Caetano Veloso: "My optimistic expectations about Brazil are more a responsibility than a hope" | Culture

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The Brazilian singer and composer Caetano Veloso during the documentary 'Narciso on vacation'.

It is impossible to sing the Brazilian national anthem to the melody of Tropicália. The verses of the hymn are decasyllables, while those of the song composed in the sixties and sung by Caetano Veloso have eight poetic syllables. That is what the artist from Bahia answered in the interrogation to which the Brazilian military dictatorship subjected him, which accused him of “cultural terrorism” and arrested him, along with his friend Gilberto Gil, between December 27, 1968 —14 days after Institutional Act No. 5 was enacted, which closed Congress and suspended several constitutional guarantees — and on February 19, 1969, an Ash Wednesday.

The two months of arrest, the first week in isolation, were first described in the autobiography Tropical truth, published in Brazil in 1997 —in Spanish it was edited by Salamandra, in 2004, and it was reissued by Marea this year with an unpublished foreword by the author—. In 2018, directors Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil recorded the documentary Daffodil on vacation, the same title of the chapter in which Veloso narrates the misfortunes of his semi-clandestine prison. The production opens this Monday at the Venice Film Festival, out of competition, and is the only Brazilian film at the event.

It's not that I didn't get excited writing certain sentences in the book chapter. But talking is something else. And facing the fact that I cannot remember the name of the generous sergeant disarmed me

The idea came from Paula Lavigne, or Paulinha, as Caetano Veloso lovingly refers to his wife, producer and businesswoman. “The interview would serve as the basis for a more conventional documentary, with other locations and other interviews. But when the two directors saw the material, they thought they had it all there ", says the singer in an interview by e-mail with EL PAÍS. In fact, the image of the musician sitting in a simple chair, occasionally with the guitar in his hand singing, on the gray background of an empty room, is more than enough to immerse the viewer in a story that, although personal , is part of one of the darkest periods in the history of Brazil.

During the prison, Veloso dried himself. He couldn't cry and, in what Gil called the "silence of sex," his libido declined: he couldn't masturbate either, something that, he says, had always been an almost therapeutic activity. The erection did not come. But his superstition, which was born with him in Santo Amaro, intensified in the cell. Seeing a cockroach was a bad omen, as did songs like Appeal, by Orlando Silva, and Wave or blue sky is more blue (Where the blue sky is bluer), by Francisco Alves. The mere title of the latter still makes a lump in her throat and her eyes fill with tears. It's like it's unpronounceable.

The good omens, instead, were in charge of songs like Hey jude, of the Beatles, and Irene, the only one he composed in prison, in memory and the health of his younger sister's smile. The greatest happiness was undoubtedly the presence of Dedé Gadelha, his wife at that time, who, as if she were a detective, discovered where Veloso was being held and insisted until she managed to visit him. In Daffodil on vacation, the only time she cries is when she remembers the sergeant who facilitated the lovers' encounters.

Question. Some say that revisiting and retelling traumatic moments is an emotional exorcism. What made you retell your arrest, which had already been recounted in Tropical truth, in a documentary? Is it another exorcism?

Answer. Hopefully. About three years ago, I suggested that the chapter Daffodil on vacation will be published separately from Tropical truth. Paula Lavigne had the idea of ​​making a documentary about what is narrated there. She, a producer and businesswoman, thought about saving the energy she would spend trying to say “no” to possible proposals to bring it to the screen. But I also wanted that if we made the decision to do it, everything would be done in a beautiful and honest way. How I had loved it (the documentary about a Brazilian music festival) One night in '67, He proposed Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil to direct it. And he took us to the City of the Arts (a cultural space in Rio de Janeiro that is not completely ready), to film an interview with me in an empty room that should be a cinema. The interview would serve as the basis for a more conventional documentary, with other locations and other interviews. But when they saw the material, the two directors thought they had it all there.

I personally have never seen miracles

P. In the book, his gratitude to the sergeant, "a Negro from Bahia", who facilitated the meetings with Dedé, his ex-wife, in his cell, is clear. In the documentary, however, when he remembers being arrested, he comes to tears. What feelings does this man's gesture and his memory awaken in you?

R. It's not that I didn't get excited writing certain sentences in the book chapter. But talking is something else. And facing the fact that I cannot remember the name of the generous sergeant disarmed me.

P. You were already superstitious and you say that in prison you became even more superstitious. How does that manifest itself in your current life?

R. With much less intensity. Mostly, it has become a mind game, an addiction that amuses me. Many superstitions have simply disappeared. But, as I was going to sing all the songs that I talk about on the recording, and the directors came back with the idea that the movie was already ready – and during the two nights that we filmed I had only sung Hey jude and Irene– I saw that the others, the ones that were a sign of bad luck, were not included, it was difficult for me to risk singing them. The other day, in an interview on television, I realized that I could not even refer to one of them. Even now, if I think of phrases from the lyrics or the melody, it makes me want to cry. It's not fear. It is the sadness of having allowed a song that speaks of a great and wide love for Brazil to have been forbidden within me for so many years.

P. And how is this dichotomy of being an atheist who sees miracles? Have you ever been tempted by Candomblé or other religions of African origin?

R. The phrase about being an atheist and seeing miracles was said by (the writer) Jorge Amado. (Magazine) Pasquim he wanted to interview him and he wanted me to be there, helping to ask questions. Since I couldn't be in Rio on the scheduled date, they asked me to write questions to read to Jorge. I asked him what the religious significance of candomblé had in his life, since it was Obá de Xangô (an honorary title). He replied, “I don't know if fortunately or unfortunately, unlike (Dorival) Caymmi, I have no faith. I am a convinced materialistic atheist. But I have seen many miracles of candomblé. Miracles of the people ”. When they asked me to do a song for the TV version of Miracle Shop, I quoted the phrase right at the beginning of the song. And I keep talking about the "gods without God", who "never stop sprouting or get tired of waiting." I personally have never seen miracles.

P. He was accused of "cultural terrorism", something he says he does not know. Do you think that the current Brazilian government pursues the arts because it believes in this ghost? In the government of Jair Bolsonaro, we see that the truth is distorted and there is a digital war that has already been the object, when he was persecuted by the disciples of Olavo de Carvalho (guru of Bolsonarism). Is today as terrible as yesterday?

R. Yes. By different paths, it is equally terrible.

If we do not seek within ourselves what we have of historical energy to do something good for the world, we lose the demand to act and think accordingly.

P. In Daffodil on vacation says he hates socialism and in Tropical truth he writes that, if it weren't for that April 1, 1964, he would be more distant from the left. Do you see a critical left, like yours, in the Brazil of 2020? What social and political solution do you see for the country?

R. The movie was made two years ago. Since then, I've seen (historian) Jones Manoel speak on YouTube, read an introduction to the book African revolution and there I have found arguments that have removed my almost certainties on the subject. In fact, Jones has answered questions I have been asking myself for decades about why Marxists in academia were silent about the admittedly oppressive experiences in countries where socialism arrived. We read that Marighella wept when she learned of Stalin's famous evils, but nothing is known about how she came back to decide on communism. Well, I liked (the philosopher) Ruy Fausto because he criticized real socialist experiences. Not that he was the only one. Many Trotskyists had already done so to some extent. At least they had shown their revulsion for Stalin. But neither Ruy nor they could justify their adherence to something that had always worked so badly. In the counterculture, we had the courage to reject all of that without becoming conservative or reactionary. But there was something wrong. In the book, I tell that we oscillate between the ultra-left and liberalism. That ultra-left had something of an anarchist about it. But that was not enough. The liberal creed seemed more worthy to me. We did not enter into a saving religion that dares not speak its name: liberal democracy is in practice in the developed West. But I am a mulatto and from an underdeveloped country. My inspiration is not satisfied with the system that has as its leader the great exceptional country that made the revolution before the French and remains faithful to it, but it is silent in front of Saudi Arabia and abominates Iran and Venezuela. Thus, the unity of deep purpose that socialist daring represents, as it appeared in the speeches and texts of Jones Manoel and was explained in detail in the books of (the Italian philosopher Domenico) Losurdo, is composed of a radical vision of the colonial history and the enslavement of African blacks, a history that coincides with the development of liberalism. Seeing this has made me change my mind.

P. In the foreword to the new edition of the book, he writes that "Brazil is in perpetual upheaval and there are too many things that suggest that we do not have to be optimistic", and recalls a phrase by Fernando Pessoa: "We have lost ourselves to such an extent that we must be in the good way". In our 2020, does this phrase – which brings hope, however ironic – still make sense?

R. It makes as much sense as when I quoted it. It was (the economist) Eduardo Giannetti, a liberal, who highlighted it to me. My optimistic expectations about Brazil are more a responsibility than a hope. If we do not seek within ourselves what we have of historical energy to do, for what we are, something good for the world, we lose the demand to act and think accordingly.

I am 78 years old, people watch television series that seem very boring to me, with several episodes and seasons, I don't know if this dream of making movies can be a plan again

P. He acknowledges that he has a certain "tendency to digress" and a certain Proustian character. Has that been accentuated or changed in any way with age?

R. Some close people sometimes tell me that it has gotten worse. But not all. I talk a lot with my children. They know I can be verbose and ramble a bit, but the conversation flows. And a lot. Even with Tom, who is laconic. And when I write, I feel like I manage to be shorter.

P. You and your son Zeca have had home theater sessions during the quarantine. It is impossible not to remember the passages of Tropical truth in which he speaks with passion about the cinema, especially the films of Federico Fellini. What have you been seeing in these sessions?

R. Zeca and I have seen several movies. He is now focused on something he is doing. That is why we have not done any more sessions. But we have seen unavoidable Brazilian movies and some Italian ones. We plan to continue.

I know Pedro is going to Venice. I can not go. Brazilians cannot enter Italy yet

P. Daffodil on vacation It is not the first documentary directed by another person on his biography. But his foray into filmmaking has been limited to experimental Failed cinema (Talking cinema). Did you come to revisit the film as you did, for example, with the book? And why hasn't he ventured back behind the scenes?

R. Making songs and singing them is logistically much simpler than making movies. Failed cinema it was a rehearsal of rehearsals. I would like to do one in Bahia, that has a nice idea. I had a friend named Marco Polo who lived in a little house on the rock that delimits Porto da Barra and who went to all parts of Salvador by sea. I had no idea that his name was inspired by a Venetian navigator. I would like to make a movie about someone like that. That it had images similar to those of Trampolim do forte (Trampoline of the fort). I have never totally given up on the dream of making movies. But I find it hard to think about that now. I am 78 years old, people watch television series that seem very boring to me, with several episodes and seasons, I do not know if this dream of making movies can be a plan again.

P. His friend Pedro Almodóvar has just premiered in Venice a film that was made during the pandemic, The human voice. Have you talked and exchanged reflections on life, work and art in these uncertain times? Do you see yourself doing gigs again in the near future?

R. I know Pedro is going to Venice. I can not go. Brazilians cannot enter Italy yet. Paulinha spoke with Pedro recently. I do not. We haven't written to each other for a long time. He was filming and is very obsessive about it. And I want to sing again on stage before the public.


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