When the Summer Olympics open Friday in Rio de Janeiro, ceremony organizers will showcase not just world class athletes but also three musical ambassadors. The artists will no doubt attempt, in a few brief moments, to convey Brazil’s overwhelming musical bounty.
It’s an impossible assignment for any artist, but if anyone is up to the task it’s veteran musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
The pair, who rose as part of Rio’s influential tropicália movement of the 1960s and 1970s, are expected to perform music that not only played a role in shaping that sound but that in 1968 also scored a revolutionary moment in Brazil’s history. Ultimately, it resulted in the two being exiled from the country.
Nearly 50 years later, the pair will appear as part of a ceremony that also includes contemporary Brazilian pop superstar Anitta, whose buoyant sounds draw from the beats of Rio’s poverty-stricken favelas.
Most casual American listeners know Brazil’s music from one of two sources. The beat-heavy capoeira rhythms are the soundtrack of Carnival and are featured on pretty much any TV segment on the annual celebration.
Or the softer, romantic bossa novas as typified by Antonio Carlos Jobim. He became an unlikely crossover sensation when his “Girl From Ipanema” won the 1964 record of the year Grammy after seductive Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto teamed with saxophonist Stan Getz to cover it.
Veloso and Gil, who recently performed at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, are inheritors of that bossa nova sound, but starting in the 1960s, they became involved in a stylistic tropicalismo movement that drew inspiration from the sounds of their home country, the rock ’n’ roll revolution ferried by the Beatles and student protests that rocked Paris in May 1968.
In Rio, the two teamed with kindred spirits Os Mutantes, Tom Zé and Gal Costa to record a groundbreaking 1968 album, “Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis,” while simultaneously taking the music to the masses via outrageous concerts. Brazil at the time was under military rule, and the dictatorship felt so threatened by the new music that it arrested and jailed Gil and Veloso.
“The military wanted us to leave the country,” Veloso told the Guardian in 2010. “They let us play a concert to raise money for a plane ticket.”
After spending a few months in jail, the musicians were exiled to London until 1974; since then, they have been lauded as both musical patriots and ambassadors. In America, their contributions were most famously celebrated in a series of David Byrne-curated compilations under the banner “Brazil Classics.”
Which is to say, it’s a big deal that the two former exiles will not only be on hand to celebrate Brazil but will also be doing so from center stage.
As in any country with a rich musical heritage, the web that connects that sound with the contemporary pop music created by Anitta is as tangled as that connecting Bob Dylan with Katy Perry.
Anitta draws her work from a mix of influences that include commercial pop, hip-hop, cumbia, Jamaican reggaeton and dancehall, as well as Miami bass music and various Caribbean variations. Most notably, she takes inspiration from a distilled version of a Brazilian sound known variously as funk carioca, favela funk or baile funk.
The artist rose to prominence after being featured as part of the “Furacão 2000” compilations that highlighted the best funk carioca tracks. Featuring crazy synthetic sounds and exuberant beats, the music was born in the underground and gradually morphed into the mainstream-friendly version that Anitta and her group of producers have popularized.
Her most popular track is “Bang,” which has received more than 216 million spins on YouTube since it was released in October. Her 2013 cut “Show das Poderosas” has been played more than 120 million times since its release.
Expect her Friday performance to add fuel to her fame.
There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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