At the end of the eighties, David Byrne came out of the closet with his love of Brazilian music. A series of compilations followed, covering Samba, Pagode and Forro but first off was this celebration of Tropicalismo or MPB.
Picture this, it is the mid sixties and Brazil is obsessed. The whole nation is caught up in a Pop Idols type contest that would stop the country in its tracks every time it was on TV. Young challengers would command passionate loyalty or generate fierce resistance, even a backlash. Forget Big Brother, this was really big. It mattered to everyone much, much more and it mattered in Brazil a country so vast and diverse that if we ever encountered a distant planet with half its variety we would consider it a true marvel, something way beyond words.
Some of these contenders would still be household names nearly half a century later and one would even become the minister of culture but not before being thrown out of the country and woodshedding in London. That musician is Gilberto Gil and along with fellow Bahians Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa, he would become forever associated with a type of music that had at its heart a pop culture art movement manifesto but played out by supremely talented musicians with a passionate interest in their own local music culture and heritage.
Much has been made of the links with The Beatles, links made more obvious by covers of some Lennon/McCartney songs but I think the importance of the Beatles can be seen in a less obvious way through this collection. Musically, what the fab four did was to rifle through a vast range of music looking for inspiration from rock to ragas, classic to fairground and folk to choral and that is the point of intersection with Tropicalismo. Everything was up for grabs and the results of course ranged greatly from creating failed half breeds to the fabulous new creatures exhibited here.
To samba and bossa purists, these crazy kids must have seemed like the advance guard of western pop sweeping away everything in its way. In retrospect, this group of musicians have collectively done more to strengthen Brazil’s musical culture than anyone in the last half of the century with the possible exception of Antonio Carlos Jobim. If they hadn’t come along, can we be sure that kids would not have switched wholesale to US pop and rock?
This collection concentrates on the mature tropicalismo sound and the recordings were largely made between 1972 and 1982. The list reads like a who’s who of Brazilian musical culture. All the Bahians mentioned before are here plus Carioca Jorge Ben and Milton Nascimento leader of the Minas Gerais bureau of MPB.
So if you didn’t get this first time round, get hold of a copy now and begin exploring.
Brazilian Gems a mixtape