Os Mutantes Info
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Rita Lee interview

1. What role did Os Mutantes play in the tropicalia movement?

Os Mutantes were a bunch of politically alienated teenagers. At the time we met Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, all we wanted was to have fun with music no matter how heavy the Brazilian dictatorship was... Mutantes were in tune with the world music, the new instrumental sound that was erupting through the Beatles, Hendrix, Stones. Because of the unexistent electronic instruments in Brazil we used to build at home our guitars, basses, theremin, distortions, percussions etc... it was such a fun task to imagine how to get a wah-wah pedal effect without having seen one before... most of the time we came out with some very close results, sometimes even better... When Gil first heard Os Mutantes during a record session he got really impressed with our home-made instruments and our sane insanity, so we soon began a real rich partnership... I would say that Os Mutantes gave the tropicalia movement a new expansion by using electronic instruments for the first time in the Brazilian music panorama without even worrying about prejudice, facing this struggle like clowns in the middle of the reactionaries. By doing so, we’ve caught much more attention to the powerful and beautiful lyrics, to the strong and daring messages of the tropicalia movement. We were straight to the point, to reach lots of desperate people longing for some enlightenment at the end of Darth Vader’s tunnels.

2. Why do you think that there is so much interest now in reissuing the group’s work in the U.S.?

It must have something to do with the turn of the millenium, the rising curiosity and re-reading the best of what the 20th century has produced, artwise, all over the world. When I first heard Beck I really felt a musical familiarity with what Os Mutantes used to do 25 years ago... I’m sure he hasn’t listened to us before, so there’s really something in the air making what was a flash future music ( the Mutantes were light years ahead ) into a new/old awakening.

3. You grew up in São Paulo. What was your childhood like and when did you start singing?

I’m 50 years old, I must be one of the oldest female rockers/ composers in the world and still performing! All I remember about my childhood is that São Paulo was a very nice and pleasant place to live. My father was American and my mother Italian, so I had sort of a kaleidoscopic family background. As a teenager, things down here were getting tougher because the dictatorship would cut whoever’s ya ya’s out. Even though my musical interest began at school gigs, the imminence of danger was beginning to infest the minds of the young dudes all over Brazil. At that time I was attending a French school, Lycée Pasteur, where I started a group with three girls singing the repertoire of Francoise Hardy, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Serge Gaisnburg, João Gilberto, Inezita Barroso, Carmen Miranda, Peter Paul and Mary, the Beach Boys and many others. We used to hang out at school-promoted festivals. It was during one of those festivals that I first met the Baptista Brothers who had a group called The Wooden Faces.

4. The first groups that you played with where Teenage Singers, Tulio’s Trio and Six Sided Rockers. What kind of music did these groups play?

The Teenage Singers and Tulio Trio’s repertoire was basically what was going on before the Beatles came up. The Six Sided Rockers and Os were the next line-up with what was left from the Teenage Singers and The Wooden Faces. At this time we began to compose our own songs, but some of the members started going to college and the only remaining Three Stooges were Arnaldo, Sérgio and I.

5. How did you meet the other members of Os Mutantes?

They attended a traditional school in São Paulo, Caetano de Campos. At the beginning the Wooden Faces were Claudio Cesar, the drummer (the eldest Baptista brother, the genius behind the instrument factory), Arnaldo the bass player and Rafael the guitar player. There was also behind the scenes the youngest brother Sérgio, who at that time was 13 and had quit school very early to dedicate fully to his guitar. (his parents went nuts!) The Teenage Singers met the Wooden Faces at the festival, I’ve already mentioned, but it took a while (the other previous line-ups) until the trio was completed. The name Mutantes was taken from a science fiction book called O Planeta dos Mutantes. The year was 1965.

6. Os Mutantes sound different from any of the other tropicalia artists. What was the public reaction like at the time?

A mix of surprise, indignation, excitement... and lots of tomatoes! We sure were ready for breaking the laws and during each public appearance there was an intentional “authority offense!” Besides our odd instruments, we also dressed like aliens, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea, pregnant bride, toreros, indians, beggars... I used to steal lots of clothes from the TVs wardrobes to dress up our tropicalista comrades too.

7. Why was the music considered threatening?

Because at that time it was a kind of sacrilege performing MPB (Popular Brazilian Music) using ANY electronic instrument! We understood this as a stupid slavery to such a rich a promising Brazilian young generation whose only intention was to expand horizons and get together with the world through the sound with no frontiers... All for Anarchy!

8. You’ve tried to promote ecological awareness among young people. What is your position on the environment?

It’s been quite a long time. I’m concerned about the disregard of our government, the ineffective preservation of our huge and rich areas like the Amazon, Mata Atlantica, Pantanal and so many other ecological paradises. The devastation of our virgin forests, the disrespect with the indian demarcation areas are an example of how our government is totally unaware and lazy about our planet as a whole... the first time we could call any attention to these urgent situations was when people like Sting for instance, came to Brazil and started a crusade worldwide, or when CNN shows a spreading and uncontrollable fire in Roraima killing the Yanomamis, their reservations and culture... on the other side, Brazil will celebrate 500 years of its discovery in the year of 2000... for me, this should remind us all that Brazil has in fact been invaded (and not discovered) by pirates from many countries who have stolen and explored our natural treasures for 500 years! The paradox is that Brazil still has billions of debts to pay to the so called first world who is responsible for all our misery!

9. How did you get the idea for the Bossa ’n’ Roll concert and album?

It has all started to me as a “personal therapy.” I began playing my acoustic guitar naked in the bathroom (the best acoustics in the house) and find what was like being alone with myself... I was quite tired of the electronic paraphernalia which I’ve been using for the past 25 years, so I decided to radicalize my life playing what I like the best in Brazilian music: Bossa Nova! On the other hand my pioneering experiences with “roquenrou” made me think of interesting fusions between Bossa Nova and Rock ’n’ Roll. Songs like “Cry Me a River,” “Every Breath You Take,” “Fool on the Hill,” “The More I See You” and other international classics were dressed up as radical cool bossas. It was a very pleasant and quite easy adaptation due to these music’s original subtle harmonies. The Rolling Stones big hit “It’s only Rock’n’roll” underwent a very funny “surgery” and became “It’s only Bossa ’n’ Roll”... it was as if Jagger was singing like João Gilberto! With my own compositions, the Rockarnavals (as I like to call them) became quite different too, less explosive but still with a subtle invitation to dance. Bossa ’n’ Roll (1990) was the first acoustic ever recorded live in Brazil and at the time people thought I had gone nuts! But it turned out to be a huge success, later on everyone realized I was again that old hag pioneer, this time flirting with bossa nova with no concessions. Now I’ve just released the MTV Acoustic of my “resume de l’opera, with a sophisticated instrumentalia, new arrangements, and a repertoire from Mutantes, Tutti Frutti, a group that lasted for 6 years and also Rita Lee and Roberto de Carvalho, a partnership that still remains for 20 years. It is an improvement of Bossa ’n’ Roll, less radical and much better registered both in CD and home video.

10. I think there might be a market for your solo albums in the US. Is there any attempt to make them available here?

My idea now is to select the best of among my 400 songs composed during the past 30 years, translate them into English (the true Esperanto!) and release an album in the US. In Europe people like songs in Portuguese, such an exotic language! I have practically all my solo albums released in Europe... they love my Carmen Miranda Salsamerican dialect, but in the U.S. it’s more difficult to reach the big American public when you are a gringa (the only exception so far was “Macarena” wasn’t it?)... well... I’ll do my best to turn my english accent into something chic and harmless.

Check out:

Sérgio Baptista interview
another Sérgio Baptista interview
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