(born on 1942)
A true heavyweight, Caetano Veloso is a pop musician/poet/filmmaker/political activist whose stature in the pantheon of international pop musicians is on a par with that of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Lennon/McCartney. And even the most cursory listen to his recorded output over the last few decades proves that this is no exaggeration. Born in 1942 in Santo Amaro da Purificacao in Brazil's Bahia region, Veloso absorbed the rich Bahian musical heritage that was influenced by Caribbean, African, and North American pop music, but it was the cool, seductive bossa nova sound of João Gilberto (a Brazilian superstar in the 1950s) that formed the foundation of Veloso's intensely eclectic pop. Following his sister Maria Bethânia (a very successful singer in her own right) to Rio in the early '60s, the 23-year-old Veloso won a lyric-writing contest with his song "Um Dia" and was quickly signed to the Philips label. It wasn't long before Veloso (along with other Brazilian stars such as Gal Costa and Gilberto Gil) represented the new wave of MPB (i.e., musica popular brasileira), the all-purpose term used by Brazilians to describe their pop music. Bright, ambitious, creative, and given to an unapologetically leftist political outlook, Veloso would soon become a controversial figure in Brazilian pop. By 1967, he had become aligned with Brazil's burgeoning hippie movement and, along with Gilberto Gil, created a new form of pop music dubbed tropicalia. Arty and eclectic, tropicalia retained a bossa nova influence, adding bits and pieces of folk-rock and art rock to a stew of loud electric guitars, poetic spoken word sections, and jazz-like dissonance. Although not initially well received by traditional pop-loving Brazilians (both Veloso and Gil faced the wrath of former fans similar to the ire provoked by Dylan upon going electric), tropicalia was a breathtaking stylistic synthesis that signaled a new generation of daring, provocative, and politically outspoken musicians who would remake the face of MPB. This was a cultural shift not without considerable dangers. Since 1964, Brazil had been ruled by a military dictatorship (a government that would rule for 20 years) that did not look kindly upon such radical music made by such radical musicians. Almost immediately there were government-sanctioned attempts to circumscribe the recordings and live performances of many tropicalistas. Censorship of song lyrics as well as radio and television playlists (Veloso was a regular TV performer on Brazilian variety shows) was common. Just as common was the persecution of performers openly critical of the government, and Veloso and Gil were at the top of the hit list. Both men spent two months in prison for "anti-government activity" and another four months under house arrest. After a defiant 1968 performance together, Veloso and Gil were forced into exile in London. Veloso continued to record abroad and write songs for other tropicalia stars, but he would not be allowed to return to Brazil permanently until 1972. Although his commitment to politicized art never wavered, Veloso, over the next 20 years, went from being a very popular Brazilian singer/songwriter to becoming the center of Brazilian pop. For decades he kept up a grueling pace of recording, producing, and performing and, in the mid-'70s, added writing to his résumé, publishing a book of articles, poems, and song lyrics covering a period from 1965 to 1976. In the '80s, Veloso became increasingly better known outside of Brazil, touring in Africa, Paris, and Israel, interviewing Mick Jagger for Brazilian TV, and in 1983, playing America for the first time. (He sold out three nights at the Public Theater in New York with shows that were rapturously reviewed by then-New York Times pop critic Robert Palmer.) This steady increase in popularity occurred despite the fact that Veloso's records were extremely hard to find in American record stores, and when one could locate them, they were expensive Brazilian imports. Still, the buzz on Veloso grew, thanks in part to Palmer, Robert Christgau, and other critics writing about pop music outside of the contiguous 48 states. But Veloso never seemed bothered by his low profile outside of Brazil, and his work over the years, even after he became a more well-known international pop figure, remained challenging and intriguing without being modified for American (or anyone else's) tastes -- that is, Veloso sang in English (most of his recorded work is sung in Portuguese) when he felt like it, not because he had to sell more records in America. He hung out with fairly trendy New York musicians (Brazilian native Arto Lindsay and David Byrne), but never made a big deal about it. Veloso was one of the rare musicians who was popular, sold a lot of records (at least in Brazil), was a certifiable superstar, but was never self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, or overly concerned with how hip he was. Even when he approached the age of normal retirement, Veloso showed no signs of slowing down. After his 1989 recording Estrangeiro (produced by Ambitious Lovers' Arto Lindsay and Peter Scherer) became his first non-import release in America, Veloso's stateside profile increased significantly, reaching its highest point with the release of 1993's Tropicália 2, recorded with Gilberto Gil. A brilliant record that made a slew of American Top Ten lists, Tropicália 2 proved once again that Veloso's talent (as well as Gil's) had not diminished a bit. His early-'90s recordings, Circuladô, Fina Estampa, and Circuladô ao Vivo (the latter of which includes versions of Michael Jackson's "Black and White" and Dylan's "Jokerman"), were uniformly wonderful, and in the summer of 1997 Veloso embarked on his largest American tour to date. Two years later, Veloso was the subject of an extensive, flattering portrait in Spin on the eve of the American release of his acclaimed 1998 album, Livro. In 1999, he released Omaggio a Federico e Giulietta, a tribute to auteur Federico Fellini and his wife, actress Giulietta Masina. He also won a Grammy for the Best MPB Album for 1998's Livro at the first annual Latin Grammy Awards. After the end of the millennium, Veloso delivered a bossa nova album, the spirited Noites do Norte, a live record from Bahia, a collaboration with poet Jorge Mautner, and the songbook album A Foreign Sound. In 2006, Veloso returned with Cê, a typically diverse and interesting album co-produced by his son Moreno. Veloso took some time out to tour and begin another book; he released Zii e Zie in 2009 on Nonesuch through World Circuit. Live at Carnegie Hall, a record documenting a very special collaborative concert he and longtime friend David Byrne gave in 2004 as part of Veloso's residency at the renowned venue, was issued in 2012, a year that also saw the release of Abraçaço, the third part of the trilogy of studio albums -- Cê and Zii e Zie being the first two -- that placed the artist in the company of much younger players. The album was issued in North America by Nonesuch in March of 2014. ~ John Dougan
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Bossa Nova & Brazil - Released January 1, 1967 | Philips
Pop - Released January 1, 1967 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 1972 | Universal Music Ltda.
Bossa Nova & Brazil - Released November 27, 2012 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 1979 | Universal Music Ltda.
Bossa Nova & Brazil - Released January 16, 2020 | Universal Music Ltda.
Bossa Nova & Brazil - Released January 1, 2012 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 2004 | Universal Music Ltda.
When an international artist records an English-language album, crossover is usually in the cards. For Caetano Veloso, however, it's an entirely different matter. The statesman of Brazilian pop, a musical giant who is on track to record more in his fifth decade of artistic striving than in any other (not to mention his accompanying exploits in literature), Veloso has no need to begin an American campaign. He also has shown no wish to. Caetano Veloso has never courted an American audience, though he has drawn a sizeable one because of his prescient, emotionally charged songwriting and a performance style that can be studied or unhinged depending on the circumstances required. A Foreign Sound is not only an English-language album but an American songbook, one that explores Veloso's long fascination with the greatest composers in American history. It began when he was a child in the '40s and '50s enamored of American culture, was strengthened when his hero João Gilberto began championing the great American songbook, and has remained steady if not continuous through his artistic career. The record is perhaps his most ambitious project ever, a 22-song album that ranges for its material from emperors of Broadway to the denizens of folk music, from the cultured (Rodgers & Hart's "Manhattan") to the torchy (Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") to the gritty (Nirvana's "Come as You Are"). Veloso's high tenor has only strengthened 30 years after his other English-language record -- an eponymous 1971 LP, recorded in London as a forlorn postcard to the country he had been forcibly removed from by Brazil's fascist-leaning government. Although few recordings in his discography (or any other's) can rival that one's emotional power, A Foreign Sound comes very close. Veloso transforms these standards by a clever combination of his subtle interpretive gifts, his precise, literate delivery, and his ability to frame each song with an arrangement that fits perfectly (usually either a small group led by his acoustic guitar or a small string group, though "Love for Sale" is given a spine-tingling a cappella treatment). Out of 22 songs, only Bob Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" sounds like a mistake; every other performance here is nearly irresistible, the perfect valentine to a country with a strong songwriting tradition that Veloso unites and celebrates with this album. © John Bush /TiVo
Pop - Released January 1, 1975 | Universal Music Ltda.
Bossa Nova & Brazil - Released January 11, 1985 | Universal Music Ltda.
Jazz - Released January 1, 1994 | Universal Music Mexico
Pop - Released January 1, 1999 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 1969 | Universal Music Ltda.
Jazz - Released November 1, 1998 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 1971 | Universal Music Ltda.
Pop - Released January 1, 1972 | Universal Music Ltda.