Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Os Mutantes, My Bread and Circus

As some of you may know, Sergio Dias of Brazil's, "Os Mutantes" came to town last Friday, leading a rousing show at the Cedar Cultural Center. Knowing I would never forgive myself were I to miss the chance, I made sure I went. It was great, and I want to share its monumental significance.

The favorite class I ever took was an 8 person seminar on, "Latin American History." We started in 1791, Revolutionary Haiti, and worked our way up, reading entire books and passionately discussing them. By the end, familiar with the revolutionary spirit of Latin America, we read "Brutality Garden: Tropicalia and the Emergence of Brazillian Counterculture" by Christopher Dunn.

Like the slave revolts of Revolutionary Haiti set blaze to colonial oppression in the cane fields, in 1968, the field of Brazilian pop-culture became alight with the fire of Tropicalia.

Tropicalia emerged in the late 1960s as a "cannibalism" of many world influences and identities to create a unique entity of rebellion against the structured populist nationalism of Brazil's military government.

The prominent figures of Tropicalia; Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Os Mutantes fall in line with other visionaries of the time time, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors who also pushed the boundaries of popular convention.

Os Mutantes shared the stage in Sao Paolo when fellow Tropicalia activist Caetano Veloso spoke most clearly of what the movement represented. Met with disapproving boos aroused by their shocking wardrope choices and anti-establishment messages, Caetano Veloso said the following:

So this is the youth of today that want to take over power? you have the courage to applaud, this year, a music, a type of music you would not dare to applaud last year! this is the same youth that will always, always, kill tomorrow the old enemy who died yesterday! you do not understand anything, anything, anything, absolutely nothing!

Os Mutantes, originally consisting of Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista, and Sergio Dias released their first album in roiling 1968 and became a significant icon of Tropicalia, donning outrageous costumes for their correspondingly theatrical performances. Also that year, The Mutants featured on the title track of a compilation which is now considered the manifesto of the Tropicalia movement, "Tropicalia: ou Panis et Circencis."

The title of this album, "Bread and Games" comes from Latin satire and refers to a political state where a population is lured away from real issues by distractions employed by a corrupt government. In Brazil, which had been under military rule since 1964, these were fighting words.

Finally, considering my excitement for the riveting historical context surrounding Os Mutantes, I spent all of Friday in a tizzy of anticipation for evening. Once there, positioned in the middle with a proper view, adequate dancing room and supportive companions, I lost myself further in the performance itself. History served as a mere backdrop to the extremely tight musicality and vibrant storytelling of the group. Carried through time, and continuing to forge their own unique edge, Os Mutantes transcended time. I dance, dance, danced in revolutionary 1968, right here in Minneapolis!

-G. Swamp Lily

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