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Definitive Albums: Various 'Tropicália ou Panis Et Circensis' (1968)

The Birth of Tropicalia

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Various 'Tropicália ou Panis Et Circensis'

Various 'Tropicália ou Panis Et Circensis'


Pow! to the People

1968 was a watershed cultural year for much of the globe, a time defined by the rise of counter-culture, a sense of open political/social rebellion, and rock'n'roll ascended into a genuine, bonafide artform. It was certainly no different in Brazil. In the space of mere months, there was the release of Os Mutantes' almighty debut album, Gilberto Gil's legendary first self-titled LP (now generally called '68) on which he collaborated with Os Mutantes, and, then, the mass-collaboratory compilation Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis, the 1968 record that laid the foundation stone —and lent its name to— the tropicalia movement.

Growing from a scene of open-minded, ideological students, the tropicalistas saw musical transgression as a greater form of protest. Brazilian popular music was governed by a strict sense of tradition and propriety, and was a music embraced by the establishment. The influence of Western rock'n'roll was seen, by the ruling military dictatorship, as a dangerous form of cultural perversion.

Yet, Gil, essentially the catalyst for this small community, his long-time friend/collaborateur/intellectual foil Caetano Veloso, and the young reprobates Os Mutantes were all in love with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Their music reflected this, taking influence from its playful, oddball psychedelic pop, and fusing it with popular styles like samba and bossa nova, and the traditional Afro-Brazilian folk music of Bahia and the North-East. Their genre-juggling style caused a furore in Brazil in its time, and stood ahead of its time.

Declare Independence

Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis —which takes its name from as Os Mutantes' song, whose latin title means 'bread and circuses'— functioned as a veritable manifesto for this Salvador scene, a statement of a movement of rebellion at hand. When the entire gang —Veloso, Gil, Os Mutantes, and the transgressive female singer Gal Costa (whose husky voice and progressive political lyrics stood at odds with the role women were 'allowed' in popular Brazilian music)— get together for a ragged take on the regional Bahian hymnal "Hino do Senhor do Bonfim," it sounds for all the world like a national anthem: all mass chorused vocals, brass oompahs, and grand crescendos.

The pseudo-nationalism of the piece is ironic; the creative crew's obvious pride in the history of Salvador not masking the fact that the song, written in celebration of Bahia's independence from the Portuguese was being played as a barely-even-veiled undermining of the ruling junta; a veritable 'we shall overcome' holding its head high in the face of oppressive occupancy.

The song's secret weapon is the album's: the presence of arranger/producer Rogério Duprat. Showing a dab hand at studio sonics and orchestral/woodwind composition, Duprat gives a sweeping, symphonic, incredibly-polished finish to every tune herein, whilst simultaneously allowing a sense of experimentalism to reign; as at "Hino do Senhor do Bonfim"'s culmination, when the song ends in caterwauls of vocals and drums ringing out like cannonshots over the horizon.

Order and Progress(ion)

Blessed with Duprat's productional nous —in which the intimate and the grand not only comfortably co-habitate, but exist in an of each other— Tropicália is an absolutely immaculate-sounding gathering of songs. The range of Duprat's work is shown on the back-to-back of Os Mutantes' title-track and Nara Leão's romantic bossa "Lindonéia": the former's circus atmosphere including scribbles of horn, clanking found percussion, and musique concrète phases, the latter's 'straight' grandeur built on the classic qualities of sweeping strings and Leao's endlessly evocative voice.

With Duprat presiding over the arrangements, and Gil and Veloso handling the songwriting, there's a sense of continuity; a sense of this being an album. Rather than just a collection of thrown together tracks, the compilation marks a string of inspired collaborations: friends working on each other's songs, daring to push people into territories new. Over four decades on, and the songs on Tropicália still sound somehow new: their transgressive forms, ideas, and ideals sounding nascent and ready-to-explode each time you play the LP.

Record Label: Philips
Release Date: July 1968

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