When Britain’s hep world-music emporium Soul Jazz last investigated Brazil in 2006, the cover of their Tropicália set depicted cops wielding batons. And for good reason, as that ’60s art-film-theater-poetry-music movement—beautiful while it briefly bloomed between the Summer of Love and May of ’68—soon found itself crushed under the military dictatorship’s boot. The police locked up singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in an undisclosed secret prison, then deported them to London. Who wouldn’t distance themselves from tropicália after that?
But just as the notion of “amor” was subterfuge to the empire of “Roma,” a bronzed couple nuzzle on the cover of Brazil 70. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the set opens with “Amor,” by clear Kiss precedents Secos e Molhados, rocking feather boas and silver-faced androgyny. Throughout, the compilation depicts just how MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) navigated the void left by tropicália and the omniscience of the government’s stringent board of censors. The exchange was a tricky one. This strain of pop, evergreen and agog, was rendered mostly by long-haired, free-loving desbundos (dropouts) at the periphery of society. Popular among Brazilian youth, the music insinuated freedoms that neither the artists nor their audience quite possessed. Trickier still was that the military dictatorship twisted MPB to its own nefarious ends (a similar fate befell Pelé and the Brazil ’70 fútbol team), making it serve as a cultural export showing that all was just peachy down south.
Drawing from such a fertile musical culture for the compilation, Soul Jazz would be hard-pressed to muck it up (though they have in the past with their lackluster U.K., NYC, and Brazilian punk comps). While it’s tough to call “essential” any overview of MPB that wholly excludes Milton Nascimento’s indelible Clube de Esquina, this breezy, exhilarating, succinct set is damned close to perfect. The old guard of tropicália (Gal Costa, Rita Lee, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Zé) all make appearances, eschewing the psychedelic-era Beatles influence that coursed through that music movement, and instead amalgamating funk, hard rock, and hand-drum-heavy Brazilian folk. The real surprises, though, are heretofore unknown (to me, at least) acts like Ednardo e o Pessoal do Ceara, Raul Seixas, and Jards Macale. And how better to be introduced to the pleasures of Novos Baianos? This collective jammed indigenous samba, frevo, choro, and prog-rock while simultaneously maintaining a communal farming co-op and their own fútbol team, making North American “collectives” seem rather pale in comparison.