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Caetano Emanuel Vianna Telles Velloso, the fifth child of José Telles Velloso – Sr Zezinho – a public servant at the Department of Post and Telegraph, and Claudionor Vianna (Dona Canô), was born in the town of Santo Amaro da Purificação, on the Bay of All Saints, Bahia on 7 August 1942. From a young age, the boy closely watched any group who performed any kind of cultural event, from Afro-religious dance circles to samba dance circles. And, accompanied on piano by his sister Nicinha, at 10 years old he recorded the song Mãezinha querida [Dear Mother] for his family.
Caetano lived for a year in Rio de Janeiro in 1956, frequenting radio stations, shows and concerts; and four years later, he moved to Salvador, where he completed high school and entered the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Bahia. At that time, he was influenced by certain important elements: the challenges of the university environment; theatre; the bossa nova played by João Gilberto; as well as Glauber Rocha’s films. All this intense cultural environment would expand even further the interest of the young man in the arts. He would learn to play the guitar and would perform alongside his sister Maria Bethania in the bars of Salvador.
In that same period, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil and Tom Zé formed a certain kind of club, with Caetano and Maria Bethania. Together they played a key role in the evolution of Brazilian popular music, in performing a remarkable show – Nós, por exemplo [Us, For Example] – which represented the seed from which the Tropicália show would grow. In 1964, Caetano performed with the four inseparable companions at the show, which mixed songs and prose, that inaugurated the Vila Velha Theatre.
Such a performance would influence the other shows produced in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the city where Caetano moved in 1965, establishing himself as a songwriter and participating in various festivals.
The year 1967 marked definitively the beginning of the composer’s professional career, with his signing by the Philips record studio, and the release of his first major hit record: Alegria, Alegria [Joy, Joy]. The song was ranked second in the 3rd Festival of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB). And in November the same year, the composer would marry Dedé Gadelha.
Caetano composed his first soundtrack for the play O boca de ouro [The Golden Mouth] written by Nelson Rodrigues and staged by director Álvaro Guimarães. Very pleased with the results, the director would ask him to produce a second soundtrack, this time for the play A exceção e a regra [The Exception and the Rule] by Bertold Brecht.
In September 1968, at the Catholic University of São Paulo Theatre, when he sang the song É proibido proibir [It Is Forbidden to Forbid], the composer was booed by the audience who packed out TV Globo’s 3rd International Song Festival (FIC). He responded with an emotional speech, saying that people there did not understand anything. The song, however, would be disqualified from the Festival.
With the intensification of the military dictatorship and political persecution, through the publication of Institutional Act #5, Caetano was arrested in São Paulo on 27 December 1968, on charges of disrespecting the Brazilian flag and the national anthem. Taken to the Marechal Deodoro Army Barracks, he had his hair shaved. Composer Gilberto Gil would also be arrested along with him.
In February 1969, Caetano was released from prison but was banned from performing or giving any statement in public. In July of the same year, he had a farewell concert with Gilberto Gil, at the Teatro Castro Alves, giving rise to the album Barra 69, which was released three years later, and went into exile with his wife in London’s Chelsea. Gilberto Gil, married to Sandra Gadelha, Caetano's sister, was also exiled in the same London borough.
Upon returning to live in the country in 1972, Caetano brought a vast artistic production with him, and began holding concerts and making compositions for films and plays. In the 1980s, he would receive some awards, gaining national and international recognition.
On 13 December 1983, at 82 years of age, Sr Zezinho, the father of Caetano, died. Three years later, the illustrious composer would have two performances at Carnegie Hall in New York; and launch a record through Nonesuch/Warner. From then on, Caetano would be consecrated as one of the greatest intellectuals and artists of MPB.
Some of the songs composed by Caetano: De manhã [In the Morning]; Cara a cara [Face to Face]; Atrás do trio elétrico [Behind the Music Truck]; Branquinha [Little White Girl]; Chuva, suor e cerveja [Rain, Sweat and Beer]; Irene; Lua de São Jorge [St George Moon]; Love, Love, Love; Ela e eu [She and I]; Flor do cerrado [Cerrado Flower]; Genesis; Maria Bethânia; Menino do Rio [Boy from Rio]; Gente [People]; Força estranha [Strange Force]; Cinema Olympia; Etc.; Esse Cara [That Guy]; Reconvexo; Dama do casino [Casino Lady]; Quando [When]; Gema [Egg Yolk]; Quero ficar com você [I Want to Stay with You]; Genipapo absoluto; Este amor [This Love]; Muito [A Lot]; Fora de ordem [Out of Order]; Dom de iludir [Gift of Deceiving]; Sol negro [Black Sun]; Língua [Language]; Superbacana [Supercool]; Os argonautas [The Argonauts]; Podres poderes [Rotten Powers]; Drama; Qualquer coisa [Anything]; Sorvete [Ice Cream]; Tenda [Tent]; Eu te amo [I love you]; Escândalo [Scandal]; Eclipse oculto [Hidden Eclipse]; and Gatas extraordinárias [Extraordinary Foxes].
The Bahian composer has three children: Moreno, born in 1973, from his first marriage to Dede Gadelha; Zeca (1992) and Tom Velloso, fruits of the marriage with his second wife, Paula Lavigne.
Below is transcribed one of the Caetano’s most beautiful songs:
Sampa [An abbreviation of São Paulo]
Alguma coisa acontece no meu coração, [Something happens in my heart]
Que só quando cruza a Ipiranga e a avenida São João, [Only when it crosses Ipiranga and São João Ave.]
É que quando eu cheguei por aqui eu nada entendi, [And when I arrived here I understood nothing]
Da dura poesia concreta de tuas esquinas, [Of the hard concrete poetry of your corners]
Da deselegância discreta de tuas meninas, [Of the discrete inelegance of your girls]
Ainda não havia para mim Rita Lee, [There was yet no Rita Lee for me]
A tua mais completa tradução, [Your most complete translation]
Alguma coisa acontece no meu coração [Something happens in my heart]
Que só quando cruza a Ipiranga e a avenida São João. [Only when it crosses Ipiranga and São João Ave.]
Quando eu te encarei frente a frente e não vi o meu rosto, [When I came face to face with you and didn’t see my face]
Chamei de mau gosto o que vi, de mau gosto, e mau gosto, [I called what I saw bad taste, and called bad taste the bad taste]
É que Narciso acha feio o que não é espelho, [What Narcissus thinks ugly is that which is not a mirror]
E à mente apavora o que ainda não é mesmo velho, [And the mind freaks out over what is not yet old]
Nada do que não era antes quando não somos mutantes, [Nothing from before when we are not mutants]
E foste um difícil começo, [And it was a difficult start]
Afasto o que não conheço, [I push away what I don’t know]
E quem vem de outro sonho feliz de cidade, [And whoever comes with another happy city dream]
Aprende depressa a chamar-te de realidade, [Quickly learn to call you reality]
Porque és o avesso do avesso do avesso do avesso.[Because you are the other side of the other side of the other side of the other side]
Do povo oprimido nas filas, nas vilas, favelas, [From the oppressed people in the queues, in villages, slums]
Da força da grama que ergue e destrói coisas belas, [From the strength of the money that comes to destroy beautiful things]
Da feia fumaça que sobe apagando as estrelas, [From the ugly smoke that rises and puts out the stars]
Eu vejo surgir teus poetas de campos, espaços, [I see your poets rise from your fields, spaces,]
Tuas oficinas de florestas, teus deuses da chuva, [Your workshops forests, your gods of rain]
Pan-Américas de Áfricas utópicas, túmulos do samba, [Pan-Americas of Utopian Africas, samba tombs]
Mais possível novo quilombo de Zumbi, [Quite possibly the new quilombo of Zumbi]
E os novos baianos passeiam na tua garoa, [And young Bahians can stroll in your mist]
E os novos baianos te podem curtir numa boa. [And young Bahians can really appreciate you]
Extremely creative and talented, Caetano Velloso is a poet, musician, singer, composer and director and one of the most complete and celebrated artists of Brazilian popular music.
Recife, 25 October 2005.
(Updated 28 October 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, July 2016.
CAETANO Velloso. Disponível em: <http://www.ultramix.com.br/musica/caetanoveloso/index.php>. Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.
CAETANO Velloso. Disponível em: <http://www.mundomusical.com.br/literatura1/trovadorismo/trovad_poesia.htm>. Acesso em: 20 mar. 2005.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Caetano Velloso. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.