May 07 2007

Mutantes: Ao Vivo

A Nostalgic Trip


Ao Vivo

One of Brazil’s most controversial bands ever must have been Os Mutantes. There were protest marches against their music back in the early 70s. They were accused of being a serious danger for the existence of Brazilian music. What happened?

When Arnaldo (1948) and Sérgio (1951) Dias Baptista heard the Beatles on their radio, way back in the 1960s, they immediately fell in love with the music. “Strawberry Fields Forever” inspired the two brothers to make music just like that. Soon they started experimenting with all kinds of (mostly foreign) musical styles they heard. When the extravagant singer Rita Lee joined them, a very strange trio of musicians was born: Os Mutantes (The Mutants). It was the time of the huge cultural revolution, Tropicalismo. Cinema, theatre, poetry, music and other art forms firmly stood up against the political patronizing of the dictatorial regime’s so called AI5 (Institutional Act number 5, 1968, cutting down free speech in Brazil). Two legendary names in Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, soon were both jailed and later exiled in an attempt to stop them from stirring up public opinion. Although watched closely, our friends from Os Mutantes got off, maybe due to their teenage youth. MutantesMeanwhile their music got weirder and more of a confrontation against prevailing musical taste. “Anarchistic, psychedelic and noisy,” that’s how they were described. The trio continued experimenting with sounds and electric instruments, provided by a third and eldest brother, “mad scientist” Claudio César Dias Baptista (or CCDB). He knocked together some electric instruments according to what he heard on radio and imported records. The musical party lasted until Rita Lee left the trio in 1974. She started a successful career on her own, while her ex-compatriots seriously struggled to move on.  The musical career of Os Mutantes can be situated between 1964 and 1974, although two more albums came out long after the band had split: O A e o Z (recorded in 1973, released in 1992) and Tecnicolor (recorded in 1970, released in 2000).  Those “posthumously” releases appeared during a revival of the band’s popularity outside Brazil. Many pop musicians named Os Mutantes as an major influence on their music (best known is maybe Beck).  But also in Brazil people realized that the input of electronic instruments helped to develop what nowadays is known as MPB (Popular Brazilian Music). Attempts to ask the band for a reunion concert were not rewarded, not even when the late Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) asked for it.

Sergio and Arnaldo Dias BaptistaDuring a few months in 2006 the London Barbican Center was host of an exhibition about Tropicália including a series of concerts by its flagships like Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil and… Os Mutantes! The two brothers Sérgio and Arnaldo formed a superb band around them to perform a spectacular and unforgettable concert in London. On stage was a bunch of highly eccentric and extraordinary talented musicians. Arnaldo was behind the organ and also provided vocals. The extrovert Sérgio shined on the electric and acoustic guitars and vocals, clearly enjoying the event. Rita Lee didn’t feel like joining. Her place was gratefully taken by Zélia Duncan, who showed to be a more than perfect substitute. Zélia’s originality even added to the music of the legendary band. On drums the trio was joined by long time guest-Mutante Dinho Leme (1949). No one better could have been chosen as percussionist than Simone Soul. She too has a very inventive mind on her own and certainly complimented to the overall sound of the band. Other musicians participating during the highly successful evening at the Barbican Theatre (May 22nd, 2006) were Vinícius Junqueira (bass), Henrique Peters (keyboards), Vitor Trida (keyboards, flutes, guitars, cello), Esméria Bulgari and Fábio Recco (both on backing vocals and percussion) and guest Devendra Banhart (psych folk artist from Houston TX (1981); backing vocals on “Bat Macumba”).  The repertoire of the evening of course contained most of the most legendary successes of the band. Although the psychedelic music is a bit dated, it still sounded great. It resulted in a revival evening of the highest quality. Zélia DuncanThe very theatrical performance caught fire in the audience that completely was into the spirit, and thus acting as a sounding board for the band. The music was sung mostly in English and Portuguese, but also in Spanish and French, underlining the absorbed international influences. Humor is also an important ingredient in the music of Os Mutantes. In “El Justiciero,” a song like a spaghetti western, Sérgio Dias diverges from the original lyrics by referring to the unpopular Bush/Blair couple:

“Once upon a time when the hot sun faded behind the mountains, the shadow of a strong man, with a big gun in his hands, raised to protect the poor people of the United Kingdom. His name was Jorge Bush, and also with Tony Blair: El Gran Justiciero!,” while along the way also referring to the Falkland War between England and Argentina (“a guerra das Malvinas”), provoking the English audience. The natural and uncultivated performance of the band’s complicated compositions gained heartwarming sympathy from the audience. The heavy and rough guitar solos made people stand on the benches. There was quietness during the highly psychedelic effects in “Dia 36” and dancing during “Cantor de Mambo” (dedicated to Sérgio Mendes).  This concert was the most perfect illustrative concert the organization of the Tropicália exhibition could wish for. And we can all enjoy it now with this wonderful recorded double cd set. There’s also a DVD that might document the event even better. Whatever form is decided for, this concert registration is a must for everyone interested in the evolution of popular Brazilian music.



Ao Vivo 
Sony BMG 82876866952 (2006)
Time: 94’45”


CD 1

  1. Dom Quixote (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee)
  2. Caminhante Noturno (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee)
  3. Ave Gengis Khan (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  4. Tecnicolor (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  5. Virginia (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  6. Cantor de Mambo (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Élcio Decário)
  7. El Justiciero (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  8. Baby (Caetano Veloso – translation: Mutantes)
  9. I’m Sorry Baby (Desculpe, Babe) (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee)
  10. Top Top (Liminha – Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  11. Dia 36 (Johnny Dandurand – Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)

CD 2

  1. Fuga nº II (Arnaldo Baptista -Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  2. Le Premier Bonheur du Jour (Jean Renard – Frank Gerald)
  3. Dois Mil e Um (Rita Lee – Tom Zé)
  4. Ave Lúcifer (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Élcio Decário)
  5. Balada do Louco (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee)
  6. I Feel a Little Spaced Out (Ando Meio Desligado) (Arnaldo Baptista – Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  7. A Hora e a Vez do Cabelo Nascer (Cabeludo Patriota) (Liminha – Arnaldo Baptista –  Rita Lee – Sérgio Dias)
  8. A Minha Menina (Jorge Ben)
  9. Bat Macumba (Gilberto Gil – Caetano Veloso)
  10. Panis et Circenses (Gilberto Gil – Caetano Veloso)