The tropicalist mourning in Caetano

Fábio Miguez (Journal de Resenhas)


There is a socio-historical sense in part of Caetano's sung material, in particular for the overcoming of a utopian political aesthetic project of nation that based MPB

Enzo Traverso in left melancholy: Marxism, History and Memory, analyzes how the so-called “leftist culture in the XNUMXth century”, mainly European, formalized the utopian defeat of socialism under the key of melancholy[I]. Although something common in this social group, melancholy is seen as a “forgotten tradition”. In Brazil, the decline of the “utopian energies of the revolution” was also expressed in literary and academic works and, equally, in other cultural artistic manifestations.[ii]. Those that were conceived between the 1960s and 1970s expressed, to a large extent, this defeat. However, not only in the key of melancholy; this experience greatly leveraged by the consequences of the military coup (1964-1985) materialized mourning as the elaboration of political loss.

According to Freud, both mourning and melancholy result from a sense of objective loss (of a “dear person”) or abstract loss (“homeland, freedom, ideal”). Unlike melancholy, mourning does not present a pathological state, as it will be overcome. The loss of grief is recognizable, while in melancholia one is not aware of what “really died” from the loss.[iii].

The meanings of these concepts contribute to synthesizing the socio-historical meaning of part of the material sung by Caetano Veloso and, in particular, to overcoming a utopian political aesthetic project of nation that was the basis of MPB. Now, the social meaning of the so-called MPB in the 1960s was structured within collective projects that, although heterogeneous, had in common political and cultural expectations of transforming reality. In other words, heterogeneous cultural manifestations of progressive sectors of the middle class, mostly white, that appeared in the national political culture from the mid-1950s onwards. “the speeches of the intellectuals and the 'people', categories that gave meaning to the political imaginary between 1964 and 1968”[iv] and it was also marked by the key to defeat. This defeat, which until a certain moment was believed to be reversible, hence the character of symbolic resistance in the aura of MPB, as well as the possibility of combining song and national projects on the left. But if such artistic manifestations synthesized socialist or national-democratic assumptions, from the end of the 1960s onwards, the utopia of these national-popular projects began to crumble. Tropicalismo is a seismograph of this process. A parenthesis is important: this movement cannot be seen as something homogeneous, as the works of its craftsmen condense different social experiences. However, among its many idiosyncrasies, it can be said that it was mourning and not melancholy that set the tone for the songs.

In the historic debate promoted by the Brazilian Civilization Magazine in 1966, Caetano Veloso revealed how utopian artistic orientation towards the people was: “I know that the art I make now cannot truly belong to the people. I also know that Art does not save anything or anyone, but that it is one of our faces”[v]. The statement displaced the young artist, at the time, from the engaged songs that guided the mid-1960s music scene, whose artistic formalization would come in 1967 when he defended “Alegria, Alegria” at TV Record’s III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira. As is known, in the emblematic event, the songs that were later cataloged as tropicalist stood out, even though “Ponteio”, a song defended by Edu Lobo and Marília Medalha, won first place.

53 years after the legendary festival that opened up possibilities for a different way of creating songs in Brazil and materializing other possible projects for the country through music, Caetano Emanuel Viana Teles Veloso (1942), who is now 78 years old, great presentations. Even uninterested listeners of his vast oeuvre can hum and/or recognize some of his hit songs. "Little Lion" (Bug/ 1977), “You are Beautiful”, “Hidden Eclipse” (And /1983) and the re-recording of “Sozinho” (gift mine/1998), originally composed by Peninha, are some examples that you don't have to follow the artist's career to have already been affected by the lyricism of his songs. However, only a restricted audience, or rather, an audience inclined to listening to experimental music, would have the patience to listen to the album. Blue Araçá (1973); released after his return from London self-exile (1969-1971) and recorded in 1972, the year in which the famous album sex went public, Blue Araçá, at the time, set a return record.

This transit between musical elaborations that incorporate artistic languages ​​inspired by avant-garde elements and, at the same time, popular material, for expanded consumption, is a singularity that marks Veloso's production and constitutes one of the characteristics of his tropicalist project.

Although informed by the national-popular political culture that served as a model for him, such as the songs present in his compact recorded in 1965 (“Samba em Paz” and “Cavaleiro”) and in the LP Sunday (1967), in partnership with Gal Costa, Caetano's emphasis - despite his claim to Brazilian Civilization Magazine – was not in moving away from the “people”. The project consisted of creating songs whose meanings did not just subscribe to contents in which the social function of the work was visibly demarcated by immediate political and social problems.

In that key, the songs on the LP Sunday can be analyzed through two hypotheses: the first is found in the character of farewell of the album, while the second joins the idea of movement in search of something. Through these propositions, the album, combined with its graphic production, registers the farewell premiere, the start already leaving from Veloso. Such diagnoses refer to the way in which the composer incorporated the issue of modernity into his songs, proclaiming bossa nova within a modern logic that, nevertheless, needed to be overcome, as it represents an “aged modernity”[vi].

Therefore, although in “Domingo” some songs express melancholy, mainly those that make reference to the return to the homeland, such as “Candeias” – composed by Edu Lobo –, or that express longing for what was left behind, as in the case of “ I wish”, the LP is not structured in the key of melancholy, it walks towards the mourning of a sound, in this case that of bossa nova, that needed to overcome itself within the logic of modernity. This bossanovista overcoming was not registered in the album's musical structure; this is the contradiction of the album compared to the narratives and the cover. But the configuration of mourning was often sung with lamentation. Thus, this 1967 LP does not reiterate mourning and at the same time does not incur melancholy: it normalizes the farewell premiere of the social sense that underpinned the bossa nova aesthetic, whose precise overcoming (mourning) would come later in the same year under the name of Tropicalismo, which condensed both Caetano's conflicting relationship with the left, as well as the ambiguities and contradictions of his work.

Among many possible scrutiny songs, “Saudosismo” (1968), which gained prominence in the version performed by Gal Costa (1969), corroborates the thesis of mourning that permeates some of Caetano’s songs, as well as his farewell premiere of national-popular aesthetics. The studio version of Gal's LP, especially due to the arrangements, makes the “farewell” project more evident. It was also covered on the albums “Trilhos Urbanos” (1986) and “Prenda Minha” (1998). For this analysis, I base myself on the interpretation available on the record recorded live at the Sucata nightclub (Rio de Janeiro), Caetano Veloso & Os Mutantes (1968)

At the beginning of the song, the audience is asked to silence, and the guitar is introduced to the bossa nova rhythm, concisely, when the singing begins. Was this request for silence a parody of João Gilberto? The composer's intonation continues without ornamentation, a “soft” chant, almost spoken, is followed strictly together with moderate whistles that accompany the melody. For an unsuspecting listener, “Saudosismo” portrays only the lyrical self's loving experience that recalls his past in the light of João Gilberto's songs. The question of time, the theme of remembering the past, set the tone of the song, but it does not appear in melancholy. However, the memories of that past are sung with melancholy and Caetano continues to parody the master from Juazeiro. The song undergoes a slight alteration when the verses “the happiness, the happiness, the happiness, the happiness” are chanted, and the audience intervenes with applause and shouts of satisfaction. The song proceeds in an economical way both in singing and in music, however, at times, the guitar performs some interventions a little more abruptly, preparing for the modulation that will occur in the last verses: “Chega de saudade/Chega de saudade/Chega de saudade/Enough of saudade”. By chanting these words, the melancholy of the intonation is overcome and the mourning takes place. The sung word is no longer chanted with regret, nor is the instrumentation restricted to the dry sound of the guitar. As “chega de saudade” is sung, the intervention of electric instruments is perceived, combined with screams from the audience, Gilberto Gil and Mutantes. The dissonance of bossa nova combines with the distortion of electric guitars and the musical experimentalism typical of tropicalist songs takes over the sung material, which ends with the precise statement of “enough”, that is, it's over.

The theme of “Saudosismo” is full of intertextuality, a condition common to several of Veloso's songs. Quoting famous bossa nova songs makes “Saudosismo” carry out an open conversation with this musical legacy; emblematic songs of the “new beat” such as “A Felicidade” (Tom Jobim; Vinicius de Moraes – 1958), “Chega de Saudade” (Tom Jobim; Vinícius de Moraes – 1958), “Ash Wednesday March” (Vinícius de Moraes; Carlos Lyra – 1963), silly wolf (Carlos Lyra; Ronaldo Bôscoli – 1959), “Desafinado” (Tom Jobim; Newton Mendonça – 1958) and, in particular, “Fotografia” (Tom Jobim – 1967), perform a kind of musical inventory of the genre to then finalize with a “no more longing”[vii]. If in the context of bossa nova the LP Chega de saudade (João Gilberto/ 1959) was structured as a criticism of the ideological listening of the time, which received him with strangeness, in “Saudosismo” Caetano re-updates the meaning of the song insofar as he declares how good that moment was, but time goes on with other demands that are neither affiliated with bossanovism nor with national-popular aesthetics.

The theme of the sung historical material is structured through the assertion that bossa nova is part of the past of Brazilian popular music: “[…] we already have a past, my love / A guitar guarded by that flower / And other mummies”. “Saudosism” is based on the idea of ​​the “evolutionary line”[viii] of MPB, in which Caetano assumes the project of continuity in discontinuity to update that past, hence overcoming melancholy. References to dissonant notes are not restricted to the attempt to reinvent the nation through music, but are linked to a global perspective: “It is the dissonant world that we both tried to invent”. Here, therefore, it is possible to understand that the national-popular project gives way to an international-popular culture perspective.

With irony, the artist sings that dissonance was raised “to the sound of imbeciles”: a probable allusion to the engaged songs that incorporated the musical structure of bossa nova within the various MPB nation projects. By combining lyrics and music, as in bossa nova songs, Caetano implodes and at the same time incorporates this project in order to materialize his tropicalist proposal of mourning the national-popular political experience. The verses: “Me, you, the two of us/ We already have a past […]/ […]Me, you, João […]/And the dissonant world that we both try to invent […]/ We already have a past [… ]/And I am moved to remember/ The time and the sound/ Ah! How good it was / But enough of nostalgia / The reality is that we learned with João / To always be out of tune / Enough of saudades” summarize this path.

In addition to “Saudosismo”, the consolidation of mourning in Caetano Veloso’s tropicalist aesthetic project can be glimpsed in songs like “Eles e A Voz do Morto”, both from 1968[ix]. Such songs summarize the idea of ​​an “evolutionary line” placed by the composer, which takes place in the mourning of a modern musical tradition that, for the artist, should be overcome so that the “line” continues to extend through his project ( post?) modern version of the Brazilian popular song. Thus, both the social meaning of Bossa Nova and the national-popular political culture decline. Aesthetic formulations in which, each in its own way, the idea of ​​utopia was embodied.

But as Enzo Traverso well reminded us, with the collapse of utopias “a successful mourning could also mean a transition from identification with the enemy: a lost socialism is replaced by an accepted capitalism”. Now, if the socialist alternatives escape the agenda, the probability of acceptance of “market capitalism, neoliberalism, and so on” fills the hole left by the loss. “In that case, melancholy would be the obstinate refusal to compromise with the dominant system”[X].

But in “Saudosismo” mourning materializes, “Ah! how good it was
But enough of longing”. It will be?

*Daniela Vieira is Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social Sciences at the State University of Londrina (UEL).


[I]Traverso, Enzo. left melancholy: Marxism, History and Memory. Belo Horizonte: Âyiné, 2018.

[ii]See Ridenti, Marcelo. Revolutionary Brazilianness: a century of culture and politics. São Paulo: Unesp, 2010.

[iii] Cf. Freud, Sigmund. Mourning and Melancholy. São Paulo: CosacNaify, 2011.

[iv]Cf. Neapolitan, M. Following the song: political engagement and cultural industry in MPB (1959-1969). São Paulo: Annablume: Fapesp, 2001, p. 174.

[v]Cf. Veloso, Caetano. In: BARBOSA, Airton Lima (org.). Debate “What path should Brazilian popular music follow?” Brazilian Civilization Magazine, Rio de Janeiro: Ed. CivilizaçãoBrasileira, year I, no 7, May 1966, p. 384.

[vi]Cf. Santos, Daniela Vieira. “The national-popular in Caetano Veloso’s aesthetic project”. In:

[vii]Thanks for the valuable suggestion of Prof. Guto Leito (UFRGS) about the song's reference Photography em nostalgia.

[viii]The need to “rescue the evolutionary line of MPB” was declared by Caetano in the debate “Which path does Brazilian popular music follow?”, op. cit., 1966, p. 375-385. For an academic analysis of this process see: Napolitano, M. op. cit., p. 123-139.

[ix]Cf. Santos, Daniela Vieira. “The formalization of defeat: on 'Eles' and 'Voz do Morto', by Caetano Veloso”. In: Rev. Inst. Study bras. 2015, n.61, pp.56-81.

[X]See Traverzo, Enzo. Op. Cit., p. 117.

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