vulnerable voice thin and light, a feather in the breeze… the distant whisper of a lover seeking a comfort she can never attain, her secret hurts and nameless sorrows hidden beyond even her own grasp, hope- and helpless with ineffable longing released only by the final breath. Or something.
(Buy the album.)

14. Os Mutantes: «A Minha menina»
Before Tropicália became fashionable among the trendy, os Mutantes were perhaps best known in Europe and the US as a garage-psych group, this track even making it onto the canonical Nuggets box set. They certainly took Jorge Ben's samba to another level.
(Buy the album.)

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