Veloso smoothly blends global poetry of song

Special to The Times

Caetano Veloso has been a significant presence in Brazilian music since the ‘60s, when he, Gilberto Gil and others were the driving forces behind the influential Tropicalia movement.

The perspective he brought to that movement -- a view broad enough to embrace the multiplicity of new ideas coursing through the international creative world at the time -- has continued to be his primary focus ever since.

Veloso’s performance Wednesday at UCLA’s Royce Hall displayed the latest chapter in his continuing quest to make imaginative diversity the primary engine of his musical progress. The program largely focused on material from his album “A Foreign Sound,” a far-ranging collection of American pop songs sung in English.


The material reached from such Great American Songbook standards as “So in Love” to Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy.” In a few cases, Veloso juxtaposed his Portuguese songs against the American standards.

The question of language, of why he chose to record and perform in English -- and, at one point, in Spanish -- was addressed by Veloso several times during his set. Describing Portuguese as a “ghetto language,” he suggested that performing in either of those other languages might have had a more salutary effect upon his career. But he also added, in characteristically sardonic fashion, that the important thing was that the music should be “wonderful.”

For the most part, it was. Veloso’s skills as both guitarist and singer are relatively modest. But what he does with both -- and especially with his wide vocal range -- is extraordinary, singing like the poet that he is, finding the inseparable blend of words and music that is the essence of popular song.

Bringing those interpretive powers to the pop standards simultaneously brought new life to familiar material, while revealing the many historical currents that have flowed through his music from its beginnings.