At 65, he increases range: Caetano Veloso

Boston Globe, November 2, 2007

Caetano Veloso has never been one to rest on his laurels. At 65, the great Brazilian singer, who plays the Orpheum Theatre tonight, still shows the restlessness that first earned him fame in the late 1960s, when, together with fellow Bahian Gilberto Gil, he helped forge the ebullient, edgy, multi-arts movement called Tropicalismo. Their music at the time associated the rhythmic energy of Afro-Brazilian culture and the poetic sophistication of bossa nova with the angularity and dissonances of European modernism.

Still, though Veloso’s musical trajectory since then has stayed refreshingly heterodox, he’s rarely made an album as squarely rock-oriented as his latest one, “Ce.” The record, co-produced by Veloso’s son Moreno, features a band of three much younger musicians, led by guitarist Pedro Sa. The brisk recordings and full range of electric and electronic effects may surprise some Veloso fans, but the songs will not. The man’s voice is as richly seductive and thoughtful as ever, and the lyrics, translated in the album notes, offer intellectual and cultural queries presented in the Veloso manner, suffused with yearning and ambiguous eroticism.

In advance of his show tonight, Veloso answered our questions by e-mail while on the road in Europe.

The new album has a more distinctly rock ‘n’ roll feel to it; the songs are tight and concise and electric. What does working with younger rock musicians offer you in terms of challenges and opportunities for experimentation?

I felt the urge to produce songs that were exactly that: tight, concise, and electric. Working with these three guys gave me the chance to make this a physical reality: sounds that appear from necessity, a big range from heavy noise to subtle quietness, a sense of the silence that must lay between the timbres so that the sung parts are both intertwined with and independent from the riffs and counterpoints. It’s a pleasure, like drawing.

Tell us a little about your creative partnership with your son.

My son Moreno is a great adviser. He is a fantastic musical artist in his own right. He has helped me with my music since he was 9 years old. This time he was invited by Pedro Sa (who discussed the ideas for the album with me, and who has been a friend of Moreno’s since they were very little) to make things happen at the studio. It’s to him that we owe the clarity and intelligence of the sound of “Ce.”

There is a lot of tension in the album but also a lot of melancholy. Is it an album of sadness?

In a way, yes. There’s a lot of sadness in “Minhas Lagrimas,” for instance. I was in Japan, thinking of how deeply sad I felt when the plane that took me there made a stop in LA. The vision of those neighborhoods you see when the plane approaches LAX, then the airport itself, then those desert islands I only had seen in 2001, after 9/11, when I had to fly from Tijuana to reach Rio via Mexico City. Now I was alone, suffering, and only saw desolation. In Tokyo I told some friends that I had to write a song that could help me cope with these images that kept on coming to my mind. In fact it was that song that made me decide to commit myself to making a personal record with a rock sound.

Who is the “deusa urbana,” the urban goddess, in the title of one song? What does she represent symbolically?

I wouldn’t say who she is. Symbolically she represents the deepest and most intimate idea of hybridism – racial, social, sexual. The song is for me the ultimate dialogue with syncretism.

In fact, several songs are about hybridity and cultural mixing. … How is hybridity lived in Brazil today compared with the 1960s and 1970s?

Before globalization, the need to overcome racial alienation in Brazil by trying to imitate America’s model, a tendency that started in the 1970s, changed our way of feeling our concrete and very real hybridity. [Black] militants started to say that our confusion of races and ethnicities only served to maintain oppression: They wanted a clear-cut, bipolar scheme. My beloved rappers in Brazil say they hate [the myth that Brazil is a] Racial Democracy, indeed the notion of “mulatto.” And they echo some ideologies that state that black people in Brazil can’t fight the oppressor, as they did in the USA and South Africa, because Brazil hides the oppressor by pretending it holds no racial prejudice. I think this ideology is wrong. I feel differently. I think things are richer and more complex. Brazil has an original experience that must be taken in account, first of all by Brazilians.

Where do you find poetry in life today?

In fact, everywhere. Poetry is not easiness. Hard times aren’t less poetical than smooth living. Poetry is always difficult to achieve, but situations where you can find it abound.

Was Tropicalismo a product of a certain historical and political moment, or is it an aesthetic that we can live by today?

I often say that what led me to Tropicalismo leads me to do what I do now. Of course, it was a product of that particular moment, but the answers I found to the questions then posed could only come to my mind because I am this particular person. Still, I don’t think we created a defined style that could be an aesthetic for us to live by nowadays. Well, maybe we, living in Brazil, advanced some procedures that can be seen by some as the thing to do today. But it’s no system of universal aesthetic values.