Inadequately described as the John Lennon or the Bob Dylan of his country, Caetano Veloso has virtually personified Brazilian music for thirty-five years. Now, in his long-awaited memoir, he tells the heroic story of how, in the late sixties, he and a group of friends from the Northeastern state of Bahia created tropicalismo, the movement that shook Brazilian culture--and civic order--to its foundations and pushed a nation then on the margins of world politics and economics into the pop avant-garde.
Tropical Truth begins with a childhood in the Bahian hinterland, where Caetano (as Brazilians of all ages now call him) first heard not only the musical traditions of his own country and her Latin neighbors, but also the giants of postwar American song: Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Chet Baker, to name but a few. While teenagers in America would soon be enthralled by the primal (and commercial) beat of rock’n’roll, in Brazil it was bossa nova, that sublimely sophisticated music, that was to become the soundtrack of a generation. Inspired above all by bossa nova’s supreme master, João Gilberto, Caetano and his crew would set about creating a totally new sound. Tropicalismo would aim to “cannibalize” the extraordinary beauty and richness of Brazil’s musical past but at the same time to assimilate eclectically the most original elements of Anglo-American pop, an influence many rejected as yet another form of imperialism corrupting Brazil’s “authentic” character.
The birth of tropicalismo coincided with the wave of counterculture sweeping Western nations, but in Brazil that wave would hit the breakwaters of a brutal military junta. While supporting resistance to right-wing oppression (and the terrible social inequities it perpetuated) the tropicalistas nevertheless rejected the automatic connection to the Left and its unreflective nationalism, then the politics de rigueur of the artistic class. Their third way foresaw a Brazil open to free markets but likewise free in itself. It was a vision so subversive of both the political and musical status quo that before long Caetano faced imprisonment and was then forced into exile until the early seventies. But when he returned, it was in triumph: Brazil, no less than the state of her popular music, would never be the same.
Rich with the satisfactions of a novel, weaving the story of a country with that of its most idealistic generation, Tropical Truth recounts the odyssey of a brilliant constellation of artists: Caetano and his sister Maria Bethânia, the queen of Brazilian song; the black musical genius Gilberto Gil, Caetano's closest collaborator, with whom he was jailed and then banished; the great diva Gal Costa; the revolutionary filmmaker Glauber Rocha; the brothers de Campos, those luminaries of concrete poetry, who were among the tropicalistas’ learned mentors. Here is an unparalleled confluence of highbrow and pop, and with it the genesis of what has become one of the most wildly successful cultural exports ever produced by a nation other than the United States.
By turns erudite and playful, dreamlike and confessional, Tropical Truth is an utterly unexpected revelation of Brazil's most famous artist, one of the greatest popular composers of the past century.
About Caetano Veloso
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Published October 9, 2003
by Da Capo Press.
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