First Listen: 'Red Hot + Rio 2'

Jun 19, 2011

One of my favorite songs by Brazilian icon Chico Buarque goes: "Apesar de voce amanha ha de ser outro dia" ("In spite of you, tomorrow will be another day"). Released in 1978, "A Pesar De Voce" is a thinly veiled reference to the dictatorship whose ruthless grip was suffocating Brazil at the time. I think it also speaks to the power of the Tropicália movement (of which Buarque is considered a founding father): In spite of oppressive conditions, there was an explosion of film, literature and music that made an indelible mark on Brazil and the world. In all its incarnations, Tropicália was psychedelic and avant-garde, yet deeply critical of the political situation of the country.

The Tropicália sound is hard to describe succinctly. It mixes blues, rock, psychedelic music and Brazilian folk. In a recent Guest DJ edition of Alt.Latino dedicated to the genre, Brazilian super-producer Beco Dranoff also described Tropicália as a way of thought: challenging norms, pushing boundaries, and speaking truth to power.

A few weeks ago, when I received an advance preview of Red Hot + Rio 2, a Tropicália compilation curated by Dranoff himself, I was thrilled. The Red Hot Organization is an HIV charity organization which has released over 12 music compilations, each focusing on a different genre. This installment features collaborations between iconic musicians like Rita Lee of Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, newer Brazilian artists like Seu Jorge and Emicida, and American indie rock bands like Beirut and Of Montreal. The end result is absolutely stunning.

The compilation is a testament to the original beauty of tropicalia music (really, it's hard to improve on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aguas do Marco" or "Waters of March"). On a side note, for those who do not speak Portuguese, do not be fooled by the happy, relaxed tone of songs like these: "Aguas do Marco," like so many of the songs featured on this compilation, is a deeply existential meditation on the cyclical nature of life. Brilliant covers like Beirut's interpretation of Caetano Veloso's "Leãozinho" (a song about a "Little Lion" in which I swear lead singer Zach Condon sounds like the purring of the titular animal) also signify the impact Tropicália has had across generations and borders. Beck has written an ode to the genre; David Byrne long ago became a convert; and in the 1990s, Kurt Cobain famously asked iconic Tropicália group Os Mutantes to get back together. Why Tropicalia drives listeners and musicians of all walks of life crazy is really no mystery: It's simply great music.

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