Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Boy From Ipanema

TROPICAL TRUTH: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, By Caetano Veloso, Alfred A. Knopf: 354 pp., $26

October 06, 2002|TOM SCHNABEL | Tom Schnabel produces KCRW's radio program "Cafe LA" and is the program director of World Music at the Hollywood Bowl.

I've loved the sound of Caetano Veloso since I first heard his music years ago. He is a rara avis, both reigning pop superstar and intellectual. His book of memoirs, "Verdade Tropical," was published in Brazil in 1997 and generated controversy. The book is now, finally, translated as "Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil." It is a dense and challenging book, filled with Brazilian history, politics, philosophy and sociology, focusing on the tumultuous 1960s and '70s, an extraordinarily fertile social and musical period in Brazil.

Veloso was born in 1942 in the small northern town of Santo Amaro da Purificacao, in the northern state of Bahia, which he declares "is to Rio what the Old Testament is to the New." He was part of a large and happy family. His father worked for the Postal and Telegraph Service, and his mother still lives in the house on Amparo Street where he grew up. It is a house Veloso describes as "the seat of the most important events of my formation. It was here that I was to discover sex, see 'La Strada,' fall in love ... and--most important--hear Joao Gilberto."

Veloso had an eclectic intellectual appetite; in his teens during the 1950s, he savored whatever was new and provocative: the Italian neo-realist cinema of Vittorio De Sica, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini. He admired the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean-Luc Godard. He read Stendhal, James Joyce, Federico Garcia Lorca, Ezra Pound and Claude Levi-Strauss (who lived in Brazil and based "Tristes Tropiques" on his sojourn). Veloso was fascinated by language and was captivated by the concrete poetry of Brazilian Oswald de Andrade. He also loved the paintings of Piet Mondrian, Roy Lichtenstein, Casimir Malevich, Brazilian painter Mario de Andrade and, later, Andy Warhol.

Veloso was in his teens when 1950s rock 'n' roll came to Brazil. He didn't like Elvis Presley or Bill Haley and the Comets; he found it all rather primitive. He especially didn't appreciate seeing Brazilian musicians aping Elvis and the new sound from up north; he thought they performed it without understanding it. Luckily, it was in a rich Brazilian musical milieu that Veloso passed his teens and early 20s.

In 1959, Joao Gilberto made a landmark recording that became bossa nova's launching point and a national anthem, called "Chega de Saudade" (No More Blues). It galvanized Brazilian musicians with its unusual rhythms, vocal phrasing and lyrics. Veloso speaks of the classic song early in "Tropical Truth": "Even today whenever any of us sings 'Chega de Saudade' ... bossa nova's anthem--in any stadium in Brazil, we are accompanied by a chorus of tens of thousands of voices of all ages singing each syllable and note of the long and rich melody." It is difficult now to estimate the newness of its sound; one can compare it to Charlie Parker's music or John Coltrane's first Impulse! recordings, which, like Gilberto's song, mesmerized a generation of musicians.

In 1963, jazz saxophonist Stan Getz recorded the Antonio Carlos Jobim-Vinicius de Moraes song "The Girl From Ipanema" with Gilberto--whom Veloso deifies, calling him the "alpha and omega" and "my supreme master." Bossa nova was born, and albums appeared from artists like the Tamba Trio, Baden Powell, Luis Bonfa and Vinicius de Moraes (who was vice consul at the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles, which still displays his photo). And thus it was that bossa nova, a blend of cool jazz, Claude Debussy and sophisticated but understated Brazilian rhythms--played not infrequently by shaking wooden match boxes and with tapping brushes on telephone books--became not only the "in" music among jazz fans but also among jazz musicians, particularly the lapidary gems penned by Jobim. Bossa nova painted a pretty picture of Brazil, of beautiful girls walking along tropical beaches, music that exuded a sunny optimism and Latin hedonism.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|