Jesse Jarnow

“tropicália” – caetano veloso

“Tropicália” – Caetano Veloso (download here)
from Caetano Veloso (1968)
released by Elektra (1990) (buy)

Yesterday, Os Mutantes announced that, following their May performance in London, they will come to the United States for two gigs, in New York and Los Angeles, respectively. Though it wasn’t on the collective concept album/manifesto that announced the tropicália movement that included the Mutantes, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and others, Veloso’s “Tropicália” might as well have been. It’s as fine a template for Brazilian psychedelic music as one could ask for: textural, sophisticated, and beautiful. It’s the chorus that got me. It’s, y’know, toe tappin’.

Not that I understand a lick of them, but the verse lyrics (in translation, via Charles A. Perrone’s Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song) are pretty boss, too, with phrases like “Its heart swings to a samba’s tambourine / It emits dissonant chords / Over five thousand loudspeakers.” The choruses, especially, are filled with references to Brazilian culture, such as Carmen Miranda and bossa nova, and the verses recall various songs, as well as (according to Perrone) “‘The Letter of Pero Vaz Caminha,’ the first literary document in colonial Brazil.” Heady shit.


  1. Michael Slaboch says: - reply

    Hi Jesse,
    You raise an interesting point that I’ve been thinking about as of late in regards to the language barrier of foreign music.
    One of the things that I love most about this proverbial barrier is that it forces me to really focus in on listening to the human voice as an instrument. Mediocre lyrics can easily distract me away from a beautiful voice. You know?

  2. Jesse says: - reply

    Usually, I’m in that boat, too. I was half-afraid of that with the tropicalia stuff until I read Perrone’s chapter on Veloso. Reading along with the translations (especially “Bat Macumba,” which creates some nifty wordplay by dropping syllables from the main chant, with each permutation creating a different meaning) was third-eye opening.

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