How Brazil's Caetano Veloso Went from Renegade to Musical Idol

Veloso moved to Rio de Janeiro with his sister in 1965, and released his first album, Domingo with Gal Costa in 1967. Veloso and his fellow Tropicalistas believed in the Cannibalist Manifesto, a document written by radical poet Oswald de Andrade, who thought Brazilians should cannibalize First World influences and regurgitate them in an entirely new form. The Tropicalistas' performance style (onstage and on TV) was wildly psychedelic, in your face, and ultimately attracted official disapproval. "The government repression was a secret," said Veloso. "It was entirely hidden. They put us in prison but nobody knew. The press could not write a word about it. Tropicália was electric guitars, clothes, hair, anything. It was behavior, and some violence in the lyrics."

His signature song, "É Prohibido Prohibir" ultimately got him, Gil, and Tom Ze exiled to Europe for insisting that merely to forbid is forbidden.

Veloso's exile in London lasted three years, and although he released two albums (one in English) it effectively disrupted his career. By 1978, he had reached a low point after releasing the moody collection Muito, whose spare production was met with equally sparse sales numbers. A few years later, he would revive his career when he played the Public Theater in New York, which was attended by Nonesuch Records CEO Bob Hervitz and the infamous downtown musician Arto Lindsay, who was known for playing "noise" guitar on the seminal "no-wave" group DNA.

Lindsay, the son of Christian missionaries who was raised in Brazil and completely fluent in Portuguese, became Veloso's producer for his next two albums, Estrangeiro and Circulado, which revived his career in Brazil as well as gained him new fans among hipsters who embraced Brazilian music through a series of compilations issued by ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in the late '80s and early '90s. Both albums made explicit references to Tropicália, its past glories and unresolved conflicts.

With a new momentum, Veloso began to make highly produced, deeply intellectual albums that referred to his love for concrete poetry, his youthful admiration for Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, his attraction to Andy Warhol and a kind of transgender reinterpretation of Brazilian legend Carmen Miranda. In 1994, he made Fina Estampa, a well-received album of Spanish-language classics from luminaries such as Agustín Lara and Rafael Hernández that was kind of a brainy retake of Julio Iglesias' '80s classic "América."

In the '90s Veloso teamed up with the brilliant Brazilian cellist Jacques Morelenbaum, who produced Livro, Noites do Norte, Prenda Minha, and the English-language A Foreign Sound. This was a fully mature period of musical experimentation for him, during which he deconstructed and reconstructed the samba and bossa nova of his youth, with Morenlenbaum incorporating rich orchestral production, veering toward the heights of Gil Evans' work with Miles Davis in the 1960s.

But since the mid-part of the last decade, Veloso's work has returned to his rock with a band that features his son, Moreno, and some of his contemporaries. "It's more like tropicalismo to dialogue with contemporary rock than trying to repeat what I did in the '60s," Veloso told me after Cê's release in 2005. He has been on a mission to combine the energy of his classic rock passions, of Hendrix, Pink Floyd, free jazz, with younger musicians more influenced by Nirvana and Radiohead.

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