[Reader-list] Brazil after 70 - The cure for the world's biggest hangover

Patrice Riemens patrice at xs4all.nl
Sun Aug 26 12:51:26 IST 2007

For those who were curious how Gilberto Gil got his ideas about freedom
(and free software)

original to:

Various artists, Brasil 70: After Tropicalia (CD)
or how Brazil's repressive regimegave rise to its most liberated music

Alexis Petridis
Friday August 24, 2007


As Withnail and I draws to its doleful close, drug dealer Danny begins
waxing lyrical on the waning of the 60s. "We're six days from the end of
this decade, and there's gonna be a lot of refugees," he nods. In a line
cut from the film, he extrapolates further, with more prescience than
you'd expect from a man who previously announced that all hairdressers are
in the employ of the government: "We're about to witness the world's
biggest hangover."

Nowhere in the world was that hangover more acutely felt than in Brazil.
The psychedelic adventurers of other countries had to cope with acid
casualties and police busts and grim shadow of prog rock, but Brazil's
Tropicálistas had a military junta and the Fifth Institutional Act to
contend with. The latter, introduced in December 1968, outlawed all
political opposition, suspended habeas corpus and censored all press and
culture. It was not an environment in which the LSD-soaked musical anarchy
of Tropicália was likely to thrive, and so it proved: two weeks after the
Fifth Institutional Act was introduced, the movement's leading lights,
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, were arrested without charge, imprisoned
in solitary confinement for two months, released, placed under house
arrest then expelled from the country. Suddenly, the activities of the
Met's drug squad and the News of the World giving the denizens of London's
"Hippy Vice Den" the UFO club a thin time of it seems terribly small beer.

Brasil 70 documents what happened next to Brazilian music - although it
seems faintly miraculous that anything worth listening to did happen.
Military dictatorships are notoriously good at some things - they're
fantastic at making people disappear - but they're hardly famed for
encouraging great art: by 1970, the songwriter and dramatist Chico Buarque
estimated that only one in three of his songs was getting past the
censors, a situation the censors remedied a few years later by
automatically banning anything he wrote. But Brasil 70 unearths a
fascinating refusenik musical world, hitherto overlooked in Britain, of
artists gamely trying to bend inflexible rules, prepared to run the risk
of prison and torture in the process. The latter was a real threat. Even
former Os Mutantes vocalist Rita Lee ended up under house arrest, despite
the fact that on the evidence of 1976's Corista de Rock she had long
abandoned acid-induced eccentricity in favour of distinctly
unsubversive-sounding AOR (in fairness, she'd probably had enough
acid-induced eccentricity to last her a lifetime during her brief marriage
to Mutantes' own Syd Barrett figure, Arnaldo Baptista). No wonder Alecu
Valenca sounds so nervous as he yelps his way through the disturbing
Punhal de Prata, surrounded by fidgety guitars and strings.

It's a world that simultaneously seems strangely familiar and deeply
alien. You can draw parallels with contemporary European and North
American rock, but they don't hold up for long. Secos y Molhados offered a
kind of Sao Paulo glam, with the attendant make-up and sexual confusion -
their track Amor has high-pitched vocals and campy lisping sibilants - but
their notion of androgyny didn't extend to shaving their beards. Like
Jimmy Page and David Bowie, Raul Sexias was intrigued by Aleister Crowley,
but unlike Page or Bowie, his interest landed him in prison: if the
authorities were prepared to let him release the cheeringly berserk Mosca
Na Sopa, an invigorating splurge of distorted vocals, buzzing synthesisers
and funkily clattering percussion that keeps unexpectedly breaking into a
few bars of chugging rock'n'roll, they took a dimmer view of his plans to
set up a Crowley-inspired commune.

Like their British and American counterparts, a lot of Brazilian musicians
opted to abandon cities in favour of bucolic commune-dwelling: the CD
booklet pictures one of them, Os Novos Baianos, a veritable riot of beards
and babies, looking like sun-kissed cousins of the Incredible String Band.
But the smiles, dandled kids and Tinindo Trincando's carefree fusion of
samba and Hendrix guitar all cover up a more serious purpose. For the
Brazilians, "getting it together in the country" wasn't a hippy
affectation, but a matter of necessity: in a rural locale, the military
police were less likely to come knocking.

There's a lot of bravery on display during Brasil 70, but you can admire
someone's bravery without necessarily wanting to hear them sing. Happily,
Brasil 70's strength lies less in the stories it tells than the music it
contains, which for the most part would sound fantastic regardless of the
circumstances in which it was made. Gal Costa's horn-laden funk, the
romantic swoon of Nelson Angelo and Joyce's two tracks, the nagging,
cyclical melody of Jaime Alen and Nair de Candia's Passara: this is music
to lose yourself in, which was presumably the point for the people who
made it and bought it first time around. It may have been the cure for the
world's biggest hangover, but it turns out to have tasted surprisingly

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