Tropicália vs. The Military Establishment

In Wednesday’s article I mentioned at least a dozen musicians who also use their platform as political activists. Another of these such leaders is Caetano Veloso: Brazilian composer, singer, guitarist, and prominent figure in the anti-establishment Tropicália movement of the 1960s. Veloso and his fellow Tropicalistas were highly influenced by the Beatles and the psychedelic movement of that time, and infused these Western sounds and revolutionary ideologies into traditional Brazilian musical expressions — but not without consequence.

Veloso’s 1968 album Tropicalia: ou Panis et Circencis, which he created alongside fellow Brazilian Tropicalista Gilberto Gil, was musically and lyrically anarchistic and anti-authoritarian, expressing criticism of the coup d’etat of 1964 and the military junta that ruled Brazil during this period. Veloso and Gil were subsequently censored and repressed by the leftist government and their followers, who were strongly nationalistic and rejected any non-traditional cultural expression — anything that they perceived as corrupted by Western capitalist popular culture.

In September 1968, tensions erupted between the Tropicalistas and the Marxist-influenced student left, when Veloso came onstage at the third annual International Song Festival dressed in bright green plastic, wrapped with electrical wires and necklaces strung with animal teeth. The effect of these outlandish costumes worn by Veloso and his backing band, Os Mutantes, was made even more unbearable to the leftist audience when the musicians began to play extremely loud psychedelic music, Veloso taunting the audience with overtly sexual gestures. The crowd exploded in anger and protest. Only a few days later, the ensemble performed again to an even more furious audience, who began to throw fruit, vegetables, eggs, and paper balls at the performers. Before Veloso stopped the show and left the stage, he gave an vehement improvised speech denouncing the students’ cultural conservatism.

A few months later, in February 1969, Veloso and Gil were imprisoned by the military government and subsequently forced to seek exile in London, where they lived until their 1972 return to Brazil. Some Tropicalistas were not as fortunate, and were forced to undergo torture and psychiatric “care”. Military governments and totalitarian dictatorships have always feared and punished those who demonstrate musical freedom, as it is a strongly influential public subversion of the nationalist establishment. China once outlawed Beethoven. Nazi Germany condemned “Jewish music”. In 2005, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad banned western music from state radio and TV stations. In 2012, Islamic extremists who had seized northern Mali imposed a ban on secular music. However, whenever or wherever this happens, musicians cannot be stopped — they may be forced into the underground to protect the safety of themselves and their families — but many great heroes step out under the stage lights, and with great courage, fuel the anti-establishment uprising with their instruments.


Now I will play “Tempestades Solares” by Caetano Veloso:


[jwplayer TTU0wD9J]



Photo By Artyominc (Template:Artyom Sharbatyan) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (]