By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — A living legend of Brazilian music returns to the Bay Area this week when Caetano Veloso headlines Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on Friday with a band made up of the famed singer/songwriter’s sons for a concert presented by SFJAZZ.
The extraordinary songwriter has enjoyed a remarkably adventurous career that spans five decades since he first emerged on the scene in Bahia in the late 1960s. Veloso was a university student when he started taking guitar lessons from rising star and frequent future collaborator Gilberto Gil (who was already making regular appearances on local television as a songwriter and performer.
The two musicians would become integral figures in the experimental Tropicalia movement which combined traditional Brazilian styles with diverse and radical international influences. A sophisticated blend that incorporated everything from electric guitars and psychedelic rock to allusive, modernist poetry, Dadaist imagery and American pop, the movement also included fellow songwriter Tom Ze, vocal talent Gal Costa and the group Os Mutantes.
The self-described “cultural cannibalism” of the Tropicálistas would eventually become the foundation for popular music in Brazil while exerting influence on adventurous musicians the world over for decades to come. Veloso and his fellow songwriters spearheaded the 1968 album Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenis that — along with their respective solo albums released around the same time — would serve as a manifesto for the movement. Criticism the anti-authoritarian songs leveled against the ruling military regime that had taken control of the country earlier in the decade led to Veloso and Gil being jailed for several months in 1969.
The imprisonment almost shattered Veloso, a harrowing experience he discussed vividly in his compelling 1997 autobiography “Tropical Truth.” He and Gil would be deported by the Brazilian government after being released from prison, with the two singers spending their exile in London (where they recorded their first English-language albums) until they were finally allowed to return to their native land in 1972.
Through the ’70s and ’80s, Veloso remained enamored with the intricate pop of the Beatles, but he still ranged across a wide variety of sounds. Over his career, Veloso has proven himself capable of a mind-boggling breadth of styles. He has recording brilliant albums of delicate acoustic balladry and traditional bossa nova one year and delving into funky samba and experimental excursions into pop and rock the next. His stunning 2004 collection A Foreign Sound featured Veloso offering his take on songs ranging from jazz standards penned by Cole Porter and the Gershwins to tunes by Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Kurt Cobain.
In more recent years, Veloso has explored more modern, angular music with his celebrated rock excursions cê and Zii e Zie, and his live collaboration with avowed fan and longtime admirer David Byrne, Live at Carnegie Hall. In 2015, Veloso and Gil reconvened to record and tour for the first time since their 1993 partnership that produced the album Tropicalia 2. The venture took the duo across the globe on an acclaimed acoustic tour that visited 21 countries and 35 cities and was documented by the double live CD and DVD release Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música in 2016.
On his current tour, Veloso is joined by his three sons — Moreno, Tom and Zeca — to perform gems from the songwriter’s catalog and new material as heard on Ofertório (Au Vivo), a new live recording and DVD released on Universal Music last year. Spotlighting both Caetano’s incredible body of work and the remarkable musical talents of his projeny (who share or take the lead on vocals for many of the songs), the artist’s latest collection stands as another creative triumph. With Bay Area live appearances by the 76-year-old Veloso becoming increasingly rare, music fans of all stripes should make every effort to experience the magic the Brazilian music icon brings to the stage. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.
Friday, April 5, 8 p.m. $50-$115