Music in Revolt!Posted: February 17, 2011
When a country is in revolutionary motion there is often a vibrant artistic movement that reflects the political movement of the oppressed. You will find that many revolutionaries and oppressed people are also artists; and like the written history that is left behind of past struggles there is art that helps tell stories and shape that history like it shaped the struggle. Brazil is no different leaving us with a vibrant history of political art movements occurring simultaneously as the revolutionary struggles of the 1960’s. Being a fan of multiple art forms and mediums, Brazil is such a source of inspiration to me with their political film movement Cinema Novo and Tropicalismo, which embodies avante-guarde poetry, theatre and most importantly a fusion of African and Brazilian musical genres. Plus being half black and Portuguese I can’t help but have some interest in the fusion of African and Portuguese culture in Brazil.
The Tropicalismo movement was initially led by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa, but it grew to encompass many artists and performers, who all suffered political repression and torture due to the political nature of their art. Veloso and Gil were exiled, like many other revolutionaries and artists who openly opposed the coup in the 1960’s. I love Gil and Veloso’s music, but my favorite musician is Gal Costa, because she was so powerful as one of the few women in the movement. She really held her own as an artist and musician, and was not tokenized as the ‘hot female musician.’ She, of course, is incredibly sexy, but the fact that she owns her sexuality gives her this raw power that I am inspired and enamored by. When I watch videos of her performing I see her getting into her music and her performance and herself and that is so empowering. Yes she is wearing sexy dresses and red lipstick and the men I am sure love it, but you don’t get that sense that she is doing it to push records like the sexualization of female musicians that we see happening today. Her sexiness isn’t in the clothes she wears. Her sexiness resides in the energy that radiates off of her as as a strong, radical, woman artist, who is embracing herself, her sexuality and her art for herself. That is a powerful thing, and something that I gather strength from as a woman trying to build up my own sense of strength and autonomy over myself and my body in this patriarchal world that wants to take it all from me. She also has an incredible, powerful voice. I love her music. I love how she can sing very quietly in that bossa nova style. But also, in tropicalia fashion, she breaks from the traditional bossa nova style and experiments with her voice, and allows herself to let loose a little bit too. Below I have two videos that I think exhibit that range. One is in black and white and its just her playing a ballad on her guitar demonstrating her bossa nova roots; it is also better sound quality. The second one is a performance with Gilberto Gil and I think it demonstrates the tropicalismo musical stylings better and the way they experimented with time. The sound quality is bad, but I love the video, because it shows Gal really getting into her performance and feeling herself and the music. I love how free she seems on the stage. She’s doing whatever she wants, letting the rhythm completely take her over, even if it means leaning against Gil while he is playing the drums. I wish I could see a performance like that today! I have respect for them all as artists in form and content; the music was political and also artistically experimental and interesting. I love it.
They also had their own style. They seemed like such a cool crew of artists to hang with. I look at photos of them together, and I am inspired by the energy radiating from them from the expressions on their faces and their cool experimental style and art. What revolutionaries and artists have in common is a shared commitment to resisting dominant ideologies and structures in order to inspire people with alternative visions and styles. As artists and revolutionaries all we have and have control over is our abilities to articulate ideas and build relationships with each other. I think even artists, whose art isn’t overtly politically, have this in common with revolutionaries. Often true artists think differently about the world and express that through their art, whether it be painting, films, poetry, ect., much in the same way revolutionaries have a different vision of the type of world we should live in and put work into expressing that through struggle and political writing. Both artists and revolutionaries build relationships and connect with other people through the expression of their ideas in art and struggle. Not all revolutionaries are artists and not all artists are revolutionaries, but I think the most dynamic struggle and art comes from when these communities overlap. I imagine them hanging out together and collaborating with their art and having political discussion, then drinking and dancing and truly living their lives despite the dangers from the ruling class. I think of my own political and artistic relationships, and wonder if we will leave a mark in history the way these other artistic movements have during times of political uprising. I hope so. I love my revolution with fresh art and style.