Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture

Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture

Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture

Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture


In the late 1960s, Brazilian artists forged a watershed cultural movement known as Tropicalia. Music inspired by that movement is today enjoying considerable attention at home and abroad. Few new listeners, however, make the connection between this music and the circumstances surrounding its creation, the most violent and repressive days of the military regime that governed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. With key manifestations in theater, cinema, visual arts, literature, and especially popular music, Tropicalia dynamically articulated the conflicts and aspirations of a generation of young, urban Brazilians.

Focusing on a group of musicians from Bahia, an impoverished state in northeastern Brazil noted for its vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, Christopher Dunn reveals how artists including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Tom Ze created this movement together with the musical and poetic vanguards of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most modern and industrialized city. He shows how the tropicalists selectively appropriated and parodied cultural practices from Brazil and abroad in order to expose the fissure between their nation's idealized image as a peaceful tropical "garden" and the daily brutality visited upon its citizens.


Every cultural complex has specific forms of consecration and adulation for its artistic luminaries. For Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso, perhaps the supreme moment of popular and official canonization came on February 20,1998, as he surveyed a crowd of five thousand carnival celebrants in Salvador, Bahia, while he was perched on top of a trio eletrico, a moving soundstage that transports electric dance bands through the city's streets. Since the early 1970s, he has made annual guest appearances on trios eletricos on the morning of Ash Wednesday to perform his songs that have become standards of the Bahian carnival repertoire.

This time, however, Veloso was there to receive the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the Federal University of Bahia for the “grandiosity of his oeuvre and his renowned wisdom.” in the past, the university had awarded the title to famous Bahian artists like novelist Jorge Amado, composer Dorival Caymmi, and filmmaker Glauber Rocha, but this was the first time the title had been conferred in the streets during carnival. For the rector of the university, it was a democratic gesture: “We want to integrate the university into society. For this reason we opted to pay homage to Caetano in the streets, together with the people celebrating carnival.” Despite some editorial grumbling that the ceremony made the university look ridiculous, the event was a public relations success for the institution and its honored guest, an artist who has been at the forefront of musical innovation and cultural transformation since the late 1960s. As the carnival ceremony would suggest, Veloso is an artist who enjoys mass popularity as well as critical acclaim among intellectuals.

Veloso came to national attention together with Gilberto Gil, his friend and colleague from the University of Bahia, as leading figures of Tropicália, a short-lived but high-impact cultural movement that coalesced in 1968. They worked collectively with other artists from Salvador, including vocalist Gal Costa, singer-songwriter Tom Zé, and poets Torquato Neto and José Carlos . . .

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