The word Tropicália evokes it exactly: a flavoursome Brazilian movement that mixes tradition with popular culture to create something new. Employing the notion of antropofagia, or cannibalism, Brazilian artists in the sixties absorbed elements of local and global culture and formed these into fresh design, art, poetry and music. Denounced as decadent by the military dictatorship of the time, the psychedelic designs and vivid sounds of Tropicália spoke as a voice of dissent against both the Brazilian rule and European post-colonial domination.
Melbourne International Arts Festival includes a double-scoop of Tropicália in this year’s program. A design exhibition at The Narrows concentrates on works by prolific Tropicália artist Rogerio Duarte, whilst ACMI is offering a Tropicália afternoon of film and music this Saturday. Melbourne musicians will perform a re-interpretation of Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis, a collective record fashioned in 1968 by the movement’s musical standard-bearers. The program also involves an interview with Mr. Duarte, as well as the screening of a BBC documentary about Tropicália and Black God/White Devil, a film of Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement that arose in political parallel to Tropicália.
The act of Melbourne musicians re-imagining Tropicália is very apt to the movement’s cannibalistic philosophy. Sophie Brous, one of the musicians performing, told us about how Tropicália itself has now become a cultural element to be digested and re-spun by contemporary artists.
“Tropicália was as good as it could have been; it just is – it’s this formed thing. This event involves artists from such diverse musical backgrounds, and keeping the significance of the movement in consideration, it is us interpreting and trying to make sense of what that music was from all of our points of view.”
Panis et Circensis is very much a collaborative record, with a lot of crossover between songwriters and performers. This is well reflected in the Melbourne musicians selected to perform at the event, many of whom play in variously combined ensembles. Sophie herself will perform three songs, including a duet with Jens Lekman of Baby, a Tropicália staple “that almost everyone did: Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil”. But, as Sophie notes, “the bands that are involved are pretty far from Tropicália in sound, but not in spirit, so it will be interesting to see how the two converge.”
Rhythmic Brazilian cannibalism has come to Melbourne.