by Kollin Holtz
The 1960’s Brazilian art movement, Tropicália, began as a youthful challenge to convention, and fell into being a youthful rebellion against an unjust and militaristic government. Like many musicians around the world at the time (Bob Dylan, The Beatles), these ones found themselves thrust into the center of the 60’s political activism movement, whether they were willing or not.
Tropicália began as an art movement by young Brazilians of the 1960’s to bring the musical and cultural offerings of their nation to the world. As a result of this desire, musicians incorporated non-traditional instruments into their native music, primarily guitars. The common rock ‘n roll instrument was regarded by artists of the Bossa Nova movement, and other traditional artists, as a cheapening of Brazilian music. It showed a disregard for heritage, and the ‘true’ sounds of Brazil. It was this music that had to come up
Just as Bossa Nova music seemed to take the place of Samba, so too, did Tropicálistas take the place of their Bossa Nova predecessors. It was youngsters pushing out former youngsters. Bossa Nova was at one time the “New Trend” as the name suggests in its English translation. It was popular amongst college students of the 50’s and early 60’s for mixing American jazz with regular samba music. Then came Tropicália, mixing years of Brazilian musical traditions with the globally popular and “western” sounds of rock ‘n roll. Instead of being embraced as moving the nations sound forward, they were regarded by the status quo as ‘upstarts,’ and base in the very nature of the music they sought to emulate.
Tropicália also came in at a time of extreme government censorship. Habeas Corpus had been suspended. Freedom of speech was a thing of the past. Many political dissidents and regular civilians were tortured, or disappeared all together. After singing a mock version of the Brazilian National Anthem on television, the two most prominent political activists of the movement, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil (probably known as political activists for the unwarranted backlash to their satirical rendition) were jailed for two months by the military government before being sent into exile from the country. Of this, Gil said, “I was anxious to be out of there. I was… little depressed. A little concerned about my future. I was a little worried. I took it very personally. I—I had no time in prison to sort of think, ‘okay, when we are out of here, we should sort of connect. Or we should sort of use this thing as a political background to—to make the movement grow,’ or something like that. I wasn’t—I wasn’t—I was not political at all… I mean, being in prison.”
These events happened between 1968 and 1969, and with all the other protests happening the world over (US and UK rallies against Vietnam), one has to wonder; Was the intent of the Tropicálistas to turn their music into a political movement , or was it something thrust upon them? Was it a political agenda that was pasted over their own, true intentions by the news anchors, as they would have seen in western media with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Beatles? How much of the political violence came as a result of the post world war two mentality of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it?” How much of it was born out of that fear that ‘we’re all finally back to normal after the war, and we don’t want anything to threaten that, even if it means the voice of the youth is met with oppression?’ Finally, as hokey as it may seem, how much of it may have been the purported Hippy theory of a “Global Consciousness,” and if there is one, how much of it came from global televised news reporting?
Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes did a fine job confirming all the fears of the older generation when he said, “We were basically just having fun, and we were kids. We just wanted to play rock ‘n roll.” Mostly, what it seems to be is some kids took the parts of their culture that they liked, and made them their own. They made it mean something to them, and because they had to fight to keep their voice on the matter, it meant a lot more to them. It was a challenge to the man on the mountaintop. It was (is) the age old tradition of ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ More than anything, Tropicálista is a call to do something. It was a group of people who looked around, and said, ‘this isn’t us,’ and then they did something about it. What came out of it may not have been what they intended, but it was something that they could own up to as theirs, and theirs alone. It might be a broad statement to make as it can be applied to almost any of the movements around the world at that time, but that’s the thing, it’s the struggle of a generation. They pushed ahead, even in the face of uncertainty when the only certainty was government censorship. Not out of any malicious intent, but because they were kids, and all they wanted to do was play rock ‘n roll.
Xentakis. BBC Tropicália. 2011. Video. www.youtube.comWeb. 25 Jun 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1our5aFrZ34&feature=player_embedded
Jandovsky, Philip. "Bossa Nova." Great Brazilian Music. N.p., n. d. Web. 24 Jun. 2013. <http://www.greatbrazilianmusic.com/bossanova.html>.