A Tropical, Topical Climate
In July 1969, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, the two towering artists who were huge catalysts behind the birth of tropicalia, were sent into exile. After being imprisoned for the 'transgressive' nature of their art, they were released into house arrest in Bahia, then sent to London. The music they'd make, in exile, was tinged with sadness, longing, and heartbreak; suffused with the cold of an adopted home that never felt like home.
But back in Brazil, the musical reaction was a different thing. For Gal Costa —their dear friend, and another key character in tropicalismo's cultural revolution— there was no beat-down longing, but just fury. The singer felt furious, enraged at the injustice of their persecution, and desperate to not let her homeland remain complacent as a nascent Military junta stripped liberties away in an era when libertarianism was being pushed forward, globally, driven by the engine of rock'n'roll.
Costa poured that into her music, which became its own act of radicalism; both politically and compositionally. She'd debuted, in 1967, on a collaborative LP with Veloso, Domingo, in which she'd been a figure of sweetness; the bossa nova babe singing with charm and restraint. Her debut, self-titled solo album, issued early in 1969, had been recorded at the same time as the Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenses compilation, and feature the kind of half-classical, half-transgressive, riotously-fun feeling of that epoch. But by the end of 1969, so much had changed; politically, emotionally, and, for Costa, musically. And Gal would mark a huge change.
Working with Os Brazoes as her backing band and the orchestral overseer of tropicalia, Rogério Duprat, as arranger, Gal leaps headlong into musical modernism, fashioning a freewheelin' form of far-out psychedelia. Like the work Os Mutantes, there's politics, humor, and subversion, and a sense of multiculturalism rare for the day, even in a polyglot place like Brazil; Costa getting as exploratory and experimental as French figures like Brigitte Fontaine and Catherine Ribeiro were across the oceans.
"Tuareg," a song penned by the godfather of tropicalia, Jorge Ben, draws from the tradition of North African desert blues —over three decades before bands like Tinariwen or Group Inerane captured the minds of global listeners— in creating an Afro-Brazilian fusion of a different kind: an Eastern sounding mix of snake-charming horns and desert twang. But this is no simple musical tourism: Ben's lyrics evoke the Tuareg people as symbols of the resistance fighter; its tales of righteous bandits surely a calling-of-arms for local listeners.
The Gal of the Hour
Against the exoticism of "Taureg," Costa submits one of her more contained performances of the record; her harsh, passionate voice intoning melismas like graceful pirouettes. Elsewhere on the LP, she lets her voice lose. Amidst the cacophony of "Objeto Sim, Objecto Não" —all backwards-phased tapes, blaring horns, and wah-wah guitar— she coos, barks, babbles and wails. On closer "Pulsars e Quasars," her voice squawks and squeezes into all manner of amazing sounds, and peaks with a series of screams.
The LP's effective title track —it's central thematic moment— was its hit single in Brazil: "Meu Nome É Gal." Its rudimentary title is a statement of radical self-actualization: Costa telling us her name, over and over, to defiantly state that she exists, a figure of defiant individualism in a time of political tumult. The song sounds out a roll-call of 'shout outs' to her fellow tropicalistas: Ben, Duprat, Gil, Veloso, et al— and serves as a thesis statement for the movement.
"Meu Nome É Gal," effectively, advances like tropicalia itself: progressing from pretty bossa nova to screeching psychedelia in three minutes, with Duprat's dizzying orchestrations colliding with gnarly electric guitars, and Costa's voice going from pleasing to terrifying in turn. Her name is Gal, and, here, she sounds like the very voice of tropicalia.
Record Label: Philips
Release Date: December, 1969