Tropicália is a style of music from Brazil, beginning in the late 60s, when a bunch of art students, writers and local musicians, inspired by the work of modern artists such as Helio Oiticica and progressive theatre (especially Oswald de Andrade‘s O Rei da Vela), decided the time was right for a new musical framework. It was a manifesto written by Oswald de Andrade that would have the biggest effect. Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), published in 1928, states that Brazil is at its best when it is cannibalising other cultures, taking in their music, art and literature and producing something that is, well, better.
This young group, comprising musicians Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Rogerio Duprat, Os Mutantes (Arnaldo Baptista, Sergio Dias and Rita Lee) and writers Torquato Neto and Capinan, took the manifesto at its word. They mixed popular Brazilian rhythms such as samba and bossa nova (which was an incredibly liberal form at the time) and Northeastern Brazilian rhythms, which is where many of the group were from, with Western pop and rock ‘n’ roll (The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers‘ was a big influence), concrete poetry and a sense that anything was possible.
This was typified by Os Mutantes, who through their ingenious home-made amps and effects had created a sound that was unlike anything else. Early performances of the music were at talent contest and pop music competitions (very popular in Brazil) where Veloso and Gil would perform, backed by Os Mutantes and other musicians, such as Pepeu Gomes who would later become a key member of Os Novos Baianos.
The movement really became tangible with the release of Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circencis in 1968, featuring the entire collective. It was a dynamic mixture of great front-men and women, songwriting that played with form and references in a way Brazil had never encountered before, a collective style and philosophy that made it easy for Brazilian youth to make a connection, and music that really followed no rules. In Veloso and Gil there were two musicians with great love for Brazil’s traditional music forms (who were also prepared to play with those forms), the enthusiasm of Os Mutantes and Tom Zé, always capable of mixing the avant garde with pop in song form, but most important of all was the contribution of Rogerio Duprat.
Duprat was a classically trained composer, well-versed in Europe’s avant garde tendencies. His arrangements add a gravitas and identity to the style of music. All of the classic tropicalia albums carry his trademark. As well as Tropicalia: Ou Panis Et Circencis, he wrote arrangements for Caetano Veloso’s first self-titled album in 1968 (informally known as Tropicalia), Gilberto Gil’s first two self-titled albums (known as Frevo Rasgado (1968) and Cérebro Eletrônico (1969)), the first three Os Mutantes albums (Os Mutantes in 1968, Mutantes in 1969 and Divina Comedia Ou Ando Meio Desligado in 1970) and Gal Costa‘s unbelievably good two albums from 1969; Cinema Olympia and Não Identificado – they are by far the most experimental of the lot.
Later Os Mutantes albums, as well as a good Rita Lee solo album Build Up, carried on the style. Jorge Ben even had a very Tropicalia-twinged effort with his eponymously-titled 1969 effort. However, the movement was largely over. Both Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were asked to leave the country in 1969 by the Brazilian government. They both then spent a number of years in London where they became more aware of folk, rock and reggae music. By the early 70s many of the early collective had dispersed into solo projects, theatre productions and all manner of activities. This, along with the retiring Rogerio Duprat meant that Tropicalia had lost its sound, becoming what is today modern Brazilian pop music, or MPB as it is known in Brazil.
And I think I should leave it there. I only wanted to write an introduction for this video clip, the first part of the BBC’s excellent documentary on Brazilian music; Brasil, Brasil: Tropicalia Revolution. You should be able to find all seven parts in total if you go looking for them on Youtube.
See this post for more information on the tropicalia movement.