Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso [Tropicália]



by Robert Crumb EMERITUS
August 3rd, 2006 | 8 replies

Release Date: 1968 | Tracklist

Caetano Veloso is one of the most enduring figures in Brazilian pop. Over the past 40 years, Veloso has as amassed a body of work that has launched him into the great constellation of international pop stars and found him compared favorably to other transglobal legends. Thanks to his affection for regional folk and his lyrical prowess, he’s been called the “Brazilian Bob Dylan” by more than one American critic looking for a simplified comparison. His position as a beloved cultural and generation voice further elicits Dylan nods, not to mention references to Bob Marley. A comparison could just as easily be drawn to someone like Fela Kuti, a musical personage concerned with an international sound, capable of drawing popular acclaim as easily as political ire.

Of course, no comparison can accurately describe Veloso’s career and music. Like so many major artists from other countries, Veloso is a gifted performer and singular artist, able to capture the minds of a general populous through pointed lyricism and exquisite melody. His own musical synthesis, a blend of the broad Brazilian pop lexicon and the Anglo-pop eclecticism, is one of the key foundations for the short-lived tropicália movement. But his conceptual and lyrical talent, first on display on Caetano Veloso, are the characteristics that established Veloso as a lasting and influential figure.

Veloso’s first self-titled solo album came out in 1968. Technically, it’s not his recording debut. Though it is his first solo album and the first in a string of three self-titled albums, it was proceeded by Domingo, a collaboration with a fellow Bahian tropicálista, Gal Costa. Unlike Domingo, however, this album displays Veloso as an artist intent on defining himself by virtue of his unique offerings.

Perhaps most importantly, Caetano Veloso develops several themes that would be key to the tropicalismo sound. Veloso’s poetic infatuation with pop culture, exposed here by references to foreign stars and commercialism as well as Brazil’s contributions to the global pop tapestry, is perhaps amongst the most visible themes. The display could be considered Warholian, that is, if Veloso had been more familiar with the American pop art impresario.

“Alegria, Alegria,” a reference to a catchphrase often used by a Brazilian TV personality, documents the chimerical pop concoctions with a portrait of an individual living under both provincial and cosmopolite oppression. Veloso sings about “walking against the wind, without a handkerchief, without papers,” a reference to strict requirements of the Brazilian government at the time. The smiles of politicians, Brigitte Bardot, coca-cola and marriage further fill and cloud the narrator’s life, though he remains steadfast, finally declaring that he just wants to go and follow life and love.

“Por que não?” he asks. “Why not?”

The song itself, which opens with a melodic introduction similar to the Beatles’ “Fixing a Hole,” is a blend of guitar rock textures and marchinha rhythms, is a festive and colorful barrage that’s as much an extension of Veloso’s pop art vision as anything. It can also be interpreted in the scope of another key tropicalismo theme, the collision between a certain nationalistic nostalgia and the “profane,” Americanized culture, which unfurls itself in several of these Veloso songs.

The clash between the old and new is obviously played out in the contrast of styles. Many of these songs feature Veloso backed by an Argentinian rock group, the Beat Boys, who appear much more familiar with Beatles tunes than samba-canções. In contrast, Veloso’s song writing style, grown from an encyclopedic Brazilian pop vocabulary and wholly anchored by the influence of João Gilberto, is itself almost a self-referential longing for styles on their way out. Consequently, none of these songs are quite as transparently rock and roll influenced as the work of Gilberto Gil or Os Mutantes. At the same time though, none of these songs could match the same traditionalist pop appeal of a contemporary like Chico Buarque.

Adroitly, Veloso used this blend to separate himself from the contemporary Brazilian pop mainstream of the 60’s, earning choleric responses from nationalistic leftists in the process. Songs like “Alegr*a, Alegr*a” and “Superbacana,” a rant about life in “secondary” nation, though decidedly inline with leftist ideologies, clashed with leftist tastes in music and the general disapproval of electric guitars and rock and roll beats in Brazilian pop.

“Soy Loco Por Ti, América” further distanceed Veloso from nationalists of all stripes. Although the song is composed by fellow founding tropicalista Gilberto Gil and the lyrics written by poet José Carlos Capinam, the garish organ stabs of “Soy Loco Por T*, América” fit well alongside Veloso’s own tropical anomalies. It’s a weird sort of ode; sung in both Portuguese and Spanish, it doesn’t seem at all sarcastic, although there the veiled references to the death of Che Guevara and the subtle tone of despair would suggest otherwise.

Musically, the song is perhaps the closest link between the styles of Gil and Veloso on the album. The album’s two other Gil collaborations, “No D*a Em Que Eu Vim-Me Embora” and “Eles,” also play on the groovy, soulful rock and roll style Gil had been developing on his own. Arguably, Gil’s musical style, at this point much more developed than Veloso’s, dictated the general flow of the tropicália movement’s music arm. Understandably, in execution these songs should sound more along the lines of the work of the other popular tropicália artists, especially Jorge Ben, a particularly strong influence on Gil own song writing. Cascading organs and bouncy bass work are the order of the day, coupled with the dazzling rhythms unique to Brazil.

But if Gil’s musical style dominated, it was Veloso’s lyrical finesse and abstract conceptual ideas that facilitated tropicália’s astute eclecticism. The album’s opening volley, “Tropicália,” is the perfect example. The song opens with a clutter of sound and an impromptu speech by percussionist Dirceu:

“When Pêro Vaz de Caminha discovered that the Brazilian land was fertile and green, he wrote a letter to the king: ‘everything one plants in it, everything grows and flourishes.’”

The speech, combined with Veloso’s lyrics for the song, perhaps invites the parable the tropicália movement had to offer the pop world: the beauty of creation under oppressive, unpredictable conditions is a worthy aspiration, no matter how fleeting the creation. Veloso’s rapid fire procession of images, trains, planes, dead children, and “the blue waters of Amaralina” is disconcerting to hear, even for the non-Portuguese speaker. His breathless delivery, aided in effect by the playfully ominous arrangements of Júlio Medaglia, runs down the billowing verses, finally culminating in a quasi-ironic declaration of “To hell with everything!”

Comparable to the pop fetishism of “Alegr*a, Alegr*a,” “Tropicália” is a veritable succession of references. From the obvious and not-so-obvious namedrops to sly wordplay that perhaps doesn’t translate too well into English, the song is the multi-tiered kind of gem that make Veloso a unique and undeniably distinguished artist. The bouncy, varying chorus attempts to juxtapose persons and things: Ipanema and “Iracema,” (an anagram of America), bossa nova and grass shacks, “A Banda,” a Chico Buarque song, and Carmen Miranda. That the song’s title, itself a reference to an art installation created by Hélio Oiticica, would become the name of the movement that would follow is merely appropriate. Both musically and conceptually, the song embodies much of what the tropicálistas have to offer, particularly the group’s dadaist wit and uniquely colorful soundscapes.

Characteristic of his love for traditional Brazilian pop, Veloso chooses to season the avant-pop excursions using these conventional Brazilian ballads. Though not nearly as ear catching as some of the tropicalismo tunes, songs like “Clarice” show a certain integrity and sincerity that might not come so full exposed on the more coy, spirited tunes. Most of all, alongside the more conceptual recordings, these songs find an artist searching himself for a sound and a means to convey that sound. Caetano Veloso’s first solo album is not the place where all the answers are found.

Above all, Caetano Veloso is an album that asks questions of itself and of its circumstance. And though the parameters of Veloso’s musical identity is one of the questions proposed and left incompletely addressed, the album does shed light on his creative character in a similar way that Dylan’s debut or the BeatlesPlease Please Me defined their respective background and intent. But like both of those albums, Caetano Veloso is rough and not quite full-formed, tempered by ups and downs.

Unlike both of those albums, however, the matured ideas that fling themselves from the mind of Veloso show startling prescience of the capability of modern Brazilian pop. And unlike both of those artists, Veloso’s universal popularity, soon abruptly interrupted by arrest and then exile from Brazil, would take much longer to develop.

There are plenty more incongruities, but at this point, there’s no reason to continue. I’ve already bored you. At the very least though, it should be mentioned that those contradicting facts of the compare and contrast act as a testament to Veloso’s endurance. After all, Caetano Veloso is an enduring figure, both in his native Brazil and across the world, because he cannot be so simply compared.

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user ratings (43)

Comments:Add a Comment 
August 4th 2006


You review some crazy shit.
Nice work, this sounds kinda cool.

August 4th 2006


I've defenitely seen that album cover lying around somewhere. Can't say I recall listening to this, though. Excellent work. Your format is like...perfect.

Robert Crumb
August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

I posted it in the Other forum virtual record crate thing. Might have seen it there. Thanks for the comments, guys.

BlackDeathMetalJazz or really ANYTHING else please-
August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

It makes me happy to see someone educated on Tropicalia and this is the album that gave the genre it's name. Although I'm not a fan of Caetano Veloso, I respect the hell out of him.

Nice work and good job with the Os Mutantes review too.

August 4th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

What a great record, and very well reviewed, too.

June 11th 2021


Album Rating: 4.5

Not quite as good as Gal Costa or Os Mutantes's debuts (both 5s) but still damn great

Digging: Comus - First Utterance

June 14th 2021


Album Rating: 4.5

This holds up well on repeated listens

June 14th 2021


should check this

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