Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil: Tropicália Icons Talk U.S. Tour
Your early albums take inspiration from Oswald de Andrade and his idea of anthropophagy. Do you still consider yourselves hungry’to absorb other cultures and musics still?
Gil: We are still very curious about local and foreign pop music. In my case not as voluptuously as before, but I’m still very much interested.
Veloso: I do feel hungry, i.e., curious. I listen to James Blake, Joanna Newsom, Buika, António Zambujo, Kanye West and I feel like taking something from them — to name just a few. I know now, maybe better than I knew in 1967, that I have no skills to absorb anything from what these people do, but it all informs me and whatever I am able to do will come out different because I listen to those people.
Caetano, there’s a famous live recording of “É Proibido Priobir” of you with Os Mutantes from 1968 that started a riot. Have you ever played a concert that had a similarly volatile reaction to it?
Veloso: Some similar things like that did happen, but nothing of that intensity. Os Mutantes were wonderful, and their wearing sci-fi clothes and playing avant-garde electric guitars in front of a crowd of leftwing nationalists is something that can’t be repeated.
You both lived through a very brutal and repressive time in your country’s history. Recently, there has been news that there is more political upheaval of late. Do you see that Brazil and the United States both have a great divide between the rich and poor? Are you surprised how little some things have changed over the years?
Gil: Yes, the divide between rich and poor is still there in our countries, but it’s a lot more severe in Brazil. The two different colonial modes — the British and the Portuguese — caused a balance favoring the USA. We in Brazil remain very unequal and asymmetric. This is very visible as a basic cause of the political and economic crises of today.
Veloso: Once again, facing the complicated political turmoil that has taken Brazil, I focus on the economic and social inequality. That’s the deepest level of all our drama, the only reality that can give us a criterion to judge individual and group attitudes. I think that’s valid for the USA, too. It’s globally valid, as disparity is far from being overcome.
In playing the Dois Amigos shows, do you discover things in the playing and singing of the other person that you didn’t notice before?
Veloso: One always discovers new things in real artists. Seen close, Gil now seems to me at the same time more primitive and more spiritually refined than I ever thought before.
Gil: Definitely, yes. Caetano has been developing a very personal and unique style of singing — especially Latin-American songs — that brings a true special taste to the interpretations. I have been trying some new elements, too.
When I you last performed in New York City, you were both supported by much younger musicians. What’s it like to perform with someone closer to your own age?
Veloso: I think my band was notably younger. It’s a bunch of great guys who understand clearly what I want to do. But Gil is an old friend and a master. It’s a totally different thing.