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On Tropicalism and the Tribalists - II On Tropicalism and the Tribalists - II
by Alexandra Pereira
2009-10-15 14:30:24
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First of all, I think that we should not make - as many ignorant critics tend to make - a direct equivalence between the movement of MPB (what Brazilians call 'Brazilian Popular Music') and Pop as we know it in the US or Europe. As I told you before, forget your frames of reference, throw your preconceived ideas away. The only thing that MPB has to do with Pop is that masses adhere to it (you should remember that the State of Bahia is the size of France, while Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo have more inhabitants than the UK), and eventually certain streams of MPB developed some Euro-American Pop concepts in musical or poetical ways (more complex ways than the ones we know in Europe or the US, by the way, and that is worth to mention). But MPB includes musicians who develop experimentalist aspects (among which was/is Tropicalism and are the Tribalists), indie, bossa nova and post-bossa-nova, fusion, urban and folk, samba and samba-cancao, jazz, chorinho, blues, pop-rock, more regional forms of brazilian music, influences from other south-american countries, african influences, european-american influences, asian and arab ones, indigenous, etc - and MPB spreads through the exploration not just of distinct musical backgrounds, but also of different visual arts movements, poetry, culture and history, philosophy, anthropology, theatre, religion, cinema, multiculturalism, politics. The reason why MPB, and Tropicalism in particular, are/were so successful is because the first is tremendously rich and the second was tremendously inventive and syncretic. In this sense, Tropicalism represented the depurated pearl, the most essential foam, of MPB: a hyper-syncretism, the movement-son of concretist poetry (which included many poets, not just Oswald de Andrade, a partner of the painter Tarsila do Amaral), but with many different 'parent-influences' in any case (including the music of Joao Gilberto, a reference for both Caetano and Gil, founders of Tropicalia, named after a visual artwork by Oiticica). 

caetano_e_banda__0404_400Caetano is a genius of image and rhythm: be it as a musician, a poet or a visual artist. He is also very humble, viscerally free and an extremely sensible human being. And he is the main brain behind Tropicalism, together with his life-long friend the musician Gilberto Gil, who brought some seminal ideas to Tropicalism after spending some time in the Brazilian city of Recife, telling about his experiences and cultural exchanges with common people and the intellectual circles over there. The 'pop' label is pretty much inadequate, at least considering the way how Americans and Europeans understand 'pop'. So forget Pop as you know it, forget your frames of reference, throw your preconceived ideas away. Brazil is not the poor double of the US, nor is it an Atlantic mirror for passé Colonialisms. Brazil´s cultural life is something totally different and original. One’s concepts are not mirrored, they are turned upside-down, shaken, filtered of accuracy and invention and enriched with a million innovative concepts more, often so crucial and relevant that they take the center stage and make the little concepts which one took over there look disastrous, if not totally obsolete. The truth is that Brazil has all the conditions to become a cultural potency, not merely an emergent market. All this among ‘the clash between the blue and the cluster of acacia flowers’, among ‘the most beautiful thing which could happen to the yellow colour – to stand between the emerald waves and the black colour of her skin’. Stressing the strength of synchronic vision and the overcoming of the opposition center-periphery’ (and that includes global polarities), in Tropical Truth (1997), Caetano defines his affinities with the Brazilian concrete poets like this: 'Thus in the "disperse family" of poets "swimming/waving" in the synchronous space-time, the concretes stress the names of those who represent the defence of the lucidity of language - poets "of the code" before they were "poets of the message" - those who, in the words of Augusto, 'fought under a radical flag and motto - invention and accuracy'.’ But as I wrote before the Brazilian concretes (with no equivalent in the concretes elsewhere, by the way) were just one of the influences, among others.

I remember a conversation I had with Augusto in Amaralina in the early '70s, during which I was exposing the, for me, impressive reasonings of Levi-Strauss against atonal, concrete or dodecaphonic music, on the overture of Le cru et le cuit. Augusto, though following with interest and admiration the intelligence of the arguments, answered impassively, 'All these things are very well thought out, but who decides what is best for music are the best musicians. There is always something that is only noticeable for those who have their hands on the dough.'– Tropical Truth

The Generation of the Tribalists

The Tropicalist sounds became the soundtrack of millions of lives, of the generations who grew up with them – in Africa, in Europe and the US or Asia, as well as South America. So how can one go against the Tribalists’ conviction that the whole world is a tribe, a deeply connected web, and our modern cities with their urban tribes can be a gathering place, a beautiful and creative one, for different human types?

The global tribe conscience is well expressed in the words of Caetano during a press conference introducing his latest album ‘Zii e Zie’ (Italian title inspired by a book of Orhan Pamuk, with a Lomo cover), together with the band which has been part of his two more recent projects, Banda Cê (Cê means ‘C’ – for Caetano, ‘Cantar’=To Sing, Courage, Commitment, To Create, etc. – or ‘You’):

the_tribalists_400‘Pedro brought to me these two boys who were 26 year-olds at the time, and I… he could have brought somebody who was 45, 52 or 17, but he brought these, who were 26 back then. If the subject had 52 and the musical result was as limpid as this, I would be equally happy, you see? Now the fact that they were 26 at the time and are now 29-28 year-olds makes them have something which is different, even from the generation of Pedro, which is more like that than mine, which is an amplitude of interests in music which was not common in past times. For example, younger people would often think that jazz was for older audiences and not know anything about it, or wouldn’t want to know anything about MPB either. They wouldn’t have interest in all musical areas. And these two boys, for example, they have interest in all areas, you see? All the areas. And much culture. They heard many things, with much interest. They looked for vinyls, it is a generation much like this... This is a thing, a mark… which is international. It is something international. They research on the internet, they look in the archives of discs. These people of this generation are very much like that. So this thing about the age turned less important, unless for the fact that we took these as advantages. I also have advantages for being old: I count for example ‘Tom Jobim once told this when I was doing that’, some concrete experience that I tell for them and which gives them a proximity, an experiential sense of things that if I wasn’t old they wouldn’t have. So there’s also that. The capacity to understand what I was saying and to interpret what I was planning was immense in ‘all them both’. We would leave for the rehearsals andthe_tribalists_ii_400 there the creation of the sounds that I was imagining was like… I am going to say immediate. Either in ‘Cê’ or ‘Zii e Zie’ we didn’t have incomprehension moments, of playing one thing but in fact the other wanted another one and doesn’t know where to find it, and it takes time – that’s something which happens very frequently in bands. In ours it didn’t happen, that’s the pure and naked truth – and it really represents a more limpid level of communication’.

In this album, Caetano and Banda Cê create what Caetano calls ‘Transsambas’, a transgression of heritage with indie flavour. In the end, what the generation of the Tribalists explores, as a generation (or on a broader level than before), departed more or less from what the Tropicalism group started 40 years ago, with the difference that now it happens on a global and international level. No wonder that Caetano cherishes his young musicians so much and feels such a limpid communication happening, in practice, while working with them. The verb ‘Caetanear’ (literally, ‘Caetano-and-air’, or ‘Caetanandair’) was created as the title of an album and describes Caetano’s creative musical attitude – the generation of the Tribalists whistles and ‘Caetaneia’ (‘Caetan-and-airs’) – sings, creates, researches, plays, combines, experiments – throughout the world.

 

Photo: Caetano Veloso and Banda Cê; The Tribalists

 


 
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Emanuel Paparella2009-10-15 07:23:48
http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10914/Default.aspx

In an essay-review titled Post Darwinism: The New Synthesi, reviewing Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Evolution, by by Scott F. Gilbert and David Epel, (see above link to read the whole article which is a veritable eye-opener) William Grassie makes an interesting and insightful observation which is relevant to the above discussion. Says he: “The image of man affects the nature of man, observed Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel. “We become what we think of ourselves”. We cannot avoid the Naturalistic Fallacy; the only question is how to relate the “Is” and the “Ought.” Let’s be sure we use science to the best of our ability to get the “Is” of nature as accurate as possible, because we will surely morph that “Is” into political economy, social policies, behavioral norms, and child-rearing practices. Gilbert and Epel note that “If we think of ourselves as killer apes, certain behavioral phenotypes are acceptable that would not be socially allowed if we view humans as the current apex of an evolutionary trend towards cooperation”.


ap2009-10-15 14:36:41
I'm all in favour of viewing humans as the current apex of an evolutionary trend towards cooperation, but Mr. Paparella, you know perfectly that apes cannot kill with words, instigate pain using verbal attacks, condition to pain through manipulations, 'make us think of ourselves something we are not, in order to make us become something we don't want to', and humans can. They not only can, as they do so, and other humans allow that, most humans in fact. Maybe I'm an ape.


Emanuel Paparella2009-10-15 15:27:43
Indeed, Ms. Pereira, the whole premise of Desmond Morris’ “The Naked Ape” is that our humanity can be reduced to that of an advanced ape and that the most advanced of the naked apes is the Anglo-Saxon specie. That theory, which is the other side of the coin of tribalism and the Rousseaunian noble savage, is so popular within a mechanistic materailistic explanation of the nature of the human that it was even made into a movie in 1973.

I suspect though that Rabbi Heschel and Aristotle have it more on target when they, as advanced apes, postutlated a soul: maybe we are a bit less than angels since we are endowed with an intellect and a priceless soul. Part of that endowment is the distinguishing between sophistry and verbal attack and the search for truth, something that is different from the search for fire or the search for the perfect weapon...


Emanuel Paparella2009-10-15 16:09:30
P.S. Indeed, after viewing Annaud's film "Quest for Fire" I better understood how misguided is Morris's "naked ape" and realized that the ape is naked in more ways than one.


ap2009-10-16 00:22:40
I'm not a regular human Mr. Paparella, so i don't know. My experience with close humans is not normal at any level. Maybe I'm just warning you for deviations, instead of considering what is normal in most humans. A soul can destroy totally another soul, so that must not be enough to be human.


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