Caetano Veloso organizes the movement

In his new album after three years, Noites do Norte, composer teases the press by delivering a ready-made interview through the Internet

Silvio Essinger
Caetano Veloso is ever-present in the cultural press. And he is also keen on instigating the art of polemics, as long as he disagrees on what is being said, be it about his or other people's works. For instance, his statements about the Grammy for Best World Music album (Livro, from 1997), or about how he feels that Cacá Diegues' film Orfeu (sound track by Caetano) was underrated. While releasing a new album after three years, the songwriter decided to redefine his relationship with the press. Instead of giving interviews to journalists who would be listening to his album in a hurry just to write imperfect reviews, he chose to have the CD delivered to the critics and let the scribblers enter his web site (click here) to find excerpts of a three-hour long interview given by Caetano to journalist Geneton Moraes Neto.

In print and on video, Caetano goes further in his considerations about the press, complaining that the class mistreats popular artists like (teenage duo) Sandy & Junior. "I am petty sure that commercial music is more qualifying than the commercial press, in Brazil", he says. "Sandy is a perfect singer, technique-wise", he claims, adding that the biggest record sellers in the country have been more responsible than "journalists who behave like utlracommercial artists". Caetano Veloso uses a great chunk of the interview to explain how abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco (dead in 1910) turned the disc, originally programmed to be a sound experiment, into this Noites do Norte. "Slavery will remain for a long time as characteristic of the Brazilian people" - that sentence, which opens a text by Nabuco that was later turned into music by Caetano, guides the musician's analysis of the current reality of the country throughout the disc. "The most evident (vestige of the slavery heritage in Brazilian life) is the favellization of the big cities and the shameful and scandalous statistics that show that black people are more affected by this situation", says the songwriter.

Willing to be American
Besides Nabuco, Caetanos does homage to three other illustrious characters in Noites do Norte. The "will to be an American" is impersonated in Caetano's music by Raul Seixas - a Bahia-native who was a rocker and therefore belonged to a whole different group - in the track Rock'n'Raul. "It may seem, to foolish ears, that my song presents some kind of disapproval, be it of Raul or of the urgency of becoming American. First of all, I do not disapprove of Raul, one of my favorite artists (...) Nonetheless, I have never felt, as he did and a lot of people have, the immediate need to be an American."

In the lyrics of Rock’n’Raul, the curious verse "And today, look at the brothers" pops up. "It is a reference to Brazilian rappers - who also display a big need to become Americans. The names that they pick for themselves are mostly in English. It is quite healthy, because it shows that they want to discuss the way in which racial issues are brought up in Brazil. They'd rather call themselves Ice Blue, Mano Brown, Edy Rock..." Coincidence or not, all of the aforementioned musicians are part of the same band, Racionais MCs.

The second character hyped in Noites do Norte doesn't escape the racial issues inspired by Nabuco, either: Jorge Ben (Jor), who is once again reviewed by Caetano. The powerful Zumbi, originally released in the 1976 album África Brasil, became lyrical. "Jorge Ben is a spectacular case of cultural health, rock with samba, a black man from Rio who wound up living in São Paulo during a crucial period in his life. Jorge Ben is the king of pagode musicians, rappers, tropicalists and rockers", he claims.

At last, the third homage. Following the song Giulieta Masina (featured in the 1987 Caetano album, which brought him to record in Italy the live disc Omaggio a Federico e Giulietta, released last year), the songwriter returns to Italian movies, this time around as a tribute to the film director Michelangelo Antonioni: "I wrote the lyrics in Italian, which is a language that I can hardly speak, but I organized the verses to make them fit. I sent the lyrics to Antonioni and waited for his approval. I was very glad that he was enthusiastic about it and thought that my Italian was good enough."

A little help from the son
Noites do Norte (or Northerns Nights) ended up being an album without a producer. In some of the tracks, Caetano leaned on his long-time collaborator Jacques Morelenbaum. In others, guitarist Luís Brasil gave him a hand. Help also came from guitarist Pedro Sá and from drummer Domenico Lanceloti (a member of the band Mulheres Q Dizem Sim). Son Moreno Veloso, in his turn, wrote the arrangement, played the guitar and the percussion in 13 de Maio. "Moreno started recording his album (Máquina de Escrever Música) before I started mine. And I liked his disc so much, both the songs and the sound engineering. I was stunned to learn how much he knows about these things and asked for his help", he says.

Other guest appearances in Noites do Norte: Dudu Nobre plays the cavaquinho (type of a miniature, 4-string acoustic guitar) in Meu Rio (based upon Caetano's earliest memories of his first visit to Rio, at age 13 in 1956) and singer Zélia Duncan and singer/songwriter Lulu Santos do the back up singing in Cobra Coral. "My voice, Lulu's and Zélia's voices sound as if we were three men", he shoots.