Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (January, 2003)
Tropicalista Caetano Veloso remembers authoritarian Brazil, 1968: tanks, hallucinogens, music, street protests, literacy campaigns, witchcraft cults and TV variety shows
Caetano Veloso, now 60 years old, is widely recognized as one of the most important and innovative pop musicians of the 20th century. As a young musician coming of age in the right-wing military dictatorship that was Brazil of the late 1960s, Veloso co-founded the Tropicalia movement, a collective of Bahian artists, poets and performers that included the musicians Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Ze and Veloso’s closest friend, the musician Gilberto Gil. The Tropicalistas, as they called themselves, were dedicated to making a fundamentally new and rule-less music out of traditional Brazilian pop and the radical new rock n roll arriving from England and America. In this excerpt from Tropical Truth: A Story Of Music and Revolution In Brazil, his new memoir of the period, Veloso details how the cultural movement was overtaken by the political developments of the day—and how a strange hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon opened personal artistic and intellectual vistas for him and other Tropicalistas…
Carlos Marques, a young Carioca journalist who had gone to the Amazon region to report a story, brought back for Gil [Gilberto Gil] a bottle of something he said was an indigenous sacred drink that produced dazzling visions and heightened states of consciousness. Gil took some on the same day that he was supposed to fly to Rio to pick up Nara, his two-year-old daughter, and bring her back to São Paulo. He says that when he arrived at the Santos Dumont airport, he came upon a group of military officers who were there to inaugurate some exhibition connected with the air force. The changes in perception caused by the drug were just starting to take effect, and he arrived back in São Paulo saying that he’d become aware of extraordinary things in the presence of those officers. It was as though he had understood in that moment the true meaning of our destiny as a people under authoritarian oppression, and at the same time he could see himself as an individual, alone, carefully carrying his small daughter, but also able to feel—beyond his fears and political inclinations—a love for the world in all its manifestations, including the military oppressors.
The 1964 coup—which the military dates to March 31 but which really happened on April 1, the day of fools—had caught me precisely at the moment when I felt ready for a politically responsible and socially useful action.Continue reading