In 1969, two young men, in the midst of participating in both political and cultural revolution in Brazil, were sent into exile by their dictatorial government. Their exile was part of the wave of the systematic exiling of any man or woman who questioned repression in Brazil. These two young men, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, were particularly gifted musicians; they had been part of the Tropicália movement, which revolutionized Brazilian music by combining rock culture with Brazilian rhythms. Gil and Veloso moved into a house together at 16 Redesdale Street in Chelsea, London, nicknamed “the Sixteen Chapel” by friends. Both refused to let exile get the best of them, and they continued to educate themselves, compose, and perform, all the while remaining committed to their homeland of Brazil.
Since early last year, Gil and Veloso, now in their early seventies, have been on a tour called Dois Amigos (Portugese for “two friends”), happily bringing new and old songs to new and old fans. One of their stops was a television concert in Brazil. From that, they pulled a two-disc live album, Dois Amigos, Um Século de Musica: Multishow Live: twenty-eight old and new songs sung by both and played on acoustic guitar.
Dois Amigos, Um Século de Musica: Multishow Live is, for an English speaking listener, an album of the art of guitar playing and the art of friendship. Yes, the art of song is evident in their obvious mastery of melody, but it would require a serious translation of the lyrics to be able to access their poetry; this album is not solely in dictionary Portuguese. The art of friendship is heard in how well they are able to complement each other throughout the entire
The first disc begins with a round of applause, followed by a classic of Brazilian song, “Back in Bahia.” The song is sung by both, and we can hear the atmosphere that their presence on stage creates and the conviviality of their friendship. They are great at seducing others when together, and on this album they seduce. Following is “Coração Vagabundo,” a much slower song. On this album Tropicália is much slower than the original Brazilian rock that made them both famous. We also hear their unquestionable mastery of the guitar.
The second disc also begins with a round of applause, and on a slow note, with “Super Homem (A Canção),” sung majestically by both Gil and Veloso. Like the first disc, it is musical mastery from beginning to end. We hear Gil and Veloso’s age in their singing and it brings color to the whole affair.
There has always been something captivating about how Brazilians express themselves. It’s in their language. It’s in the genius of Samba. It might be because of the country’s history—not only was it the only colony in the Americas to have also been for a time the capital of a European empire, but it was founded by the rugged Prince Pedro, who broke away from the Portuguese crown to build an empire and an entire culture of gestures that comes with it. Brazil today hosts a plethora of identities: from the descendants of Africans still practicing Candomblé, to Italians, and a multitude of Native American tribes. It is a large nation of many cultural regions where one has to affirm one’s difference in an extremely vibrant collective. Veloso and Gil play and sing their songs with confidence in the fact that they have as much right to convey happiness and pleasure as any commercial pop musician.
Brazilian poetry seems to also be great at conveying pleasure artistically, despite commercial pop’s supposed claim at being the only idiom that can do so, and listening to this album reminded me of a Francisco Alvim poem that I love:
This water is a desert
The world, a fantasy
The sea, its eyes wide open
Which is the real poetry?
Gil and Veloso’s songs, as art music, have the ability to do the same thing that Alvim’s poems can do: communicate the subjective and also communicate both seriousness and pleasure. As such they speak honestly to our eros or our natural quest for life in all of its complexity.
Veloso and Gil always play whatever they are interested in, and that’s the case on this album. Doing what they liked got them exiled in 1969, and it is what we hear on Dois Amigos. They could have made this a mega-selling art-pop album (as they’ve produced in the past) by two Brazilian legends, but they did not. Two friends playing is what they set their minds to producing: an album of good feeling that conveys fulfilling living. Bravo to the both of them.
ADOLF ALZUPHAR is a music critic.