Gal Costa, central figure of the Brazilian song movement Tropicália, dies at 77

Gal Costa, one of Brazil’s most revered singers and a central figure in the Tropicália counterculture art movement that emerged during the repressive military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, died Nov. 9 in São Paulo. She was 77 years old.

His publicist announced the death but gave no cause.

Until 1969, the most prominent artists of the Tropicália movement – ​​which sought to undermine military rule through art and peaceful disobedience rather than the leftist guerrilla activity of the time – were the songwriters -performers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. When they fled the country, under threat of prison or worse the regime, Ms. Costa ensured that their music remained in circulation through evocative performances.

In addition, Ms. Costa was a leading exponent of música popular brasileira, which blended regional folk music with samba, jazz and rock. She never considered herself a traditional, or even politically motivated, protest singer until recent years when she spoke out against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. But her choice of lyrically allegorical songs, which she performed with her crystal-clear mezzo soprano voice and virtuoso violão (acoustic guitar) playing, often targeted political corruption and the Brazilian junta.

Usually outrageously and often scantily dressed as a young woman, her long black hair often braided in curls or an Afro, Ms Costa was a child of the sexual revolution who arrived in Brazil in the 1960s with rock music from the United States. and England. She became known as a muse of desbunde, an anti-military but also anti-guerrilla maverick of the times..

Ms Costa was first inspired by bossa nova musician João Gilberto and later by Veloso and Gil. But she was also influenced by American rockers, soul men and blues masters – including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and James Brown – and later (through her son, Gabriel) hip-hop.

His best-known songs include “Babe” and “Coraçao Vagabundo” (Vagabond Heart) – both written by Veloso; “Watercolor from Brazil” a 1939 composition by Ary Barroso popularized in English as “Brazil” during the big band era; and “London London”, written by Veloso during his exile in the British capital. She sang the last one, as he had written it, in English.

His most controversial album was “India” (1973), less for its allegorical lyrics than for its cover image of a woman’s torso with a red thong-like bikini. The army banned the album cover and ordered Ms Costa’s record company to sell it only inside an opaque blue plastic sleeve. It was the best unintended publicity an artist could wish for. Brazilians lined up at record stores to buy her, and Ms. Costa became an unwitting feminist icon.

One of the most beautiful songs from the album “Índia” – with the collaboration of Gil, as producer, and Verdoso – was Milho Verde (“Green Corn”), a traditional song sung by enslaved cornfield workers under Portuguese colonial rule and echoing the songs of the enslaved cotton pickers of North America.

Maria de Graça Costa Penna Burgos was born in Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, northeast Brazil, on September 26, 1945. Her parents separated after her mother discovered that her husband had a second family. secret.

After leaving school early to help her mother, Ms Costa found work at a local record store and started singing on the latest bossa nova releases. This brought her to the attention of clients such as Veloso, Gil and a young singer called Maria Bethânia. They soon formed a musical group calling themselves Doces Bárbaros (Sweet Barbarians).

She recorded her first solo single in 1965 as Maria da Graça but quickly settled on Gal Costa as her stage name. His breakthrough album, “Domingo” (1967), also featured Veloso.

Ms Costa said she did not have the financial means to go into exile like Veloso. Instead, in 1971 she started a new stage show Tropicália called Fa-Tal, directed by her friend Waly Salomão, in which she performed with sexy clothes and brightly painted lips.

As her fame grew, she continued her hippie-hedonistic lifestyle in Rio, where she and her friends sang and played on a stretch of Ipanema Beach, dubbed the “Dunes of Gal”. In 1985, when she performed at Carnegie Hall for her first performance in the United States, she declared to the New York Times: “I have no intention of conquering the American market. I’m a Brazilian singer and I’m a bit too lazy to leave Brazil.

In 2011, Ms. Costa received a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Survivors include his son, Gabriel.

At the heart of Ms. Costa’s music was a free spirit. “Any kind of diversity, I’m an advocate,” she once told an interviewer. “People have to respect differences. The other doesn’t have to be like you. You have to have the freedom to be, to exist, whatever you might do. It’s implicit in me, in my way of life. ‘be.

About Elaine Morales

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