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Home World News Washington Post World News Gal Costa, central figure in the Brazilian song movement Tropicália, dies at...

Gal Costa, central figure in the Brazilian song movement Tropicália, dies at age 77

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Gal Costa, one of Brazil’s most respected singers and a central figure in the artistic movement of the Tropicália counterculture that emerged during the repressive military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, died on November 9 in São Paulo. She was 77.

Her press agent announced the death, but gave no reason.

Until 1969, the most prominent performers of the Tropicália movement—which sought to undermine military rule through art and peaceful disobedience rather than through the left-wing guerrilla activity of the time—were singer-songwriters Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. As they fled the country, under threat of imprisonment or worse from the regime, Ms. Costa kept their music in circulation through evocative performances.

In addition, Mrs. Costa was a leading exponent of música popular brasileira, which mixed regional folk music with samba, jazz and rock. She never considered herself a traditional protest singer, or even politically motivated, until the last few years when she spoke out against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. But her choice for lyrical allegorical songs, which she performed with her crystal-clear mezzo-soprano voice and her virtuoso playing the violão (acoustic guitar), often focused on political corruption and the Brazilian junta.

Usually outrageously and often scantily dressed as a young woman, her long, dark hair often in curls or an Afro, Mrs. Costa was a child of the sexual revolution that came to Brazil in the 1960s, along with rock music from the United States and England. . She became known as a muse of desbunde, an anti-military but also anti-guerrilla non-conformist zeitgeist.

Mrs. Costa was initially inspired by bossa nova musician João Gilberto and later by Veloso and Gil. But she was also influenced by American rockers, soulmen and blues masters – including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and James Brown – and later (thanks to her son Gabriel) hip-hop.

Her most famous songs are ‘Baby’ and ‘Coração Vagabundo’ (Vagabond Heart) – both written by Veloso; ‘Aquarela do Brasil’, a 1939 composition by Ary Barroso, popularized in English as ‘Brazil’ during the big band era, and ‘London London’, written by Veloso during his exile in the British capital. She sang the latter, as he had written, in English.

Her most controversial album was “Índia” (1973), less for its allegorical lyrics than for its cover image of a woman’s torso wearing a red string-like bikini. The military banned the cover of the album and ordered Mrs. Costa’s record company to sell it only in an opaque blue plastic sleeve. It was the best accidental publicity an artist could wish for. Brazilians lined up at record stores to buy it, and Mrs. Costa emerged as an unwitting feminist icon.

One of the most beautiful songs on the album “Índia” – with the collaboration of Gil, as producer, and Verdoso – was “Milho Verde” (“Green Corn”), a traditional song sung by female enslaved cornfield workers under Portuguese colonial rule. and echoing the songs of North American enslaved cotton pickers.

Maria de Graࣹça Costa Penna Burgos was born in Salvador, the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, on September 26, 1945. Her parents separated after her mother discovered that her husband had a secret second family.

After dropping out of school to help her mother, Mrs. Costa found work at a local record store and started singing along to the latest bossa nova releases. That brought her to the attention of clients such as Veloso, Gil and a young singer named Maria Bethânia. They soon formed a musical group calling themselves Doces Bárbaros (Sweet Barbarians).

She recorded her first solo single in 1965 under the name Maria da Graça, but soon settled on Gal Costa as her stage name. Her breakthrough album, “Domingo” (1967), also featured Veloso.

Ms. Costa said she didn’t have the financial means to go into self-exile like Veloso did. Instead, in 1971, she launched a new Tropicália show called Fa-Tal, directed by her friend Waly Salomão, in which she performed wearing sexy clothes and brightly colored lips.

As her fame grew, she continued her hippie-hedonistic lifestyle in Rio, where she and her friends would sing and play on a stretch of Ipanema beach called the “Dunes of Gal.” In 1985, when she performed at Carnegie Hall during her first performance in the United States, she told the New York Times: “I have no intention of conquering the American market. I am a Brazilian singer and I am quite lazy. to leave Brazil.”

In 2011, Ms. Costa received a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Survivors include her son, Gabriel.

At the heart of Mrs. Costa’s music was a free spirit. “Diversity of any kind, I’m a defender,” she once told an interviewer. “People have to respect differences. The other doesn’t have to be like you. You have to have the freedom to be, to exist, whatever you are. It’s implicit in me, in my way of being.”



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