1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
The tropicálismo music movement of Brazil was largely defined by “antropofagia,” or cannibalism. That is to say music made within the movement had swallowed up the other genres and digested it down into one big casserole. Caetano Veloso was one of the head chefs behind this movement when it began in the ‘60s.
The reuse of other styles reflects the postmodern attitude present in the arts at the time. The belief (in photography at least) was that there were no new photographs to be taken. Therefore new art could only be made by splicing and using old work with a new purpose. Now, Veloso’s sounds are plenty new, but the styles he pulled together are evident on this album.
Bossa nova was a jazz movement that began in Brazil during the ‘50s. This take on “cool jazz” is one of the major elements of Veloso’s record, discernible in the horns that are present in most songs. Classical inspiration is found in the orchestration implemented in some tracks. Veloso even makes a stab at incorporating Indian music into the intro to “Eles.”
The western popular influence is probably most attributable to Brian Wilson and the style he built into “Smile” and “Pet Sounds.” Veloso uses traditional instruments, but often in disconcerting patterns that sound mildly off to listeners, inducing a psychedelic effect.
Another Brazilian trend present in Veloso’s music is “poesia concreta,” or concrete poetry. This approach to poetry emphasized rationalism over abstraction. Although I can’t understand a lick of Portuguese, understanding this approach still explains much of Veloso’s style. Regardless of the meaning of the lyrics, Veloso rarely places much emphasis in his voice. As the music picks up speed, his voice remains the same. I would argue this is because of the “rational” tendency of concrete poetry.
Without understanding the lyrics, one can still understand what they mean by looking at Veloso’s history. Songs like “Alegria, Alegria” and “Soy loco po ti, América” are now political anthems in Brazil, and Veloso was forced into exile by the dictatorship ruling Brazil at the time.
Veloso’s influence stretched outside of Brazil however. Kurt Cobain was reportedly a fan, and Beck recorded his own version of the song “Tropicália” on his album “Mutations.” This is a good starter album for world music beginners, because it’s just western enough and just foreign enough.
INTERESTING FACT: Veloso performed the Oscar nominated track "Burn it Blue" for the "Frida" soundtrack, including performing it onstage at the ceremony. He didn't win.