I’m standing at the entrance of the room checking Caetano Veloso get on stage for the technical rehearsal of this evening’s show. And this is actually happening. Tropicália, one of the founding songs of the movement, echoes in the empty room and Caetano’s voice seems to hold me in a hug.
I grew up listening to Brazilian music, not specifically to Caetano whose music I only discovered in my 20s, but to the amazing voices of Elis Regina, to the powerful words of Chico Buarque and the outrageous performances of Ney Matogrosso. That music, those words, have functioned as my citizenship, like a deeper connection to a language that even though it’s my native language, I have never managed to master in an elegant way but could, none the less, substitute my passport.
I was not born in 1967, my generation didn’t actually have to create a revolution, we were born in the aftermath of insurrection and before red carnations took to the streets.
Brazil, a country I traveled to for the first time when I was 9, meant as a cliché, samba, beach and a carefree existence. Caetano’s songs showed me something else. A country that can hold the entire world in both its glory and its misery. I started paying attention to the music that makes you want to get up and celebrate life through dancing and to the words that make you stand still and think. Last time I was in Brazil was in 2000 while the celebrations for its 500 years of postcolonial history were underway. Walking through the streets of Salvador all the way up to a candomblé house made me feel thankful for paying attention. That’s where the music materialized itself, in the Roma Negra.
From Porto Seguro and Salvador, the journey ended in Rio de Janeiro and I could still hear the words, who hasn’t felt the swing of Henri Salvador. We were staying in Copacabana and took the bus to the Flamengo neighborhood to see the Carmen Miranda Museum on an amazing journey through scandalous platform shoes and outrageous costumes and jewelry. A dream closet. In all her esthetic exaggeration, the adopted icon of tropicalism was a true precursor, taking it all in, who she was, who others thought she was, Europe, America and the tropics in one flamboyant persona.
Oswald’s anthropophagy, the solution to the problem of identity, the antidote to having your mind chained to labels and to grim values of behavior and morality. Thoroughly thought anarchy and cultural eclecticism, helas, flamboyance as a beautiful form of resistance.
Movements become dated and even our music heroes get old but this evening, the Coliseu sang Tieta to the ones that still shine brighter than a million suns and Gilberto Gil, all dressed in white, danced. And I have no films, photos or recordings and yet it will be registered forever.
Photo cover to Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis by Mário de Andrade