Remembering 1969, Part 2: The View from Brazil

Note: Part 1 is here.

While anti-Vietnam protests escalated in both sides of the Atlantic , the scenario was quite different in Brazil: in March 1964, a military junta toppled democratically elected president João Goulart and installed a cruel dictatorship that stayed in power for two decades - in 1968, the government enacted AI-5, a unilateral executive act that gave it unlimited powers to arrest anyone suspected of "subversive" behavior without any kind of warrant or explanation.

In December 1968, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were arrested at their homes in Sao Paulo, and were taken to a jail in Rio de Janeiro, where they remained for three months plus another six under house arrest. None of this was made public then, and during the period in house arrest in their native Bahia, they were both allowed to record new albums under the production of maestro Rogerio Duprat.

Veloso's self-titled disc, also known as his "White Album," included gems like the festive "Atras do Trio Eletrico" ("Behind the Electric Trio," a tune intended for the period of Carnaval), the melancholy English-language "Lost In Paradise" and also "Nao Identificado" ("Unidentified"), a thinly veiled warning about the ongoing fight for political freedom.

Gil, however, used the prison experience to study philosophy and meditation - and the songs on his Cerebro Eletronico ("Electronic Brain") reflect that. The disc is filled with musical experimentation, distorted guitars and extraneous sounds, and did well commercially thanks to "Aquele Abraço" ("A Big Hug"), a cheerful salute to Rio de Janeiro.

By the time both albums came out in August 1969, both artists were already living in exile in London, where they remained until 1972. Their departure marked the end of the Tropicalismo movement, Brazil's response to the psychedelics in Europe and the U.S. But before that, Os Mutantes released their sophomore disc, their first that included (save for one track) material solely written by the group.

Stay tuned for part 3 Friday.

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Ernest Barteldes