The matured tropicalism

Image: Marlon Griffith


Considerations on the work of Caetano Veloso

From the townhouses in Santo Amaro and Salvador to the northeastern Sampa train

Caetano Veloso turns eighty years old in full swing and notable public recognition as one of the great living Brazilian artists, composing songs, touring Brazil and Europe in sold-out shows, very active on social media and creating political facts and memes full time. He took advantage of the closed doors of the pandemic to record the updated album My coconut, released on platforms last year (2021), which I had been conceiving before. The spirit of creation should help health.

This is certainly why we have the privilege today of being contemporaries of a generation of great Brazilian popular artists, such as Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Milton Nascimento and Caetano Veloso himself, who crossed or is approaching the select club of octogenarians. Allow me, at the outset, an apparently pointless analogy. Death is one of the most frequent themes in Manuel Bandeira's small book of poems Lyre of the Fifty Years.

In verses of intense lyricism, the poet writes at the age of fifty: “to die so completely/that one day when they read your name on paper/they ask: “who was it?…”. But, in fact, Manuel Bandeira died much later (1968). At that time, people were already preparing for the arrival of the unwanted person at fifty. Today it is possible to live an eighty-year-old lyre, that is, to live together instead of subsuming the dominant theme of the songs in the metaphysical dramas of the absolute and finitude, which exists balanced (more in Gilberto Gil than in Caetano Veloso), but does not predominate.[I]

In a quick brushstroke, Caetano was born and recognizes himself in the identity – chiseled by living in a literate environment that translates visceral social experiences into art – of a “democratic mulatto from the coast” lived in a low-middle-class townhouse with a cozy family in Santo Amaro of Purification.[ii] In a short statement to an interview with Caetano for the Roda Viva Program, her sister Maria Bethânia says that Santo Amaro – and its imaginary questions – are “all there” deployed in My coconut (album and song).[iii]

Unfolding and interpreting the argument of Maria Bethânia, a character of pain and pleasure, perhaps with more Freyrean tones (“democratic mulatto from the coast”) than a Euclidean “neurasthenic mestizo from the coast”. This is a composer whose work is biographical, even telluric, but who thinks about song with the brain of an essayist. For this reason, the collection of songs by Caetano Veloso, assembled complete in Letters,[iv] it is an unusual way of interpreting Brazil, in close dialogue with our great authors from the rich tradition of Brazilian social thought.

Santuza Cambraia Naves, a scholar of Brazilian music, who died early in one of the many studies on tropicalism, indicated that this movement began a process of deconstruction of Brazilian song, with the emergence of what he called “critical song”.[v] The critical new song would be an open type of song. Until the advent of bossa nova in Brazil, popular songs were traditionally limited in genre and form (frevo, samba, samba-canção, waltz, baião, rock, etc.), while tropicalist songs, in a mix of construction and deconstruction, it becomes “open” to Brazilian forms and foreign influences.

Exactly because it is open, the tropicalist song is more varied in subtypes. Without excluding the open form of the critical song, in the correct formulation of Santuza Cambraia Naves, it is possible to add at least two more subtypes: a “conceptual” type song – like the artistic vanguards of the last century – and the “manifesto” song. ” – which bears reminiscences of the political manifestos of modernity, starting with, soi-disant, for the unavoidable historical landmark of the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Blue Araçá, released in 1973, the peak year of the dictatorship's economic miracle, is the album of conceptual songs par excellence, but also occupies a special place, in the kaleidoscope of avant-garde and behavioral innovations (starting with the cover photograph), the saga of the migration of northeastern worker heading to São Paulo in the process of industrialization. The rhythm, the voice and the step of the Bahian samba of Dona Edith do Prato, made the arrival, migrated to the south. The album provoked, at the time of its release, a purposeful shock in listeners educated by the melodies of the popular radio song.

Caetano Veloso's objective was to break down, from within the music industry itself, the automatism of pasteurized listening to songs – to a certain extent a bastard Adornian intention. Nothing less popular. The tropicalist “concept-song” owes its origin to inspiration – and not imitation – to aesthetic problematizations of the erudite avant-garde that Caetano discovered in the university environment of Salvador (the New Music movement, concrete poetry, Walter Smetak, etc.). It was only possible due to computational research and recording studio resources, which later became generalized.

It is worth noting, finally, that these monsoons of deconstruction and reconstruction of the Brazilian popular song tradition also soaked up multiple extramusical languages, in the cuts and poetic use of the cinematographic montages of the Brazilian New Cinema and the French New Wave. While your wolf does not come,[vi] a song with lyrics/film montage, Benjaminian, inspired by the experience of the great marches of 1968, and Lindonéia (masterful performance by Nara Leão),[vii] inspired by the innovations of the visual arts, are two good examples.

The tradition-innovation of the tropicalista manifesto-song had its baptismal font in the movement's title-song, Tropicalia, flagship song, coming to light shortly before, on the disc Caetano Veloso (1968), soon afterwards deepened in the most famous classic collective album-concept-Brazilian manifesto – our Sgt. Pepper's Lonely-Hearts Club Band! - Tropicália or Panis et Circencis.[viii] Over the years, many other songs and concept albums followed (there are so many that I refrain from mentioning the extensive list), a project that has now led to a critical retrospection of the eighty-year-old lira condensed in the mature reflection and album and song update My coconut.

Caetano Veloso recently wrote on Instagran: “I observe what is going on, but I grew up thinking about songs that are here to stay, about long-lasting albums that have a coherent repertoire, about works that form a significant set.”[ix] Caetano Veloso's manifesto songs, as a rule, were thematizing the shocks of deep Brazil and its relationship with the world. Language (1984) The foreigner (1989), etc., are emblematic songs of this planned attitude. Concept-song + manifesto-song can perfectly come together in a broader equation: a thought-song, which has to do – and Caetano assumes this dialogue with tenacity – with history and anthropology, especially the tradition of interpreters in Brazil.

Tropicalismo did not mean the resumption, in intrinsic terms of contribution to music theory, of the evolution of the line of popular music – this was the role, shortly before, of bossa nova – , “but a conceptual elucidation (…) Such elucidation destroys the bases on which certain genres or forms were considered essential or privileged Brazilians, to the detriment of others”. An elucidation, say, not only of musical “modernity”, but also of the multi-thematic information of modernity.[X]

It is not the case here to undertake yet another reconstitution of the historical tropicalism, the subject of several journalistic and academic works (some of excellent quality), but of verifying the intriguing persistence, longevity, timeliness and interest in the tropicalist project in Caetano of eighty years. By the way, in a recent interview with Nelson Motta, Caetano Veloso insists on the “non-abandonment” of the “hard core” of the former tropicalist project: “return to the record and the song My coconut a messianic-salvationist optimism of Brazil very much linked to our miscegenation (…) My project of Brazil comes back with everything in the song. This dream of a mission to save Brazil remains alive within me. This perspective has not died in me despite everything we are seeing”.[xi]


Tropicalism is a historicism of Brazilian civilization

I postulate that Caetano's work evolved in the form of an avant-garde ancestor, historical Tropicalism – a kind of early child of Oswaldian anthropophagy, among other influences and references. In the passage of time in the Brazilian and international world, it resulted, through a dialectical process of renovation/conservation, in an updated matured Tropicalism. The summit of the heights of the eighty-year-old lyre helps to reveal the evolution and mutations that took place.

For me – this is the main thesis of this article – tropicalism, in Caetano Veloso, was shaped and consolidated, after six decades of active presence, in the ambitions of prospecting the past and projecting the future, as an attempt to produce a historicism sensu latu of Brazilian civilization (which, if it does not exist as a fully palpable fact, or has become a hologram of what could have been and was not, exists as an Aristotelian power).

Caetano Veloso's ambition, in an optimistic key, is constructive. In Brazil, the enjoyment of popular music, in the mass culture of late post-war capitalism, acquired an unusual importance. Certainly, like nowhere else in the world, the art of mass popular music has received the deserved and curious status of an art-compass steps beyond simple mundane entertainment. An art especially revealing of our particular place in the world, as was the romanticism in the Germanic culture of the XNUMXth century. Finally, one of the most revered expressions of a hypothetical and original “Brazilian civilization”.

Caetano's vision of the world brings together considerable and dispersed research material, in tons of densely poetic song lyrics, artistic happenings, manifestos, newspaper articles and hundreds of provocative interviews. Certainly, the book, with its Proustian autobiographical structure, Tropical Truth –, especially the last part – Vereda –, condenses the strong traits, matured in the years of learning and peregrination of the author and problematic hero, of the author’s interpretation of Brazil. He is not interested in creating a closed system.

The stylish interpretation of Brazil by Caetano, as it fits in a Proustian text, operates in a border zone between intuition (the literalization of lived experience) and the modus operandi of the genre of modern Brazilian essays – most of the texts by Gilberto Freyre (a fundamental author in Caetano Veloso, not so visible in the time of historical tropicalism) are also produced in this zone. That is, they slide between aesthetics and the essay, but do not intend to conclude in the scientific method. mupstream (and dumb) drenched in positivist deviations from university social sciences.

The literary critic from São Paulo Roberto Schwarz, for whom Brazil became a great findumundistan (which is not without its counterpart in reason), saw in Caetano Veloso an indulgent and problematic narrator in the manner of Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis, which is not ceases to be a high praise in criticism. The critic divides Tropical Truth in two existentially contrasting parts: one marked by the experience of a tender youth in Santo Amaro and Salvador, whose background was the “populist” government of Jango, and another, by contrast, of disappointment and bitterness, due to the 1964 coup, with promises of class alliances around a Brazilian national future.

The classic rupture scene is triggered by Caetano's reaction to watching earth in trance, the film by Glauber Rocha. In a classic allegorical scene of Brazilian cinema, Paulo Martins shuts the mouth of a servile fool and asks the audience: “Do you see who the people are? An illiterate, an imbecile, a depoliticized! Where, according to Roberto Schwarz, he sees a “historic alley”, an impasse for the revolution, Caetano Veloso saw “the death of populism”, with liberating effects for his interpretation and action on reality. Schwarz reads the passage as an apostasy, from which Caetano Veloso opposes the field of the national-revolutionary left.

Tropicalismo would originate there, as a postmodern manifestation before la lettre, “born already on the ground of the defeat of socialism”. The pop-tropicalist star was born, therefore, from a release from the historical social debt with the underprivileged. Henceforth to arrange a faustian alliance with the god ex machina market is the logical step, in an allegory well suited to the “end of history” neoliberalism of the 1990s. Reading the critic from São Paulo is both stimulating and problematic, for several reasons. In the first place, neither Caetano Veloso (nor Glauber himself) completely broke with the “populist” matrix, nor with the “third worldism”.

Without disregarding the existence of periods of back-and-forth, ambiguities, concessions and strangeness in the relationship with the organized left (the fights with the left in the second half of the 1970s, at the time when filmmaker Cacá Diegues coined the term das “ ideological patrols” is the most evident period of this estrangement), there is a kind of intimate coherence, rather than radical political ruptures with the left field, in the artist’s trajectory.

Not by chance, Caetano was a long-distance admirer of Marighella, to whom he dedicated the song, also dedicated to the political influence exerted by his, his father (seu Zeca), a communist, in the album Zii and Zie (2009)[xii] The author writes: “although I was not sure what an armed revolution could result in, the heroism of the guerrillas as the only radical response to the perpetuation of the dictatorship deserved my astonished respect. Deep down, we felt a distant, romantic identification with them that we had never felt with the traditional left and the Communist Party. We saw ourselves – and a little felt ourselves – to the left of the left”.[xiii]

The division, the clear cleavage, between an earlier telluric Caetano Veloso, in transformation by the national-popular and the graceful Bahian modernity, and another disillusioned with any leftist project in the cascading disillusionments produced by the balances of what was 1964, proposed by Roberto Schwarz , looks like a forced hand. In a tight summary, Caetano Veloso was a first-time heir to the tradition created from the modernity of popular song. Instead of rock, which he later assimilated, he didn't have "a fucking wish to be American".[xiv]

Caetano Veloso has always been proud to be an heir of bossa nova, of its harmonious revolution, of the attempt to aesthetically integrate sophisticated and cosmopolitan information with the local and the national. This path implies thinking of Brazil as a utopia of civilization. Thus, the composer's “populist” and “national-revolutionary” arguments from Brazil did not completely fail to resound in the composer. Barely comparing two round trips of the same generation, a similar phenomenon happened in the history of Lula and the PT.

Born from a heavy criticism of national-developmentalism, in another vein, the practical action of Lula (and the rest of the PT) in the federal government predominated – who knew? – a body of work that was not clear in the early years: the worker and union leader of peripheral Fordism, who founded a workers’ party, became a charismatic Latin American leader (a caudillo?), as well as the old workers’ party it became a popular mass party among the poorest – excuse me for the lack of another expression –, national-popular. Once in government, he went after the theoretical foundations of a national-developmentalist-style political economy – all of this in the form of historical content adapted to reality and nominalisms to the XNUMXst century. [xv]

The matured tropicalism of today – whose most tangible indexes are the interventions of Caetano Veloso in the period of Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power – opened the possibility of a teleological vision of the historical tropicalism of 1968. Recently, generating surprises from the cosmopolitan and decadent circuit “ neoliberal left” of Leblon and Faria Lima, Caetano assumed a controversial repositioning, more to the left. In an interview with Pedro Bial at Globo, he made a point of clarifying that he had changed his opinion about the liberal conceptual vulgate of totalitarianism.

Thus said Caetano Veloso: “When I hear people like you saying 'Communism and Nazism are equally horrible, they are authoritarian', this equalization of socialist attempts with Nazism I no longer swallow as I used to. 'The extreme left equals the extreme right'. I don't think anymore, I can't”, he told the interviewer. This was not a declaration of adherence to socialism, Marxism or even (as some saw it) Stalinism. Caetano's focus, which Brazilian liberals dismissed, was the blind spots of liberal theory.[xvi]

Recent reading by the Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo certainly helped. But socialism, anti-imperialism and non-aligned third worldism – excuse the vocabulary of words from the 1960s –, and even the critique of liberalism and the category of totalitarianism outlined by non-Western Marxism, were already insinuating themselves in historical tropicalism , due to the Brazilian national “place of speech” in which Caetano Veloso has always been located in the art of updating it.

This repositioning of anti-liberal criticism has been latent since forever. In Vereda (the conclusions part of Tropical Truth), after a brief analysis of critical words about the “closed West” view of The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel P. Huntington – one of the propaganda pieces of the “new American XNUMXst century –,[xvii] the composer writes that Brazil lives “an eternal lack of definition between being the natural ally of the United States” and “being the outline of a new civilization… its characteristics as a gigantic and linguistically solitary country contribute to both trends. The unique character of his popular music – both in its beauty and in its precariousness – comes from this. Tropicalismo can try to extract original energy from this tension. Books like Huntington's (or Fukuyama's Trust, which apparently opposes him) make me feel – and think tropicalism – positioned more clearly to the left than I could have in 67.”[xviii] Before writing the words contained in Sidewalk – in my view, going against the grain of the discreet acquiescence he lent to the FHC government –, Caetano placed his art against the wall of the “new international order” after the sensational geopolitical implosion of the Soviet Union.

The first track on the album circulated (1991) begins with a cry of confirmation of Brazil's subordinate place in neoliberal globalization. Sings the composer in the chorus of the song out of order – “something is out of order/Out of world order”. In another song from the same album, he recalls that we and other peoples from the global south inhabit nothing less than the open veins of the ass in the world, “where whose makes the curve/(the asshole of the world is our place).”[xx] I believe that these two songs by Caetano Veloso, written in the heat of the moment, perceived another layer, of dismal uncertainty, in the theory of the “end of history”. There was in it a subtext of universalism, paradoxically relative and limited, to be taken into account: the liberal victory over socialism in the Soviet version solved the question of history.

However, the issue persisted of the margin, on which Brazil is located, the estrangement in recognizing the other, the scum that inhabits the world, peoples not integrated into the superb historical political culture dominant in the West. Rousseau wrote that Machiavelli was an ironist (or a satyr) – pretending to give lessons to the political practice of absolutist kings, he gave them, big ones, to the people. I've always suspected – I'm not sure – that Fukuyama is more of an ironist. In any case, if his intention was not ironic, an ironist has been the story itself.

In these last pages of Tropical Truth, the author comments on the reception and discovery of Tom Zé's experimental music (and also the inventiveness of Caetano Veloso) in the United States, in the Clintonian 1990s. The attractiveness of music, according to him, no longer came from the delight provided by the exotic , in the style of Zé Carioca in the times of FD Roosevelt's “good neighbor” colonialist policy in Latin America (1933-1945). The musical environment and the phonographic industry sought the “originality and pertinence” of the “vision of our modern music”. They weren't just looking for "folklore", naive primitivism, new rhythms or genres, but information and concepts focused on the contemporary way of making music.[xx]

The diagnosis outlined in Sidewalk resounds in the chorus of the song-manifesto, the disc's opening anchor My coconut, according to Caetano Veloso, blown in the ear by João Gilberto in a preparatory chat for a show with Gal Costa in Brazil in 1971, in a difficult moment of the open dictatorship, after a quick return from exile in London, negotiated with the military – “ We are different, Caitas. We are Chinese.” The verse of the song went like this: “João Gilberto spoke / And in my coconut it stayed / Who is it, who are you and who am I?:/ 'We are Chinese'”. [xxx] Or are we not? In question, nothing less than the “being” of Brazil.

The little story is not just a delirious Sinotropicalist insight by João Gilberto. By a not so incredible coincidence, it is possible to establish, in the comparison of magnitudes between China and Brazil, a correlation with the condensed intentions, for example, by Gilberto Freyre in the book tropical china. [xxiii] It is a collection of articles rewritten in other books, in which the intellectual from Pernambuco emphasizes Eastern influences on Luso-Brazilian culture and Ibero-Portuguese influences on China and India. Note that Caetano repeats Gilbert's cry in the middle of the XNUMXst century. “We are Chinese” at the exact moment that China became the “strategic enemy” in the geopolitical doctrine of the United States.

Subtending that we are Brazilians born in Tropical China, an equivalent in terms of possibility of greatness to the power already demonstrated by China, is always an act of national affirmation of the uncertain power of a Brazilian civilization. When he called Brazil “Tropical China”, Freyre was blurring – this is the objective of the writer from Pernambuco – the traditional and closed borders between “West” and “East”, in a projection that must be seen before la lettre averse to the thesis of the “clash of civilizations”.

Before being a modern National State, as historians, anthropologists and diplomats never tire of knowing and repeating, China is also a very ancient self-centered Empire – others would say “self-absorbed” – embedded in the center of the world, the “Middle Empire”. . By virtue of occupying the center, the middle, in this national ideology, must have some mission for the world.

These glimpses of Caetano, João Gilberto and Gilberto Freyre dialogue by contrast, in an optimistic key (despite everything) with Brazil, with the skeptical key of a “separate country”, introspective, provided by Perry Anderson. An acutely perceptive foreigner, the English Marxist historian lived in Brazil for two years and studied Portuguese colonialism, the subject of his first relevant academic work.[xxiii]

Reviewing the recent years of our country, the historian, interested in international relations, concludes that “Brazil is a special case in the gallery of the main States of the world (…) However, its history and geography have also made this country the the most isolated and self-absorbed among the world's giants (…) No other nation-state still so naturally displays the idea that it would constitute a civilization in itself – the expression Brazilian civilization is not a mere overbearing prerogative of the right, but a term spontaneously used by left-wing historians and journalists (...) A national culture whose natural horizon of thought remains at such a degree of self-sufficiency resembles to some extent, for better or for worse, a nineteenth-century exception in the contemporary world”.[xxv]

Perry Anderson, cites, by way of reflection, in an anecdote tone, the case that the classic collection of History of Brazil organized by the dean historian, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda – “figure of the socialist left” –, titled with unusual pride, a country young man of less than 600 years, look, from General history of Brazilian civilization – “a special series dedicated to the history of Brazil or, according to the previously established plan, to the history of Brazilian “civilization”. Some find it too pretentious for the little truck from Brazil. But there has invariably been a historical paradox, when the history of civilizations is expelled through the door of historiography, it almost always returns through the margins of the museum of the great lost novelties. [xxiv]

Paradoxically to the delusional critique of “populism” by earth in trance, incidentally, even more delusional in another film by Glauber Rocha, The Age of Earth, the core of the “historicism of tropicalism”, in opposition and on a round trip, maintains, remakes and updates the diagnoses of many influential authors in the period of construction of industrial and urban Brazil in the “Vargas era”, namely: the former colony of the first colonial chroniclers, Brazil, which paradoxically became the environment for the meeting and combustion of cultures and an extraordinary nation-continent. The fulfillment of the messianic mission of the future and emancipatory historical “meaning” of Brazilian culture calls for it to become a new civilization endowed with an original contribution on the horizon, aiming to have some lesson to teach to a world usually divided into warring civilizations.

Tropical Truth was a book that was born under the order of an editor in New York, after the publication of an article, also in New York Times of a tropicalist plastic icon, Carmem Miranda. The first impulse of tropicalism – which gave rise to the bitter polemic of Roberto Schwarz –, in short, was to accommodate foreign information, especially from the mass culture of late capitalism, in the national tropicalist assembly. Indeed, Roberto Schwarz's critical approach, in this regard, has become canonical.

Perhaps it is worth repeating, once again, the central criticism he makes of tropicalism – in a certain way reiterated until today. The criticism that tropicalismo configured an ingenious but frivolous artistic creation: it took disparate elements from the depths of archaic Brazil and placed them under the prism of the ultramodern of the international artistic vanguards, as well as, in a bid of mercantile opportunism, of pop music – “one does not pass from the universal to the particular, but from one sphere to another”. Instead, Tropicalismo's specialty was the superficial commentary on a great corny allegory (the Brazil allegory). Caught in this passage from the particular to the universal, in short, the critic from São Paulo, although he highlights creativity, observes that tropicalism fails to produce a synthesis of backwardness and progress on the ground of Brazilian reality.

Roberto Schwarz was speaking, of course, from the starting point of the work of the tropicalistas, which I call “historical tropicalism”. Perhaps today the question is dated. In his work, which became enormous, Caetano Veloso did not only use the “Brazil allegory”, that is, he did not only express a difficulty in passing between the universal and the particular, as he firmly approached, rightly or wrongly, the tradition of the “interpreters of Brazil” and the most agonizing dilemmas of the nation (of “Brazilian civilization”) and the global south.[xxv] On the other hand, writing Tropical Truth corresponded, in time, to a second impulse, from the inside out, that is, the export of tropicalist montage as content to be addressed and received “by them” from the notorious “great nation of the north”.

There is a dialogue of different Brazilian times – Nietzsche and Benjamin wrote that the great of one generation dialogue with the great of another, remember? –, one might say, in the secondary beginning, and today intense for a long time, of Caetano Veloso with Gilberto Freyre. This dialogue is often cited by Caetano Veloso, but remains a relatively marginal subject in critical exegesis, often accommodated with the traditional narrative, repeated a thousand and one times, of tropicalism as the last flowering of São Paulo modernism. [xxviii] In an exegetical approach, the affinities and influences are evident, certainly modified and adapted, between tropicalism and many of the projections of Brazil, and the role of Brazil in the world, of Pernambuco. The controversial intellectual from Pernambuco already had the intuition from the beginning of some affinity between his tropical truth and that of the emerging composer from Bahia. When asked if there was any similarity with the “tropicalist movement, in the context of Brazilian culture, with its neotropicalism?”[xxviii]

For his part, Caetano Veloso recognized the affinity on several occasions, especially from the 1990s onwards: “Freyre always pleased me completely. I never thought he overlooked the horrendous aspects of our upbringing.”[xxix]  “(…) I like Gilberto Freyre above all for his political consequences (the historical consequences of the Luso-tropicalist myth became more palpable to FH [Fernando Henrique Cardoso] when he had to face the real Brazil), I consider the criticism that the former -president argues rather short of the most lucid intuition of the meaning of the Brazilian experience. And all stubbornness in maintaining the terms of this criticism today seems caricatured” (2009). [xxx] Caetano Veloso's awareness of the importance of Gilberto Freyre in terms of self-enlightenment (townhouses in Santo Amaro have to do with townhouses and shacks in Recife) returned, in keys that did not fail to appear antagonistic, during the period of the FHC government and in the early years of the Lula government.

The issue of slavery is reflected in many songs, especially four songs on the record northern nights (zero the pray; northern night [musicalisation of a poignant passage by Joaquim Nabuco in “O Abolicionista”]; May 13; Zumbi [composition by Jorge Bem Jor]), which, in themselves, are worth writing a separate essay, which I leave for another opportunity.[xxxii] On the issue, it is impossible not to mention the “The poor of so black and black of so poor”, from the now classic Haiti, not by chance the opening song of the album Tropicalia 2, recorded with the ambition of updating, in that new moment of liberal ascension (1993), the political and cultural issues posed by tropicalismo in the 1960s.[xxxi]

Thus, the Bahian and the Pernambuco people are meat and coconut water from a coconut grove of undoubted elective affinities. The project of approaching the racial question in popular music, one of the themes that grew in tropicalismo, reappeared with force again in this My coconut. Yes, the Bahian composer was arrested and persecuted, while the consecrated “Mestre de Apipucos” supported the dictatorship. Afterwards, dictatorship exhausted, he began to exorbitate in a ludic-fun and good-humored style of vain conversations filled with paradoxes, periphrases and circumlocutions, sometimes not even that funny.

It seems to me that Gilberto Freyre, at this time, intended to face the hamish role of a kind of voice of society towards the regime, and not vice versa. Perhaps more, the role of carrying a diagnosis of a country with excessive ambition to consider itself an intellectual of Brazilian society, even if society was changing and not paying much attention to it. This is where the question of “social democracy” comes in, an expression that, certainly not by chance, José Sarney rescued to name the party of the regime (PDS) that succeeded the decayed Arena.

Here it is worth correcting a small error that could become huge. It is important to note that Gilberto Freyre did not originally create the term racial democracy – the baptismal font fell to foreign authors such as Charles Wagley and later Roger Bastide. However, it is correct to say that the term inhabits in nuce in the implications of his writings regarding the present and the future of Brazil. In the conferences collected in Interpretation of Brazil, he describes an ethnic democracy or a social democracy.[xxxii]

In Gilberto Freyre's interpretation, Brazilian social democracy left something to be desired in terms of economic and political democracy. A very topical issue in the national debate today, Gilberto Freyre wrote that Brazil was undergoing an optimistic transformation in the sense of constituting a meta-racial structure, a “beyond-race” similar to the foresight of “amalgamation”, proposed by José Bonifácio, between blacks and other peoples present in Brazil. In terms of tropicalistas, the song that best expresses the Bonifacian “amalgam” project, Others saw, is not by Caetano, but by Jorge Mautner and Gilberto Gil – “What Walt Whitman saw / Mayakovsky saw / Others saw it too / That humanity is coming / Reborn in Brazil!”[xxxv]

Gilberto Freyre was far from a puritan who went to study in the United States very young (he really wasn't a puritan) fixated on maintaining patriarchy. He recognized the decay of patriarchy and the assumption and legitimacy of new family arrangements. For him, the mission of the military regime in the present, as well as that of a future liberal democracy, should be to equalize the fullness of basic social coexistence (which never existed in Brazil, and this is one of the great errors in his diagnosis), aiming at overcome incompleteness and distortions embodied in the economic regime and political institutions.

To this end – an important issue to consider in this diagnosis –, the possibility of the military fulfilling, in certain transitional situations, a proactive role. It is always a case of imagining how Gilberto Freyre would see today the cult of ignorance of Jair Bolsonaro and deplorable figures such as General Eduardo Pazuello. More: is there proactive meaning in a “transition” to fascism? [xxxiv]

The sociologist-anthropologist from Pernambuco intended to play the role of a kind of tertium non datur between the two most influential currents of the dictatorship. On the one hand, we had the reactionaries responsible for the regressive cultural and moral war of Febeapá (Festival de Nonsense that Raises the Country) – who again came out of the closet now under Jair Bolsonaro – and the ordoliberal developmentalist technocrats, represented by Roberto Campos and Octávio Gouveia from Bulhão.

The autobiographies of Francisco de Oliveira – Bride of the Revolution[xxxiv] – and Celso Furtado – The Organized Fantasy[xxxviii] – prove in several episodes the ill will and malaise of Gilberto Freyre, invested in the position of member of the Deliberative Council, with the regional renewal impulse of the SUDENE Project. The explanation of the two great northeastern progressive intellectuals is similar: the ill will is the result of Freyre's relations with the troubled oligarchies. Correct. There was, however, one more ingredient, finally clarified in Freyre's thinking during the dictatorship period: Celso Furtado's planning, with a “leftist” ideological sign, was seen as a relative, dissident as it may be, but a relative, from the same genealogical tree of the mandarin technocrats of the dictatorship's economic policy.

In this aspect, the gait freyreana resembles the vision of Alexis de Tocqueville (Meneses, 2004) – especially in the well-known freyrean exegesis of “balance of antagonisms” as the model of political relations in Brazilian civilization. The “balance of antagonisms” is undoubtedly reminiscent of the Tocquevillian political vision, much later criticized by Gramsci with regard to the Italian liberals.[xxxviii]

For me, the person who best defined the “balance of antagonisms” politically and philosophically was Antonio Gramsci: it is always a kind of dialectic without synthesis, an eternal rink of a struggle that never ends, an eternal struggle for mastery of the Lord that does not overcome, in order to for himself and for the other, the Slave's domination, although he may make concessions. In decanting and praising the “balance of antagonisms” as an “action program”, and not simply as a “criterion of historical interpretation”, the two intellectuals, the Brazilian and the French, knew that the old Norman feudal aristocracy and the Pernambuco sugarocracy they would not reenact the old glories, as in fact they never returned, in our case, to the center of the Brazilian power bloc. Tocqueville and Freyre, on the other hand, were committed to finding a space for cultural permanence in the new compromise for aristocratic values, which both considered morally enduring.

In his own way and at his own pace, Gilberto Freyre was not a reactionary who purely and simply did not accept social transformation. Furthermore – as I proposed in the comparison with Tocqueville – he was aware that transformations are inevitable. But he proposed that the transformation go “beyond just the modern”, that is, the transformation, in short, the modernization, should not be exclusively dictated by the “cold” type of economic planning in vogue of the technocracy. For him, a historical antecedent of technocracy in Brazil was rooted in what it seemed to want to avoid, the ancient and ancestral baccalaureate language of the formalist legal standard.

In this sense, it is worth repeating once again that the “nostalgic realism” of the diagnosis of inevitability exuded the boy who missed the mill. This unusual conservative sensibility made it possible to anticipate the “crisis of the paradigms of the social sciences” and the assumption of “postmodern social science”. Yes, the “Mestre de Apipucos”, from the outskirts of Pernambuco to the world, was one of the pioneers in the problematic of the postmodern,[xxxix] including in a sense that later became a common mannerism – the critical key to proposing a fusion and bricolage of the boundaries between scientific discourse and literary narrative, a meta-history, in Gilberto Freyre in the ingenious form of a history of the politicized mentalities of the sugarocracy of the northeastern coast.

Contemporary Brazil has moved away from the sensibility of this Freyrean utopia (the work of Darcy Ribeiro, much more to the left, can also be included in this list). For him, Brazil's roots were Iberian and Catholic, and it was these roots that gave support to a project of inclusive miscegenation. This interpretation, by the way, was already very powerful and hegemonic in the country, it formed the bases of the Varguista project and of cultural offspring, among which one of the most illustrious is the mainstream of MPB – to which Caetano and Gil are affiliated.

It is worth mentioning, as this is of capital importance, that Gilberto Freyre's project, always in search of a “tropical China”, is viscerally anti-Fordist and anti-Americanist. [xl] In this respect, the title of the book by Maria Lúcia Garcia Pallares-Burke, which paints Gilberto Freyre as “a Victorian in the tropics” is misleading and may lead to a gross error (only the reading and influence on Gilberto Freyre of English literature, an aspect exaggerated stylistic importance leads the author to error).[xi] Looking at Brazil today, although the old peripheral Fordism (the form of infrastructure of Americanism) is outdated as a form of work organization, on the other hand, the country Americanized too much and Iberized too little. The country is today less Catholic and more neo-Pentecostal. MPB lost its hegemony in culture, it became one more aspect of mass music culture – and not “the” aspect –, competing to conquer a place in the sun with so many others.

Always remembering, MPB, and the nascent Americanist-Fordist cultural industry that supported it in the recent past, emerged, along with literature, cinema, architecture, cinema, etc., as an aesthetic fraction of the aesthetic block of 1930. In fact, in this temporality, the discussion of MPB's “evolutionary line” made some sense. From the rest of the dictatorship onwards (1985), there was a change in the social key. The aesthetic block dispersed and dismantled. Naked and crudely, it was discharged first of all by virtue of overcoming the historic bloc. The MPB artists who emerged in the last decade of the XNUMXth century (the decade in which FHC announced the end of the “Era Vargas”), Lenine, Marisa Monte, Adriana Calcanhoto and Chico César, etc., represent both the creative force and the swan song of an aesthetic block glued to a compact historic block. It is necessary not to confuse MPB and music. It continues, obviously indestructible, the polyphonic diversity of sounds, rhythms and poetry of music in Brazil and Brazilian music.

A sign of the times, listening to music has changed in Brazil and around the world, both from the point of view of the support (internet) and the content of social enjoyment. I suggest, in this regard, reading the reports, based on two detailed field surveys, Very popular Brazilian music[xliii] and Brazilians are the ones who listen to their own music the most among all countries.[xiii] Even if Brazilians are the ones who listen to the country's music the most, MPB does not have – it once had – the aggregating force of the main vein of the cultural industry. It continues to have its space, it's true. See: according to research data, MPB fans are concentrated in capitals and coastal cities.

It became, from an aggregation pole of an aesthetic block, into a constant genre on the menu of competing musical styles, on the gondolas of musical markets segmented by class and region. With the exception of a few artists, who can be counted on one hand, MPB has withdrawn from the crowds of stadiums and gyms (territories par excellence for the sertanejos), equidistant from theaters and concert halls. A new concertist tradition was created: the encounters and reunions of eternal friendships on stage. New friendships are rarer, new and old styles barely communicate, mimicking the behavior of internet bubbles. This explains the fact that many listeners of the “MPB bubble” never heard, before their death, the name of the most played singer on radio and internet in the country, Marília Mendonça from Goiás. Caetano Veloso's strategy constantly sought to break these bubbles, in an action of sheltering these new things in the welcoming maternal bed of our MPB things.

The Freyrean matrix reappears described in one of the most important songs by Caetano Veloso on the racial issue as the experience of an agonizing dilemma, the racial condition in Brazil is seen as a tragic impasse that needs urgent social resolution, however this resolution path is adopted by via an alien discourse. It will be? Pay attention to the lyrics of the song The hero, last track on the disc You (2007). It shines in this tormenting hero yet another (un)recognized reincarnation of the dialectic without Brazilian synthesis.

Caetano Veloso writes the following in the lyrics about the impasse of the protagonist, an oppressed young black man from the outskirts of a large Brazilian city, between two conflicting sensibilities in the ways of facing the racial issue: “I want to be 100% black, American / South African, everything except the saint / That the breeze from Brazil, fights and sways / (…) I saw that my drawing of me / It is just like it / The character I always imagined / I would look / With total disdain / But it is not like that with me / It is as if in full spiritual glory / I say: / I am the cordial man / Who came to establish racial democracy.”[xiv]

In a recent interview celebrating eighty years, Caetano Veloso states that the myth of “racial democracy”, despite everything “what was discussed about Casa Grande and Senzala, the reaction against Gilberto Freyre and that nickname of “racial democracy”, which became a very attacked expression. For me, it didn't work very well, because I think that democracy short, not racial democracy, it is a myth, but 'the myth is the nothing that is everything'. It is not because it is a myth that you despise the idea of ​​racial democracy”.[xlv]

Caetano Veloso added, within the scope of the messianic and tropical paradigm of the utopia of a Brazilian civilization, the utopian and messianic contribution of the anti-liberal or illiberal Sebastianism of the Iberian-Catholic Espírito Santo of Agostinho da Silva (by the way, one of the first foreign professors in the founding of the Department UFPB History, in 1953), which, in turn, goes back to a very particular reading of Father Vieira and Fernando Pessoa.[xlv]

*Jaldes Meneses He is a professor at the Department of History at UFPB..


[I] BANDEIRA, Manuel. Absolute death. In: BANDEIRA, Manuel. Star of the whole life (collected poems). Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio (11th ed.), 1986, p. 140.

[ii] Caetano Veloso, Sugar Cane Fields Forever. In: Araçá Azul, 1973. Available in:

[iii] VELOSO, Caetano. Meu coco (complete album), 2021. Available at:

[iv] VELOSO, Caetano. Letters. Org. Eucanaã Ferraz. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2022.

[v] NAVES, Santuza Cambraia. Popular song in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 2010.

[vi] VELOSO, Caetano. While your wolf does not come (song). Available in:

[vii] VELOSO, Caetano. Lindonéia (song). Available in:

[viii] VELOSO, Caetano et al. Tropicália or Panis et Circensis (song). Available:

[ix] Post on Instagran by Caetano Veloso, published on 13/6/2022. Available in:

[X] CICERO, Antonio. Endless purposes. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005, p. 72.

[xi] Interview by Caetano Veloso to Nelson Motta on the Amazon Music channel on 11/11/2021. Available in:

[xii] VELOSO, Caetano. A communist (song). Available in:

[xiii] VELOSO, Caetano. Tropical truth. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 427.

[xiv] VELOSO, Caetano. Rock 'n' Raul (song). Available in:–nNJJo.

[xv] SCHWARZ, Robert. Martinha versus Lucrécia (essays and interviews). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012, p. 52-110.  

[xvi] VELOSO, Caetano. “Interview with Pedro Bial”, on 4/9/2020. Available in:

[xvii] HUNTINGTON, Samuel P. The clash of civilizations and the recomposition of the world order. Rio de Janeiro: Objective, 2010.

[xviii] VELOSO, Caetano. Tropical Truth. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 498.

[xx] VELOSO, Caetano. Circuladô (album). Available in:

[xx] VELOSO, Caetano. Tropical Truth. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 495-510.

[xxx] LOYAL, Claudio. “Caetano Veloso attacks Bolsonaro and celebrates carnal loves in his new album”, in: Folha de Sao Paulo, 22/10/2021. Available in:

[xxiii] FREYRE, Gilberto. Tropical China – and other writings on the influence of the Orient on Luso-Brazilian culture. São Paulo: Global (2nd ed.), 2011.

[xxiii] ANDERSON, Perry. Portugal and the end of ultracolonialism. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1966.

[xxv] ANDERSON, Perry. Brazil Apart (1964-2019). São Paulo: Boitempo, 2020, p. 11-12.

[xxiv] Sergio Buarque from Holland, General History of Brazilian Civilization (Book First). Rio de Janeiro, Bertrand Brasil (19th ed.), 2011, p. 14.  

[xxv] SCHWARZ, Robert. The father of the family and other studies. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras (2nd ed.), 2008, p. 70-111.

[xxviii] An important regional issue. It caught my attention that Pernambuco’s tropicalism was born in strong critical opposition to Gilberto Freyre’s studies of tropicology, his deleterious role in collaboration with the military during the dictatorship and the iron status of Pernambuco culture, exercised year after year with pleasure by the “Master of Apipucos”. These are well-known issues, which do not invalidate the reception of Freyre's ideas, certainly praised by Caetano and even Darcy Ribeiro.

[xxviii] FREYRE, Gilberto. Meetings (interviews). Org. Sergio Cohn. Rio de Janeiro: Azouge, p. 135.

[xxix] VELOSO, Caetano. “'Racial democracy' rhymes with 'cordial man''', Folha de São Paulo, 10/6/2006. Available in:

[xxx] VELOSO, Caetano. “Caetano Veloso is verb and adjective”, Cult Magazine, 30/5/2009. Available in: .

[xxxii] VELOSO, Caetano. Northern Night (album). Available in:

[xxxi] VELOSO, Caetano & GIL, Gilberto. Tropicália 2 (album). Available at: .

[xxxii] FREYRE, Gilberto. Interpretation of Brazil (aspects of the Brazilian social formation such as the blending of races and cultures. São Paulo: Global, 2015, p. 160.

[xxxv] MAUTNER, George. Others saw (song). Available in:

[xxxiv] FREYRE, Gilberto. Nation and army. Rio de Janeiro: Bibliex (2nd ed.), 2019.

[xxxiv] OLIVEIRA, Francis. Bride of the Revolution/Elegy for a re(li)region. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2008, p. 75.

[xxxviii] FURTADO, Celso. the fantasy undone. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1989, p. 179.

[xxxviii] MENESES, Jaldes. Gramsci and Tocqueville – 80th century historiography and the concept of passive revolution. Social Service and Society, São Paulo, v. 2004, 147, p. 159-XNUMX.

[xxxix] FREYRE, Gilberto. Beyond just the modern (suggestions around possible futures for man, in general, and Brazilian man, in particular). Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1973.

[xl] FREYRE, Gilberto. Americanity and Latinity of Latin America and other related texts. Brasília: UnB, 2003.

[xi] PALLARES-BURKE, Maria Lucia Garcia. Gilberto Freyre – a Victorian in the tropics. São Paulo: Unesp, 2005.

[xliii] “Very popular Brazilian music”, Pesquisa DeltaFolha, in: Folha de São Paulo, 15/12/2021. Available in:

[xiii] BRÊDA, Lucas. “Brazilians are the ones who listen to their own music the most among all countries”, Pesquisa DeltaFolha, In: Folha de S. Paulo, 14/10/2019.

[xiv] Caetano Veloso. The hero (song). Available in:

[xlv] “The idea of ​​racial democracy should not be despised, says Caetano.” Interview with Claudio Leal, in: Folha de S. Paulo, 6/8/2022. Available in:

[xlv] For Caetano, Agostinho was my teacher… “the rejection of liberal economics is a dogmatic point in the system of the Portuguese teacher” Agostinho da Silva. In: Caetano Veloso, The Paradox of Moderation, Four, Five, One (the book review), 01/10/202. Available in:


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