Described as a “refreshing shower” by Gilberto Gil, Tropicália was a Brazilian cultural movement of the 1960s, known for its fusion and avant-garde music. A mix of psychedelic rock & pop, bossa nova, samba, and more, the lyrical music was critical of Brazil’s authoritarian regimes and social inequality. Two of the genres’ central figures, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, advocated against the daily injustices faced by many Brazilians. In the words of Gil, “Tropicalism opted for pluralism, diversity, freedom of expression; for a broad and deep look at the creative process in the world”. The movement aimed to present Brazilian culture beyond Carnaval and Carmen Miranda. Other artists like the duo Antônio Carlos e Jocáfi fought for increased Afro-Brazilian representation. Although some of these figures faced criticism and even imprisonment for their anarchist viewpoints, Tropicalistas continued to push boundaries. The following list includes 10 musicians of the Tropicália movement that left a profound mark on Brazil’s cultural history. Which other musicians/artists would you include?
1. Os Mutantes
A pre-punk group formed in 1966 with original members Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias, Os Mutantes is known for songs like “A minha menina” which highlights their experimental, fun sound. Their songs transition from dramatic and lively moments to rock-heavy sounds. Making the most noise out of all of the Tropicalia musicians, their songs highlight their drive to stand out and make a creative statement through their artistic inventions. One of their songs “El Justiciero” transports the listener to a Western cowboy scene with romance, drama, and action.
Another key figure in the movement, Zé incorporates different genres like folk, world music, and rock. In his songs, he varies his messages from being subtle to being deliberately anarchic through the manipulation of instruments, non-instrumental sounds, and lyrics as observed in his well-known song “Parque Industrial.” Unlike other Tropicália musicians, he takes on a minimalistic approach in songs like “Augusta, Angélica e Consolação” by focusing less on incorporating electronic instruments, and only slightly diverging from the classic acoustic Brazilian sound.
3. Caetano Veloso
One of the first musicians of the movement, Veloso challenged norms with his songs, which were heavily influenced by psychedelic rock. His debut songs like “Alegria, Alegria” targeted the government’s repression of free speech. In these songs, he rebels with happiness and joviality. “Tropicália,” one of his most well-known hits, incorporates various orchestral elements and dramatic transitions that make for an alluring and entrancing listening experience.
4. Gilberto Gil
Alongside Veloso, Gil brought Tropicália to its prominence during the 1960s-1970s. Frequently, he fought against social injustices and underrepresentation of Brazil’s African roots with his contemporary renditions of popular Brazilian sound. The following song, “Todo Menina Baiana,” varies from his other well-known songs like “Drão”, making for a lighthearted and fun hit.
5. Rogério Duprat
Known for composing most of the hit Tropicália songs of the era for Veloso, Gil, and other musicians, Duprat produced his solo album “A Banda Tropicalista do Duprat” in 1968 which drew on his Brazilian roots and American influences like George Martin. He embellishes on Brazil’s popular music of the time by adding traditional sounds like the cuíca and percussion. The following song, “The Rain, the Park & the Other Things,” adds such components to the Cowsills’ original romantic serenade and will transport you back to the 50’s with Paul Anka.
6. Gal Costa
Originally a bossa nova singer, Costa evolved her classic style by fusing it with the Tropicália genre. Incorporating psychedelic elements into her iconic sweet and pleasant sound, Costa separates herself from the other musicians of this genre as one of its few female figures. In the following song, “Meu nome é Gal,” from her 1969 album Gal, Costa balances her soft voice with her harsh belching, creating an unpredictable yet intriguing listen.
7. Jorge Ben
Another bossa nova-turned-Tropicália artist, Ben integrated soulful genres like R&B and samba rock in his music. Similar to other Tropicália artists like Gilberto Gil, he sings of everyday life, the Afro-Brazilian identity, romances, and more. “País Tropical,” from his 1969 album Jorge Ben, is packed with emotion, giving off tropical and jazz vibes.
8. Os Brazões
Loud and unchained, Os Brazões is a group of classic rockers influenced by American and European rock legends like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. More under-the-radar than other Tropicália musicians, the Rio rockers were still able to convey the movement’s anarchic message through their songs. Full of electric guitars and yells, their uninhibited sound highlights their expressive freedom in “Gotham City.”
9. Antônio Carlos e Jocáfi
Since 1969, this Tropicália duo has brought funk to the genre with their brand of cultural cannibalism. Similar to other artists, they focused on reviving Afro-Brazilian influences. Their renowned song “Você Abusou” has a melancholic, romantic sound primarily influenced by samba.
10. Novos Baianos
Readily embracing psychedelia, this 1960s Tropicália group with members Paulinho Boca de Cantor, Pepeu Gomes, Moraes Moreira, Baby Consuelo and Luiz Galvão, has produced mind-bending songs. For this, they became associated with the hippie image within this genre. Their music drew on bossa nova, especially from João Gilberto, and samba. “Preta Pretinha” highlights their tropical yet folksy Brazilian feel.
*Text and list by Alyssa Bardin
*Photo source: Wikimedia Commons