DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit weâ€™re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readersâ€™ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.
Exile (noun): a situation in which you are forced to leave your country or home and go to live in a foreign country.
Between late 1969 and early 1972, Brazilian superstars Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil found themselves sharing a house in London with their families, forced out of their native land because of the trouble theyâ€™d stirred up as part of the TropicÃ¡lia movement. Tropicalismoâ€™s blending of social disobedience, art, and youth culture was reflective of similar movements going on all over the world, but Brazil was still a dictatorship at the time and arranged to have the two luminaries booted after short prison sentences in Brazil. For a sense of how big a deal this situation was imagine the U.S. booting Bob Dylan or Joan Baez at the height of their early stardom.
To say the least, England suited them poorly, a longing for Brazil never far from their thoughts, but the forced stay in London did fabulous things for the music of these two pivotal 20th century artists, the psychedelic revolution (sonically and pharmacologically) and cosmopolitan play of ideas and styles in London putting a happy zap on their creative imaginations. However, the first fruits of these fresh influences reflected a fair amount of homeward longing and alienation in their forcibly adopted new country.
Both released their first (and in Gilâ€™s case only) English-language albums [Veloso made one more, 2004â€™s cover tunes set A Foreign Sound] in 1971. Both self-titled and featuring somber cover photos, the records are rather un-Brazilian outside of the delicate percussion, occasional bursts of Portuguese, and the thick accented English of the singers. Mostly, both sets explore ground similar to Richie Havens, Bill Withers and Terry Callier with a lovely scoop of solo Syd Barrett â€“ flowing folk-pop uplifted by fits of electricity, grey-tinged humor, compact experimentation, and a pervasive sense of wonder and melancholy. Each reflects the intersection of Brazilâ€™s 60s musical flowering and what was happening in Englandâ€™s swinging capital, and friends, itâ€™s an exciting, seductive collision.
â€Donâ€™t waste your time in looking for sorrow. Iâ€™m as sure of the past as Iâ€™m certain about tomorrow.â€
Velosoâ€™s offering is the more despondent of the two, opening by announcing that his exile has him â€œa little more blueâ€ than his prison time or the day Carmen Miranda died. Things lift a bit â€“ literally to the skies with a peculiar reference to flying saucers â€“ on â€œLondon Londonâ€ before the tuneful but pointedly sad note to his sister (and fellow musical celebrity still in Brazil) â€œMaria Bethania,â€ who he claims â€œhas given her soul to the devil and bought a flat by the sea.â€ Things grow more poetic and abstract on â€œIf You Hold A Stoneâ€ and the romping â€Shoot Me Deadâ€ before holiday super-bummer â€œIn The Hot Sun of a Christmas Dayâ€ and Portuguese closer â€œAsa Branca,â€ which translates as:
When your tears wet the dry land/ And spread the green of your eyes/ Over the dead trees/ I promise you that/ Then Iâ€™ll be back, dear.
But as seemingly forlorn as Velosoâ€™s album may be thereâ€™s palpable musical excitement, the swirl of busy London crashing into Caetanoâ€™s battered spirit and producing some of his most resonant work.
â€We let our moments become what they really had to be. Develop our photographs as simple dreams that will come true.â€
While Gilberto Gilâ€™s eponymous â€™71 record contains a sighing cover of Blind Faithâ€™s â€œCanâ€™t Find My Way Home,â€ the overall mood is less bleak and more open to play in his exiled circumstances. Drugs may have been a positive factor for Gil, as evidenced on the sweetly speculative â€œThe Three Mushrooms,â€ which begins, â€œThe first mushroom makes room for my mind/ To get inside the magic room of Dionysusâ€™ house.â€ â€“ groovy, man. There are still plenty of jabs at the state of being in their chilly U.K. environment including â€œBabylonâ€ and the mad-but-very-charming disconnection of â€œCrazy Pop Rock.â€ Time and memory, perception and reality are puzzled over, and conclusions are few and far between. Gilâ€™s guitar work is superlative throughout, clearly sparked by seeing Jimi Hendrix in action [further confirmed by a great live cover of â€œUp From The Skiesâ€ thatâ€™s a bonus track on the wonderful 2007 CD reissue of the album from SFâ€™s Water label]. There is tenderness and turbulence to this song cycle refracted by Gilâ€™s ever-intriguing voice and guitar.
While both Veloso and Gil hightailed it back to Brazil as soon as the powers that be allowed them to, their London years lingered prominently in the music they made throughout the 70s and beyond, heard in the great openness of both artists to dance with any mood, style, instrumentation, etc. that struck their fancy. Being up close to The Beatles, Cream, Hendrix and countless others and bringing their Brazilian sound to the English masses at festivals during those years rubbed off on this pair in positive ways – musically if not personally.