4 – MPB and Tropicalia – The borderless music that fooled a dictatorship

Brazilian Music- Part four – MPB and Tropicalia –  March/April 2011 – Issue 26

Brazilian Musical movement of from 1964-1884

BRAZILIAN MUSIC PART 4 – MPB and Tropicalia – The borderless music that fooled a dictatorship

From 1964 to 1984, Brazil was under a military dictatorship, when many people were killed, imprisoned, persecuted and exiled. During the 10 years of that period, there was no freedom of expression. Every song, before being released, had to be approved by government censorship. Still, or perhaps for that reason, this was one of the greatest periods of musical diversity in Brazil, with an explosion of new names, genres and creativity. The song was the most powerful weapon the youth used against the Brazilian dictatorship.

During the military regime, there were only two political parties: the “Arena”, representing the government itself, and the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement), the opposition party, incorporating all parties that had been destroyed by the coup. Interestingly, in the music scene, a similar term was created: the MPB (Popular Brazilian Music) generalising and representing, regardless of style, all the great artists who emerged from the TV and University Music Festivals of that time: Chico Buarque, Edu Lobo, Elis Regina, Geraldo Vandre, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Joao Bosco, Jorge Benjor, Wilson Simonal, Nana Caymmi, Dori Caymmi, Luiz Melodia and Djavan.

Inspired by the “cultural cannibalism” idea proposed at the “Anthropophagite manifesto – 1928” by writer Oswald de Andrade, the musical movement known as “Tropicalia” appeared  mixing without prejudice, all kinds of influences: Brazilian rhythms – such as baiao, bossa, samba – with Beatles,  African rhythms, funk, Chuck Berry, Jean-Luc Godard and etc. The main names of Tropicalia were:  Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Maria Betania, Tom Ze, Torquato Neto, Capinam and Os Mutantes (attraction of the Perth International Festival in 2011). The “tropicalists” were the first to mix rock with Brazilian rhythms which, at first, shocked even the young audience that booed when Caetano sung “Alegria Alegria” (Joy Joy) in 1967 and ” E proibido proibir” (It is prohibited to prohibit) with Os Mutantes in 1968. Tropicalia’s  hippie, anarchist and libertarian attitude bothered the military regime, thus Caetano and Gil, the leaders of the movement, were arrested in 1969 and went into exile in London until 1972. The songs “Aquele abraco” (big hug) by Gil and “London London” by Caetano portray their after prison and exile periods respectively.

The song “Pra nao dizer que nao falei das flores” (Not to say I didn’t speak of the flowers) by Geraldo Vandre, explicitly protested against the dictatorship and became a sort of anthem of this period. Vandre was arrested, had his work banned resulting in quite a shortened career. However, from his backup bands emerged some of the most legendary Brazilian instrumentalists: Hermeto Pascoal, Airto Moreira and Nana Vasconcelos. Other landmarks of the time were Chico Buarque’s songs:  “Apesar de voce” (Despite Yourself”) and “Calice” (chalice)- in partnership with Gil. The word “calice” translates as “Chalice” yet is a homonym of the phrase “cale-se”, which means “shut up”.  Unlike Vandre, Chico, protested using metaphors. He was never arrested, but he was certainly a favourite target for the censors, getting to the point of having to create a fake name to sign his songs, as the only way of having some of them approved by the censorship body.

Until today Caetano, Gil and Chico are renowned artists in Brazil and abroad. Chico continues to create fantastic lyrics and he is a celebrity in Italy and France. Caetano remains a very controversial figure and he is always being invited to record with artists such as David Bowie. He had performed with Lila Downs, the song, “Burn it Blue” (soundtrack of the movie Frida) at the Oscar’s in 2003. Gil, who was the Minister for Culture 2002-2008, continues to perform at major events such as The Montreux Jazz Festival, sharing the stage with stars such as Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. His song “Aquele Abraco” (big hug),” which he composed after he left prison, will be the theme song of the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. It’s no wonder, as the lyrics of this song begin ” Rio continues to be beautiful….”


2 thoughts on “4 – MPB and Tropicalia – The borderless music that fooled a dictatorship

  1. The thing from reading up about Brazil under the military dictatorship compared to other military dictatorships countries like Argentina, Chile and under communist Cuba was that Brazil had a massive record industry with all sorts of styles of music alongside Carnival but you had to toe the line but still they had a lot more freedom then other countries under silly regimes ?


    1. Hi Chris, thank you for your message. Sorry for the very delayed reply, I just found it now in the WordPress platform. I don’t have statistic number to compare the dictarship in Brazil with the ones in Argentina, Chile and Cuba. However, what is certain is that all dictarship are violent, imposing and repressive and that there is no “freedom” under these circunstances. In Brazil a lot of people were killed, “desapeared”, tortured, put in prison and exile. The recording industry resisted not because the artists had “more freedom” in Brazil compared to other dictoships, but because they were very creatives in their ability to change sensored words in songs for example, in a way that a lot of songs becom more abstract and with double meaning. The famous artists were also connected to the great recording company Labels, as Brazil has always been one of the greatest music markets in the world. Music and Culture are essential in every day life in Brazil. A lot of times it can be used in favour of governments as well, in a way of keeping people “happy” as in Carnaval times. The dictarorship in Brazil tried to give the impression that everyone was “happy” by alowing the Music Festivals and Carnival to continues as long as the message in the songs where “happy”. There is a fatastic song of this period by Tom Ze where he talks about this “imposed happiness”. A Felicidade. Where he says ” The Happiness makes you feel afraid”. :)


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