Tropicalia. What in the hell is it? Tough question. Weve spoke about it a lot on these pages but never delved into what it actually means.
Tropicalia (or Tropicalismo), and the Tropicalistas, is a movement so wild and dangerous that its a wonder that it ever got off the ground. See, in Brazil in the 60s, while the whole of the West was embracing psychedelia and copying the haircuts of The Beatles, a buncha Brazilian artists, poets, film makers and musicians were taking the spirit of revolution literally.
Born from poesia concreta (concrete poetry), a genre of Brazilian gonzo poetry embodied headed up by the works of Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos and Décio Pignatari... and influenced by Cinema Novo, flicks rising from the Brazilian arthouse cinemas, Tropicalia decided that music needed an overhaul.
Added to the potent brew of Bossa Nova was African rhythms and, most importantly, Western rock n roll.
The name of the movement came from an art installation by Hélio Oiticica... and the main construct to the whole damn scene, like most Brazilian art movements back then, was the element of antropofagia. Thats the cultural and musical cannibalism of all societies to you and me. Thats the cornerstone of Tropicalia. The musical magpie stealin that made the music so weird... so timeless.
In 68, a collaboration LP, called Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis is the musical manifesto of the movement... instead of drawing up some dreary text, heavy on prose, the leaders of the movement Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil got together with musicians they knew and trusted and began to rewrite Brazils musical history.
In addition to Veloso and Gil, Os Mutantes and Gal Costa featured and thus, the face of the revolution was born. Between them, the songs took shape and instead of merely throwing a peace sign and lighting up a joint -which they invariably did anyway... they were smart/stupid enough to walk it and talk it. They rallied against the military coup of 1964 which saw the overthrowing of left wing President João Goulart by nationalist right wing nuts who suspended civil rights and liberties of the Brazilian people.
The coup abolished all political parties and replaced them with only two, the military governments party called the National Renewal Alliance Party (ARENA) and the oppositions Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB), with latter being mere lip service to those who still believed in democracy.
The military who now ruled Brazil made sure everyone knew what they were capable of, with widespread disappearance, torture, and exile of many politicians, university students, writers, singers, painters, filmmakers and other artists.
In 68, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were incarcerated on a false charges with the military government labelling the musicians as "a political threat and a decadent influence who will corrupt Brazilian youth".
Veloso and Gil were at least granted one last show, in order to raise funds for their ticket outta town and the two sought exile in London and Os Mutantes decamped to Paris.
Others in the Tropicalismo movement were far less fortunate with many being tortured or forced into psychiatric care. One Tropicalista, the lyricist and poet Torquato Neto, committed suicide after such treatment. It took 20 years for the Tropicalia movement to be honoured. It was in 85, when Brazils return to a democratic process kicked off again that the artists involved began to be recognised for their startling and brave achievements.
However, at the crux of the whole movement is the great music. As a genre in itself, the story is worthy of a feature length documentary. Theres no denying that it may have been swept under the rug. Mercifully though, a whole series of incredible albums and singles were released, as documented in Soul Jazzs Tropicalia compilation.
Click here to dig our Tropicalia related Spotify playlist and buy some of the most seminal LPs and compilations of the Tropicalismo movement below. [Mof Gimmers]