Tropicália was a South American permutation of the psychedelic revolution; a counter-culture movement that centred around a throng of socially aware artists, including the great Os Mutantes. Both it and the band are fondly remembered today, frontman Sérgio Dias having lived and breathed the movement during the late sixties and been a constant member of the band he loves. He’s joined by vocalist Esmeria Bulgari, Henrique Peters on keyboards, Vinicius Junqueira on bass and Claudio Tchernev on drums in today’s line-up and together, they carry forward the sound that made their early records so exciting. Ahead of their show at Band on the Wall on 21st May, here’s a five track introduction to the band.
Os Mutantes – Panis et Circenses
Included on Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis – a compilation considered to be an important document of Brazilian popular music – the first track from their eponymous debut is a psychedelic whirlwind. It combines baroque classical music with fuzzy psychedelia, folk instruments and tape manipulation – arranging and presenting its components in the sound collage style (think Good Vibrations and Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite). Rogério Duprat, an arranger and conductor who later immersed himself in the avant-garde movement, was a key contributor, as were songwriters Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. This meeting of minds led to one of the most creative psych records of the era.
Os Mutantes – Bat Macumba
Like Panis et Circencis, Bat Macumba was co-written with Os Mutantes’ Tropicália colleagues and featured on the definitive 1968 compilation. Its rhythm – carried by prominent percussion and the group’s vocal phrasing – is one that conveys a sense of joy, at odds with the social and political issues the movement was known to respond to. Its structure sounds peculiar at first, but seeing its written lyrics reveals a fascinating pattern behind its vocal arrangement. ‘Outside the box’ thinking that reaps great musical reward!
Os Mutantes – Fuga No. II
The group made audible strides in the 12 months separating their debut studio album and it’s follow-up Mutantes. Carlos Colado’s essay on that era of the band’s history talks of electronic effects and bespoke, inverted wah-wah pedals, but also highlights their sonic refinement. ‘The delicate “Fuga No. II,” with its string and horn arrangements, suggests that the Beatles’ influence over the trio was still strong.’ Its a gentle and subtle number, proving that there was much more to their music making than wah and distortion.
Os Mutantes – Ando Meio Desligado
By late ‘69, with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in exile under the Brazilian military dictatorship, the hallmarks of Tropicália became less prominent in Os Mutantes’ work. However, the group were by no means diluting their music. Acclaimed percussionista Naná Vasconcelos contributes to Ando Meio Desligado, giving the Zombies and Sly & The Family Stone like track a groovy undercurrent. The tune opened the band’s 1970 album and was included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 greatest Brazilian songs of all time.
Os Mutantes – Rolling Stone
You don’t have to look far into the annals of rock to find band fall-outs and lost gems. Os Mutantes, like several bands who found their feet in the sixties, have known each. O A e o Z is their ‘lost album’. Recorded in 1973 after the departure of vocalist Rita Lee, it was shelved by their record company, fearing a commercial failure was on the cards. The album hears the group drifting into progressive rock territory: each song exceeding six minutes and founding member Arnaldo Baptista using a vast array of keyboard instruments. It may nod to Yes, Hawkwind and others, but also retains the core Stones and Hendrix influences that fans of their music love. Rolling Stone is a beautiful example: grand and grooving, with textural contrast and straining vocals, but also a cool, feel-good groove. The album was eventually released in 1992 and not long after, Kurt Cobain reportedly wrote to Arnaldo to demand a reformation and tour! If you dig SBB, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express or After All, this one’s for you!