While in Brazil this summer, a friend lent me a book which I am reading now, A Historia Sexual da MPB (The sexual history of Brazilian folk music; as far as I know, it has not been translated from Portuguese), by Rodrigo Faour. It is above all a sociological and historical study of attitudes towards relationships and sex in Brazilian society through the prism of its music, most notably the lyrics, but also other elements such as artwork of albums, dancing styles etc. So far I am really enjoying it, also because the author clearly has a feminist agenda. He notices for example that, up to the 1960s, the main themes in Brazilian music were impossible love stories, heartbreaks, and so forth; either in the Romantic-troubadour style of the inaccessible dame or in the spirit of women as mean, vicious creatures. Needless to say, until then, songs were composed by men in 99% of cases. It is only in the 1970s that a generation of female singers and composers helped introduce a new conception of what it is to be a woman in Brazilian music, thus changing its general approach to love and sex.
One of these singers is Gal Costa, and those of you with some knowledge of Brazilian music have undoubtedly already heard of her. She belongs to the brilliant generation of musicians who emerged in Bahia in the 1960s, and was associated with the Tropicália movement (together with Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, among many others). She has been at the forefront of the Brazilian music scene since, alternating periods of huge popularity with less productive ones. I haven’t followed her career much in the last 15 years or so, and indeed she is mostly known for her work in the 1970s and 1980s. She has a powerful, penetrating voice and a versatile singing style; she sings lively carnival songs and heart-felt ballads with the same panache. Gal Costa has recorded songs by all the great Brazilian composers (she does not write music herself), invariably adding her own special twist to each song. She has been influential in Brazilian music not only through her singing, but also through her unconventional, daring attitude (as pointed out in the Sexual History book). As an example, check out the artwork of her 1973 album, India:
Awesome, isn’t it? I’ll post two songs by Gal Costa here; one is ‘Tigresa’, composed by Caetano Veloso (here in his version, also terrific), recorded in 1977 for the album Caras & Bocas. It was included in the sound-track of a very popular soap-opera, and became a huge hit. The song, praising the charms of a woman-tigress, can also be seen as a good description of Gal Costa herself as a powerful, liberated woman. The other song is ‘Vapor Barato’, which is more of a ‘cult’ song, recorded in the 1971 album Fa-tal, and then re-discovered by younger generations (myself included) as part of the sound-track for the film Terra Estrangeira (1996) (the video below has scenes from the film). The sound of the original recording is quite bad, but somehow it’s become part of the experience of listening to this song. I love these two songs both for the music and for the powerful image of a kick-ass woman that they convey -- even, I'm sure, to those who do not understand the lyrics.