Veloso, Caetano and Gilberto Gil
The Grace of Brazil, the Fire of Rock
When veteran music stars try to return to their glory days, what usually comes out is a messy, pathetic echo—see Bat Out of Hell II. Happily Tropicália 2, the reprise of the pathfinding collaboration between Brazilian songwriters Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, is a marked exception to this rule. It was recorded in 1993, twentyfive years after tropicália, the radical cultural movement they spearheaded, opened up young Brazil to the ideas of rock and roll, Andy Warhol, and surrealism.
Influenced by the great flowering of late '60s rock in Britain and America, Veloso and Gil integrated its sensibility into a psychedelic whirl that first and foremost affirmed Brazil. It was a celebration of cultural identity and at the same time a sneaky subversion of it.
Of course, by 1993, much of pop music trafficked in this type of crafty global mixing, with regional distinctions invoked as quaint curiosities or novelty items. The mission of Tropicália 2 might be summed up as one of reverse revolution, or recontextualization: As they lay pretty themes over beachcombing Afro-Brazilian grooves, Veloso and Gil seek the shards of heritage worth preserving. They invoke goddesses of the Candomblé faith ("Dada"), use samba phrases to quietly decry the persistence of racism in the world ("Haiti"), and explore parallels between Brazilian art film and music ("Cinema novo").
Throughout, there's the sense that these two thinkers—Veloso the unrepentant musical adventurer and Gil, who became Brazil's minister of culture in 2003 (another instance of a former radical joining the establishment)—are taking stock, reflecting on tropicália's impact. They've grown from hell-raisers into perceptive and often elegant poets; now when they sing of Brazil, they do so with reverence and a touch of contrition, celebrating things they may have sneered at in their heady youth. This gives Tropicália 2 an incredibly rich perspective. As Veloso and Gil expand the basic sound, they reconnect with—and extend—the rebel impulse that got tropicália going in the first place.
Genre: World, Brazil
Released: 1994, Nonesuch
Key Tracks: "Haiti," "As coisas," "Cinema novo," "Baião atemporal."
Catalog Choice: Veloso: Caetano Veloso. Gil (with Jorge Ben): Gil e Jorge
Next Stop: Dorival Caymmi: Caymmi e seu violão
After That: Raul Seixas: Gita
Book Pages: 828–829