He's been called "the Brazilian Bob Dylan" on too many occasions to count. But he could just as easily be considered the Brazilian equivalent of Leonard Cohen, someone with a deep appreciation of both the classic and the modern, and unafraid to bring both to a profound and often swingin' fore. Mostly though, he is himself -- a man as unique as a sunset's flash of green, who sings songs as beautiful as blue moons. He is Caetano Veloso, and his latest LP -- zii e zie -- brings samba to the 21st century with an all-knowing snap, crackle and pop. Crossfade e-mailed a set of questions to the legendary troubadour on the eve of his showing at the Fillmore Gleason.
Crossfade: You've been to Miami on numerous occasions, what do you think of our fair city and what kind of position do you think it occupies in the world-at-large?
Veloso: Miami is a beautiful, pleasant place. I liked at first sight. Learning to like LA, for instance, has been a hard lesson. Miami is my kind of coastal town. You feel the presence of the sea -- and you often see it. It has the perfect amount of humidity for my taste. And the city, proverbial paradise of the 1940s and 50s movies, has become home of so many Cubans (and other Caribbean people) that it is at the same time a great American city and a great Caribbean one. A place to be loved for so many reasons.
If we're not mistaken, this will be the fifth trip in conjunction with The Rhythm Foundation. I imagine there's a world-wide network of just such organizations that have brought you to their towns too. How important have grass roots producers and promoters been to your career?
I'm thankful to The Rhythm Foundation for having brought me so many times to Miami. This has given me the chance to sing for Brazilians who live here, to share my music with Spanish-speaking people and Americans who, for one reason or another, may be curious about what I have been doing all these years.
Your 2003 memoir, Tropical Truth, recounts the early years of the Tropicalia movement, but it ends in the early '70s. Are there plans for subsequent volumes?
I have no plans of doing so. In fact I only wrote Tropical Truth because an American editor convinced me to. He had read an article I wrote for the New York Times about Carmen Miranda and thought I should write a book. It took a long time for him to convince me. But when I started writing, I was possessed. I still like the book -- but only in its original Portuguese text. I like writing, but didn't have the dream of completing an autobiography.
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In Tropical Truth you cite a disparate array of influences, including John Cage, Ezra Pound and Jean-Luc Godard. Do you still continue to draw on the world's canon for inspiration?
Maybe I cited Ezra Pound when I referred to the so-called concrete poets from São Paulo. Pound has not been exactly an influence on me: I didn't have the knowledge of his poetry that would be required. Cage, yes, as experiencing music is something so immediate -- and Cage's writings are, in a way, part of his music. Godard is the only one you mentioned who has really had a very direct influence on my taste. But João Gilberto is unsurpassed.
Speaking of influences, the title of your most recent record -- zii e zie (uncles and aunts) -- comes from you reading an Italian translation of Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul. Do you often read foreign translations of a foreigner's work?
I only read Pamuk's book in Italian because I was going to fly from Italy to Turkey and an Italian friend gave me it as a present. But something like that happened before. I saw a collection of stories by Collete in a friend's house in New York, in the English translation. I had been postponing reading Collete for years. So I took a look at some pages -- and I was taken by it. I couldn't stop. I borrowed the book and loved it so much that I found it a little disappointing when I finally read it in French. Well, I could never read Pamuk in Turkish. I liked Istambul in Italian. But there I found the words "zii" and "zie" next to each other and fell in love with the sight. But in general I read books translated into Portuguese.
This year marks your 25th with Nonesuch, which has one of the most eclectic and respected rosters of any label in the world. How blessed do you feel to have been such a long part of that roster and how has it helped you over the course of your career?
I was happy that Italian trumpet player Enrico Rava was married to an Argentine woman called Graziela, and that they both told Bob Hurwitz they liked my music. Bob heard a little from some records and didn't find anything. But in 1983 I went to New York to play and Bob found time to see the concert. It was my first time in New York, even in the USA. Next day Bob found me in my hotel and told me he had been impressed. From then on we became friends. I never gave him any present like having a good-selling album or anything, but he goes on liking what I do. Strikingly, he understands it all. So, yes, I am very happy.
Is there any truth to the rumors of you collaborating with Lil' Wayne and P. Diddy for a Tropicalismo/hip-hop project?
I haven't heard. Or have I?
You've always been civically-engaged; once with harrowing results. How involved are you these days and what cause(s) is/are closest to your heart?
I am basically the same man. I think Brazil is a weird country: gigantic, racially deeply "impure" in South America and speaking Portuguese. We have a chance to present something original. So I think we have a responsibility.
President Lula appointed your old friend and fellow traveler Gilberto Gil to be Minister of Culture, a move that was applauded by everyone. Other than that, has Lula really been good for Brazil?
When Lula appointed Gil, I advised Gil not to accept. "You'll be Lula's Lula," I told him. But he did accept and it all ended well. I often say that we Brazilians are fortunate (or plainly wise) to have had Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula as presidents in a row. I was against reelection. But finally having had 8 years of Cardoso and 8 of Lula was not bad at all. Cardoso created the real and organized an economic policy that Lula was wise enough not to undo. In fact he enhanced it. His programs of assisting the poor do work. Disparity in Brazil -- which still is a scandal -- has not stopped to dim since the real and has lowered faster with Lula's programs. That doesn't mean I'd like his party and group should remain in power.