Os Mutantes Rules


I kick myself for missing the Tropicalia exhibit at the MCA, but at least I had the absolute pleasure to watch Tom Ze perform with Tortoise as his backing performance art-house band a few years ago. Probably one of the five best live perfomances I've ever seen. Simply spectacular.

Os Mutantes
Os Mutantes

Guardian Unlimited | Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Os Mutantes and Tom Ze: Tropicalia/A Brazilian Revolution in Sound
“They looked like three angels,” the singer and composer Caetano Veloso wrote of his first sight of the members of Os Mutantes, a young rock group from Sao Paulo whom he met in the mid-60s. They were two boys, Arnaldo and Sergio Dias Baptista, the sons of a composer and a poet, and Rita Lee Jones, the daughter of an American expatriate father and an Italian-Brazilian mother. Even to a fellow member of Brazil's younger generation, this trio exuded a fascinating otherness. Everything around them, Veloso wrote, “tasted of anarchy and decorum”. And almost 40 years later, they still sound like nothing on earth.

Veloso, Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Tom Ze formed the core of Tropicalia, a musical movement that began as a response to the smooth complacency of commercial Brazilian music on the one hand and the looming repression of a military dictatorship on the other. Although it lasted barely a year, its transforming and invigorating power extended to beyond music to literature and the visual arts. And whereas the dark era that began with a military coup in 1964 is now relegated to Brazil's history, the music it inspired sounds fresher and more provocative than ever. All aspects of the movement are currently being explored in a three-month series of concerts, exhibitions and talks at the Barbican in London, but the music itself comes under useful scrutiny in this new compilation released by the enterprising Soul Jazz label and devoted to the recordings of the chief protagonists from the time, between 1968 and 1970, when they were at their most influential.

The compilation this review covers is apparently not yet available in the US, but there are other Os Mutantes albums available. Weird, psychedelic, yet without ever losing 'Brazillian-ness', whatever that is.

Tropical Truth
Tropical Truth

Unlike the members of Os Mutantes, the other founders of the movement came from the north-western province of Bahia. Veloso, Gil and Ze had studied at the state university in Salvador, Brazil's original capital, where their extracurricular agenda extended to the works of Thelonious Monk, Chet Baker, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard and James Joyce. Together the students grew up in an environment temporarily defined by the spirit of social and aesthetic adventure that inspired the country's president of the late 1950s, Juscelino Kubitschek, to commission an entire new capital city - Brasilia - from the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. Too young to participate in the bossa nova movement, which brought Brazilian music to a western audience between 1959 and 1964, they acknowledged the impact of such founding masters of the genre as Joao Gilberto and Tom Jobim, but their youth and the nature of the times made it inevitable that they would move beyond the genre of Desafinado and Insensatez into a future of their own devising.

A useful precis of the story is given in the booklet accompanying this superlative compilation, but those who wish to delve further should investigate Veloso's book Tropical Truth, which describes in detail the forces that created the movement. The end began with the introduction by the government in 1968 of a law banning all political opposition to the military dictatorship and censoring all forms of media and cultural expression. A year later Gil and Veloso were arrested after a concert in Salvador. Deported to England, they settled in Notting Hill and spent the next two years shuttling between clubs - Middle Earth and the Roundhouse - soaking up the vibes from the likes of Hendrix, Pink Floyd and the Incredible String Band. Amazingly, such immersion only strengthened their own music, and they would re-emerge after their return to Brazil as fully mature artists. Rita Lee eventually became the country's favourite pop singer, while Tom Ze withdrew into 25-year obscurity that ended when his recordings were featured, to great acclaim, on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label.

Tropicalia: A Brasilian Revolution In Sound

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I was underwhelmed by the Tropicalia exhibit. Don't kick yourself too hard!

Ah, thanks, Sage. In my mind, I imagined it as a spectacular exhibit. Glad that I didn't miss much. I think it was more of a musical thing than a visual art.

The one piece I found fascinating was a hog preserved in formaldehyde, which means the idea was about 30-years-old by the time Damien Hirst tried it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damien_Hirst ).

Apparently the artist pulled an anti-Duchamp--he submitted the preserved hog as a statement that the curators would accept anything as art, then was upset when they accepted it.

However, the rest of the show was only mildy interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on February 9, 2006 11:27 PM.

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