Tropicália in Brazil

Tropicália, also known as Tropicalismo, was a cultural revolution, best known in the form of a musical movement, which took place in Brazil during the 1960s (Ballvé 2007, 1). This period of time in Brazil was characterized by overt popular protest due to the oppressive military regime exerting force upon Brazilian culture (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2011). Due to the heavy oppression and censorship of the military regime, song acted as an important means for citizen protest (Perrone 2001, 220). Tropicalismo is not a musical style, but embodies many different styles such as bossa nova, rumba, tango and rock; it is a hybrid of both local, Brazilian music and international musical influences (Dunn & Veloso 1996, 118).

Tropicalismo began as a reaction against the direction in which bossa nova was heading; by the late 1960s there was a prescribed code of “good musical behavior,” a diluted version of what bossa nova had been (Dunn & Veloso 1996, 121). The musicians who would be the future of Tropicalismo disrupted this code by inserting anti-establishment slogans and referencing international musical influences at a time when most Brazilians were opposed to foreign influence, especially in the form of American culture.

The genesis of Tropicália is often dated with precision to 1967; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil’s performance at the Festival de Música Popular da TV Record in São Paulo intentionally departed from Brazil’s songwriting tradition with the aim of triggering musical upheaval (Ballvé 2007, 1-2). Veloso and Gil, who are generally regarded as the fathers of the movement, were booed off the stage; their music was considered highly anti-nationalist at the time due to many Brazilian’s opposition to any foreign influence (Perrone 2002, 69-70).

Within months of the performance, the local media had named the movement Tropicalismo, referencing Veloso’s composition Tropicália, who had in turn taken the name from the visual artist Hélio Oiticica[1] (Dunn 2001, 73). Over time, public acceptance of the hybrid musical movement allowed it to carry forward with momentum (Perrone 2002, 69-70).

Caetano described the movement as both musical as well as a “neocultural cannibalism” (Béhague 1973, 216). This cultural cannibalism, also known as anthropofagia, was a cultural construct of the Tropicália movement and essentially a cultural hybridity that was used to justifiably absorb foreign influences and adapt it to their needs rather than being colonized by them (Jones 2007). The Tropicálists consumed other cultural and musical influences and adapted them to their own purposes. They saw it as a resistance to cultural colonialism rather than a perversion of traditional Brazilian culture.

The Tropicália movement illustrates a closing of the gap between the popular cultures of the “center” and the “periphery,” between Brazil and the international, and is a rejection on behalf of Brazilians of the role of a third World country living in the shadow of more developed countries (Béhague 1973, 210; Dunn & Veloso 1996, 121). Tropicalismo cultivated the opportunity for diversification and hybridization of Brazilian popular music in the 1970s at a time when non-traditional Brazilian music was not in taste (Perrone 2001, 220).

Tropicalismo is also classified as a socio-political movement as it addresses the tragedy of poverty, exploitation and cultural terrorism in Brazil; some songs aim to draw the attention of the middle class to Brazilians’ dire circumstances while simultaneously attacking the bourgeois well-being (Béhague 1973, 217). Music was a medium of communication used to critique the regression to military authoritarianism in Brazil; Tropicalismo was not intended to be an antinational movement, but a rejection of “prescriptive formulas for producing ‘authentic’ national culture” (Dunn 2001, 73-74). Cateano calls this an “aggressive nationalism” in which they assimilated advances in foreign pop music without sacrificing originality and authenticity (Dunn 1996, p.8).

Although most tropicalist songs sounded upbeat and cheery, they often subtly, and sometimes overtly, conveyed the militant oppression and atmosphere of violence and fear many living in Brazilian cities had to face daily (Dunn 2001, 109). As the opportunity for nonviolent protests diminished more and more citizens joined guerrilla organizations, taking a turn away from the symbolic acts of protest toward to concrete (Dunn 2001, 111).

As Trop

English: Caetano Veloso at Umbria Jazz (Perugi...

English: Caetano Veloso at Umbria Jazz (Perugia – Italy). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

icalismo increasingly explored the experience of violence of living under the governing military regime public unrest grew and the regime reacted by instituting state censorship and repression in the form of the Fifth Institutional Act in December of 1968. This resulted in the expulsion of Veloso and Gil from the country and the imprisonment, torture and murder of many other student leaders, labour organizers and left-leaning free thinkers (Jones 2007; Dunn & Veloso 1996, 120).

Many name Veloso’s song “Tropicália” as the unofficial Tropicalismo manifesto. Veloso claims that the closest he ever came to putting the Tropicália manifesto into writing was when he wrote “I no longer desire to thrive on nostalgia for other times and places; on the contrary, I wish to incorporate that nostalgia into a future project” (Ballvé 2007, 4). The song alludes to the trajectory of Brasilia as a utopian city to the failure of democracy and corruption that Brazil has become overrun with (Dunn 2001, 88).

Tropicalismo had in common with American Pop Art its technique of taking a culturally repulsive, quotidian object, dislocating it from its context and allowing people to see it in a new or beautiful light (Dunn 1996, p 18); Veloso compares the appearance of Carmen Miranda at the end of his song to Andy Warhol’s painting of the Campbell’s can of soup. To Brazilians, Miranda represented the unequal American/ Brazilian cultural exchange in which anything Brazilian was “vulgarized and stertotyped” (Dunn 1996, 18). Veloso’s mention of Miranda was an “affectionate, ironic wink at a cultural icon which had transformed into a symbol of Brazilian kitsch following her debut in the United States” (Dunn 1996, 17-18).

The Tropicália movement had a brief existence, officially lasting less than two years; it is generally agreed that the movement had dissipated by 1972 when Veloso and Gil returned from exile abroad, and due the military regime trying its best to suppress the movement through brutality and censorship (Ballvé 2007, 4; Jones 2007; Perrone 2002, 70). Some critics of the Tropicalismo movement claim that it was not “political” enough, although the movement inspired and contributed to several social and cultural movements that challenged the oppression of freedom in Brazil (Dunn 2001, 187).

Sandy Anger

Spring 2012

Works Cited

Ballvé, Marcelo. “The Big Bang of Brazilian Pop Music, Tropicália, Turns 40.” Brazil  (February 20, 2007): n/a. http://search.proquest.com/docview/201565154?accountid=11233 (accessed October 16, 2011).

Béhague, Gerard. “Bossa & Bossas: Recent Changes in Brazilian Urban Popular Music.” Ethnomusicology volume 17, no. 2 (May 1973): 209-233. http://www.jstor.org/stable/849882 (Accessed October 19, 2011).

Dunn, Christopher. Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Dunn, Christopher. “It’s forbidden to forbid.” Americas volume 45, no. 5 (September 1993): 14. http://search.ebscohost.com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=p3h&AN=9310067915&site=pov-can (accessed October 16, 2011).

Dunn, Christopher, Caetano Veloso. “The Tropicalista Rebellion.” Transition no. 70 (1996): 116-138. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2935353 (accessed October 19, 2011).

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Brazilian literature,” accessed November 21, 2011, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/78339/Brazilian-literature.

Jones, Kristin M. “Tropicalia.” frieze issue 106 (April 2007). http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/tropicalia/ (accessed October 23, 2011).

Perrone, Charles A. “Nationalism, Dissension, and Politics in Contemporary Brazilian Popular Music.” Luso-Brazilian Review volume 39, no. 1 (Summer 2002): 65-78. http://wwwjstor.org/stable/351834 (accessed October 19, 2011).

Perrone, Charles A. “Resource and Resonance: A Story of Transamerican Poetics and Brazillian Song in Global Cultural Perspective.” Luso-Brazilian Review volume 38, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 75-85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3513965 (accessed October 16, 2011).


[1] Oiticica’s exhibited his Tropicália in Rio De Janeiro in 1967; a labyrinth-like environmental installation with parrots, plants, sand, texts, and a television. It was a comment on the clichés of Brazilian culture inspired by his experience of living in a shantytown (Jones 2007; Dunn 1993, p14).

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This entry was posted in anthropofagia, bossa nova, Brazil, Brazilian popular music, Caetano Veloso, Carmen Miranda, cultural revolution, Gilberto Gil, Music of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Tropicalismo, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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