At age 72, Caetano Veloso remains a one-of-a-kind figure in popular music. A singer, songwriter, poet, filmmaker, writer and cultural provocateur, Veloso first made his mark in his native Brazil in the late 1960s as one of the leaders of Tropicalia, a movement that embraced an idea they called cultural anthropophagi. Rather than fighting what they saw as expressions of cultural imperialism — whether pop art or rock ’n’ roll — proponents proposed instead to absorb them and spit them out in Brazilian form.
Veloso‘s music has since addressed issues such as national identity and slavery, while embracing conventional pop, samba, bossa nova, hip-hop, reggae and even styles such as tango and bolero.
In his recent albums Cê (2006), Zii e Zie (2009) and the Latin Grammy-winning Abraçaço (2012), with his son Moreno Veloso as co-producer, Veloso took yet another turn by working with rock trio Banda Cê and choosing a jagged, stripped-down sound. In doing so, Veloso seems to have circled back to the in-your-face attitude and urgency of his tropicalista days while continuing to push forward.
The Rhythm Foundation presents Veloso’s final tour with Banda Cê on Saturday at the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. This interview was conducted via email in Spanish.
I started to write songs for this and, at the same time, my 18-year marriage came to an end. The songs became more and more personal, and we decided to make a record with my voice under my name. My son Moreno, who produced the recording, rejected distorting my voice.
Among the bands Pedro and I discussed I should highlight were The Pixies at the BBC. I had great admiration for and interest in Nirvana and the first Arctic Monkeys album. And there is the history of the relationship between tropicalistas and rock and also the Brazilian rock of the ’80s and ’90s. But our true sound was born in rehearsals.
The first rehearsals were a test, to see if the group would fit with my ideas. They not only understood immediately what I was saying, but they also brought ideas to complement my dreams. The change in the content and sound in my music was already in my imagination (and the songs I had written for Cê). The boys made those dreams real and brought change to my change.
But young people identified with it, and the influence of bossa nova reached all social classes, even the “ escolas de samba“ (popular samba schools). It was that cultural violence in bossa nova that the tropicalistas found inspiring.
Today there is too much information, and it’s very difficult to concentrate on this or that figure or group of figures. Hip-hop is a subversive view. James Blake is a musician who brings change. The most recent album by Kanye West is amazingly experimental, which shows you the subversive power of rap. We have Antonio Zambujo, who brought cool to fado. And Pedro Miranda, who brought clean singing to samba carioca. There are many things that challenge conservatism.