The brilliant Brazilian singer, songwriter and political activist Caetano Veloso will turn 80 in August, and given his stature, influence and shimmering output over the past 60-plus years, we should be celebrating his life at every opportunity. An international treasure, across his vast career Veloso has collaborated with many of the musicians he ran with as part of the late 1960s Tropicalismo movement, which helped birth a new Brazilian sound, including Gilberto Gil, Cal Costa, Os Mutatantes and Jorge Ben.
Veloso’s rise came at an incendiary moment for Brazil. In the mid-1960s, a military coup upended the country’s politics and within a few years its leaders were cracking down on left-leaning artists, writers, and musicians. Veloso and Gil were arrested and jailed for three months in 1969, then were placed under house arrest before eventually being released and exiled. Both spent the next few years in London.
Predictably, their exile only raised their international profile; as they performed across Europe they developed a new fanbase. And when the two were allowed to return to Brazil in 1972, they returned as conquering heroes.
Veloso has been remarkably prolific since then. Consistently pushing at the edges of music, his contemporary work, released by the great Nonesuch in the U.S., sounds like it was created by a brash young upstart with a vision of how the future will sound.
It doesn’t hurt that Veloso has charisma to burn; handsome, witty and with deep, focused eyes, as a performer he’s a thrill to watch. Below, a few choice performances to illustrate the point.
Here’s Veloso performing “Asa Branca” on French television in 1972, shortly before he returned to Brazil.
As if to signify the comfort of returning to his home company, Veloso in this 1973 three-song performance relaxes on a porch and woos the world. Note the sound of screaming kids playing in the background. Songs: ‘Adeus meu Santo Amaro,’ ‘Coração vagabundo,’ and ‘ Na minha rua … ‘
Filmed in Brazil, this hour-long televised concert features Veloso and band going thrillingly electric in 1980. His formerly wild nest of hair has been trimmed, he’s found a rad new earring and apparently borrowed a little girl’s red hat. He’s also rediscovered groove music and amplified big-band bossa nova.
Here’s Veloso covering Michael Jackson and the Beatles in an updated clip that appears to be in the mid-to-late 1980s.
In 1999, Veloso was invited by Brazilian bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto to join him onstage. The result was a convergence of geniuses – Veloso’s main inspiration as a young songwriter was Gilberto – that thrilled the whole of Brazil.
David Byrne launched a boutique label, Luaka Bop, through his then-label Warner Bros in 1989. His first release was a masterpiece that helped introduce Brazilian tropicalia music to American audiences. Called Brazil Classics Vol. 1: Beleza Tropical, the collection featured selections from Veloso, Gil, Costa, Ben, Veloso’s sister Maria Bethânia, Tom Zé, Milton Nascimento and others. A classic album, the release also resulted in Veloso and Byrne developing a decades long friendship and creative partnership. Here the pair do the Talking Heads song “(Nothing But) Flowers.”