A protest in Sao Paulo in the early 1970s – Photographer unknown.
The sun is out, and the mood is better than the anxiety laced sentiments of this time last week. James Comey has begun to give his testimony, laying the first definitive coffin nails for Donald Trump – occurring during the same day that Theresa May lost the Tory majority in the English parliament. With luck, each instance will seriously hobble their respectively vile agendas, slowing the paths of destruction that they have set into play.
It was a good week for the Left. While no definitive results have presented themselves, and the fight is far from over, it offered crucial hope. In a period where mainstream politics have increasingly isolated entire populations, leading to widespread apathy among potential voters, it is a reminder that we all hold the reigns of democracy, and that positive and progressive change is not outside of reach. The greed and oppressive desires of the Right-Wing can be cut off at the knees.
And so, with the sun out and the mood high, we enter the seventh installment of the Democracy of Sound Project, an initiative attempting to use music as a means to combat the rise of racism and xenophobia, as well discrimination and bigotry of any kind – be that based on gender, culture, sexual orientation, social and economic position, or any other distinction. It responds to the horrify spike in these conditions represented through, and occurring as a result of, the election of Donald Trump and Brexit. In light of the past week, I thought I would veer slightly from my usual format, creating something of a hybrid – the sounds of a remarkable culture, captured during a moment where it resisted the horrors of an oppressive Right Wing government – a joyful fortification, against all the struggles which lay ahead of us now.
In the last decade or so, the music of Brazil, particularly those sounds growing from the Tropicália movement which occurred during the 1960’s and 70’s, has gained a great deal of appreciation and attention across the globe. There have been streams of stunning reissues, articles and blogs, pushing the collectors market sky high. During an era which witnessed an unprecedented overflow of astounding and ambitious music, Brazil created some of the most remarkable creative efforts the planet has ever seen, and its artists did so against incredible odds.
On the first of April, 1964, Brazil fell under an authoritarian Right-Wing military dictatorship. It retained power for more than twenty years, casting a dark cloud over the country’s history. It was incredibly repressive toward its people, sharing many of the same political sentiments and agendas as Donald Trump and Theresa May, and notably received considerable backing from both the US and British governments during its time in power. What occurred in Brazil during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s was far from isolated. It is part of string of Western backed military dictatorships and oppressive Right-Wing governments which came to power across Latin America during this era. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama all suffered under this wave. What was remarkable about Brazil, is that art played a far more present role in the resistance. Many of the countries listed above saw their recording industries heavily suppressed or shut down, but the Brazilian dictatorship chose to persecute artists individually, rather than the entire infrastructure as a whole – circumstantially allowing a great deal to be made and slip through the cracks.
Brazil is a country of remarkable cultural hybridity – a melting pot of indigenous, African, European, Middle Eastern, and Asian peoples. This may dispel questions regarding why Brazilians are considered to be among the most beautiful people on the planet, and their sounds to be among the most stunning. They literally have it all. The Tropicália movement, which itself is a hybrid form, had its seeds planted by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and the poet Torquato Neto during the mid to late 60’s. It was a music of social resistance and change – positioned directly against the government, which saw its three founders imprisoned and persecuted. Veloso and Gil eventually fled to Europe, while Neto committed suicide as a result.
Tropicália was adopted by countless artists and grew into a broad categorization. It is generally cast as a combination of African and indigenous sounds, with the blossoming musics of Rock & Roll, Soul, and Funk. Definitions pale against the music itself. These are the sounds of profound joy and sadness – the distillation of a people’s voice, its pain, and a fortification and celebration of the human spirit needed to fight oppression. It is exactly what we all need now – the image of empathy and hope.
In this light, I thought I would share six of my favorite albums produced in Brazil during this era. They are not chosen for their obscurity or as revelation. Anyone who is familiar with this movement, is likely to know them well. They are the tip of the iceberg of an incredible body of recordings produced within the country during this period, and simply my favorites – the most joyous and closest to my heart. I could have strayed well into the dozens with ease. I offer them for the spirit they possess, and the history they indicate – of the value of art, and its ability to engage progressive and positive change. May they take you into the week with a smile, and offer the strength for the long road ahead.
Jorge Ben – Africa Brasil (1976)
Caetano Veloso – Araçá Azul (1973)
Pedro Santos – Krishnanda (1968)
Tom Zé – Todos Os Olhos (1973)
Manduka – Manduka (1972)
Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges – Clube Da Esquina (1972)