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Caetano Veloso, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Caetano Veloso, Barbican

Caetano Veloso, Barbican

Youth springs eternal for the king of Tropicalismo

London, London: the great Brazilian Caetano Veloso sings in English

Caetano Veloso gets more extraordinary. After his 2010 show in London, one critic (me) said that at 67 his “wings seemed a little clipped”. Maybe that show, which was quite short, wasn’t the best he’d ever given. But maybe I was wrong. At 71, this slight man has not a clipped or cramped or confined thing about him. He seems to have got younger. He sounds exactly like he did over four and a half decades ago, when he exploded with Gilberto Gil into Brazilian music with, for the time, a shocking thing called Tropicalismo.

Tropicalismo went right across the arts. Its musical bent shocked because a conservative, not to say quite rustic pop culture in Brazil’s fascist late 1960s had, as if from nowhere, suddenly been invaded by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix: Caetano loved them and for his pains – and incendiary performances and pronouncements – he was jailed, with Gil, for a couple of months in 1969 by Brazil’s federal police, then kept under house arrest, then exiled until 1972. The two stayed mainly in London.

Brazilians sang along with every word (they always do)

Caetano’s latest outing at the Barbican, a set called Abraçaço (“big hug”) and coming towards the end of a European tour, thus has special weight for him. The city embeds for him memories of being 28 and 29. For his mainly Brazilian audience here, he remains a revelation perhaps from another age, but held in an esteem – for his stance against the dictatorship not least of all – that has no equivalent in any other musical culture I know. Impishly acknowledging that “there might be some English people here tonight”, he unexpectedly sang – mixed in among some of his newer songs brilliantly, grittily played by his three-piece (the same as four years ago) – two of his, yes, English ones.

“London, London” (1971) is incredibly famous among Brazilians, who sang along with every word (they always do). It’s about being lost and looking for a way out: sweet, but also darkly yearning. The policeman in the song is a bobby, but Caetano is remembering different kind of police back home. Then there was the jaunty, articulate “Nine Out of Ten”, about feeling alive to the sound of reggae in Portobello Road in 1971: so infectious.

“Nine Out of Ten” is on an album, Transa, made in London (it has five songs with English in them). At the Barbican, from it also came the deceptively enchanting “Triste Bahia”, based on words by the 17th-century Bahian poet Gregório de Matos and encoded with Caetano’s critique of the regime – a rarely aired song, I suspect. His repertoire is simply vast. A melting lullaby “Coração vagabundo” (“Vagabond Heart”) was slightly jazzed up – perhaps a pity. Two much-loved songs from a funky 1989 album, Bicho, were liquid, lyrical gold. His acerbic classic, “Você não entende nada” (“You Understand Nothing”), played at an unusual lick, ignited samba in the Hall.

Caetano, who can still rock, ripple and, in his sharper moments, rail against authority, had won everyone over, hands down. And however clever the action woven by his country’s team on green pitches next month, it will surely pale beside this true Brazilian superstar’s  elegance, ingenuity – and astounding youthfulness.

Caetano can still rock, ripple and, in his sharper moments, rail against authority


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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