Marco Butti (Journal of Reviews)


Commentary on the 1987 album by Caetano Veloso

Listening to the Disc Caetano [Philips, 832 988-1, 1987], by Caetano Veloso suggests a mismatch between lyrics and music – as if the text sometimes did not fit in the song (and the first track, “José”, in this sense, is exemplary) –, that if, at first, it may even seem like a defect, perhaps it is one of the traits of greatest interest reiterated in these new songs.

Because in them the text does not scroll. Something hangs, scratches. And when it rolls, it is in a singsong that consciously escapes to the corner. Is it spoken singing, like “Eu sou neguinha?”, or almost discourse, like “Vamo comer”, a song from the lineage of “Podres Poder”, by See him (1984), or the older ones “É forbidden to prohibit” or “Eles”, included in his first solo album, in 1967.

And the presence of this lock in the melody is so strong that even the love songs on the record seem to pursue its configuration, giving it the shape sometimes of a throat wounded by the arrow of jealousy (in “O Jealousy”), sometimes of scars that speak ( in “Bera wounded”, by Roberto & Erasmo Carlos), sometimes from a simple “I don't know what to say to this woman” (“Noite de hotel”).

Hence, the song is said to be a harsh cry (which “sands the dry sky”), a romantic pelican talk. Something that is named without mentioning the music, just the everyday speech (chat) or its exasperation (scream). As if an acute perception of the difficulty of singing and a lyrical voice that does not screw up possible melodic adjustments, combined with a feeling of rock bottom (end of the tunnel, dead end, being at zero), decisively marked not only the reception, but the very structuring and compositions of the disc Caetano.

But this tension between speech and singing is not exactly new when it comes to Caetano Veloso. Just remember the spoken samba atmosphere of Tropicalia (1967) or the juxtaposition of voices, texts and silences that dominate blue araçá (1972). There are differences, however, between tension and lock that, accompanied by discursive songs such as “He gave me a kiss on the mouth” (1982), “Língua”, “Podres Poder” (1984) or “Vamo comer”, has become striking trait in Caetano's production in this decade. Not that possible adjustments are not indicated.

“And I was the exit, melody noon / day day day”; can be heard in one of the most beautiful passages of “Eu sou neguinha?”. But the terrain of subjectivity, in Caetano, does not escape the lock. On the contrary, it seems to multiply it. Because it's like tension (“only with me and bad with me”), duality (“I look romantic but I'm a lazy computer”), movement (“I go”) that the “I” of the songs is drawn in it. A movement that, in recent records, has often gone into epic diction. Remember, along these lines, the direct reference to Camões in “Língua”: “I like to feel my tongue brush / The tongue of Luís de Camões”. And it is this “epic self” that discusses the notions of fatherland, nation and citizenship in “Língua”, “Vamo comer” and “Podres Poder”. And embarks on a spoken song, rap irado, an almost prose poetry, addressed to an abstract “us”, which, sometimes, singularizes in a name: João, Maria, Egypt.

The unfolding of the lyrical self in an epic voice does not take place, however, without leaving a trace. It would be really difficult, given the problematic identities with which Caetano usually works, to imagine resorting to a homogeneous and cohesive collective subject. Remember, for example, the separation between “the men” who “exercise their rotten powers” ​​and the “Indians and priests and queers, blacks and women and teenagers” in “Rotten Powers”. And, in fact, it is as if, within this we-who-discourse, the fragmentation of the “I” and the divisions in the social space served as a critical brake in this movement of resizing the subject of the songs.

Therefore, instead of an affirmative tone, questions are repeated about the scope and limits of what is said that punctuate this spoken song. “What wants / What can / This language?” is the question that is repeated all the time in “Língua”. In “Vamo comer” the opposition between “if you have it” and “if you don't have it then” is the hesitation mark of the lyrics. And, sometimes, it is the subject himself who, rehearsing a self-definition, always asks without an answer: “Am I neguinha? / am I a neguinha? / am I a neguinha?”.

It is not surprising, then, that the Camões-character of “Língua” is succeeded by Sá de Miranda of “Trovas the old-fashioned way”, especially of “With me I fall apart, / I am put in all danger, / I cannot live with myself / I can't even run away from myself”, which in the beautiful text of “José” (referring to the character of Thomas Mann), reappears summarized in a single verse: “Só me e mal com”.

An epic voice that allows itself to be inhabited by a social soil full of divisions and fragmented subjectivities: it is in this juxtaposition that the “I” of the songs is built. A self that does not “flow” towards the collective, but is configured as a tension between a particular dimension and an epic desire. A candle to Sá de Miranda of the disagreements of the self, a candle to Camões from Os Lusíadas. A candle to “pure beauty” (“ah, Giulietta Masina / ah, video from another light”), another to the video clips & dilutions mentioned in “Hotel night”.

In the midst of an ironic invitation that makes explicit to the listener, without complacency, his role, less of an accomplice or part of the epic “us” that is rehearsed there and more of a compulsive consumer. Hence the “Let's eat / Let's eat a song / Let's eat / Let's eat poetry / if there is / if there isn't then / ô ô ô ô”. An invitation that is also accompanied by the definition, in the manner of Godard, of the merchandising nature of the songs themselves. Which is not little. But it's also a lock. And a lock that becomes an intelligent basic principle of composition.

*Flora Sussekind is a professor of Brazilian literature at UniRio and a researcher at Casa de Rui Barbosa. Author, among other books, of glued papers (Editor UFRJ).

Originally published in Read, in January of 1988.

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