Playlist: GRDN GOLD Volume 3: Sounds of South America

Graham LeBron
08 17, 2015

One of my favorite styles of music to rock on Sunny afternoons comes from Brazil. I first learned about the Tropicália movement, also known as Tropicalismo, from the liner notes of the Os Mutantes compilation album "Everything Is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes," compiled by David Byrne of Talking Heads, on Luaka Bop back in 1999. I had just moved to California and my brain was already exploding from the amount of music, new and old, that I was discovering through the friends I was making in the Bay area. It was almost overwhelming, but I loved every minute of it. This was early internet times, not quite Napster yet, the early dawn of mix CDs, even pre-iTunes. As I continued to learn and discover more about the genre, I realized this music had become ingrained in me. I found myself going back to Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, even as I was engulfed in the current music scene and country and electronic and whatever else I was encountering. So, when I started I started DJing my afternoon shifts at Gundlach Bundschu and Lost & Found, Tropicalia was a natural choice. What started as a psychedelic, politically charged artistic movement eventually produced some smooth and funky Brazilian groove that has been influencing musicians ever since.

This mix leans heavy on Gal Costa. I don't have a lot of musical crushes, but she is one. Even her latest album, Estratosférica, is a great example of the experimentation and expression of the ethos of Tropicalia. I wrote a bit more about that back in June here. The movement was about more than music though, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso were actually arrested, jailed, and then exiled from Brazil in 1968 for their political beliefs. Veloso said "they didn't imprison us for any song or any particular thing that we said," ascribing the government's reaction to its unfamiliarity with the cultural phenomenon of Tropicália—they seemed to say "We might as well put them in prison." They were able to move back in 1972, and interestingly, Gil went on to run for office and was eventually appointed the Minister of Culture in Brazil.  But hey, let's get back to the music here. Tropicalia started out rough and psychedelic, even kind of Beatles-y, but as time went on, it seems to me the Bossa Nova influence began to creep back in and mellow things out and they started making some groovy, groovy tunes all through the 70s and 80s. Just like in Africa in the same period, Brazilian musicians were feeling the vibes from American funk and soul, and checking out what was going on Africa as well. Jorge Ben's 1976 album, África Brasil, leaned heavily on those funk rhythms and it turned out to be one of his most well known recordings.  In fact, Rod Stewart used a melody from "Taj Mahal" in his hit song "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?". Ben filed a plagiarism lawsuit against Stewart, which was settled amicably, the upshot of which was Stewart's agreement to donate his royalties from the song to UNICEF. So, there you go. It's a really fun mix, and now maybe you learned something too.

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