Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
With a career that began in the early 1960s, Gal Costa is one of the true titans of Brazilian popular music. Finding her voice as part of the Tropicalia movement in the late `60s alongside her lifelong friends, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Gal released a total of 44 albums, and many of her records from the `60s and `70s are rightly considered classics.
Gal – Philips 1969
This is Gal’s second solo LP, released just a few months after her debut, Gal Costa. This one is sometimes referred to as Cinema Olympia, after its opening track, to avoid confusion between the two. Released at the height of the Tropicalia movement’s ground-breaking impact on Brazilian music, culture, and politics, this is completely bat-shit crazy!
Tropicalia can be a pretty ‘out-there’ genre when it wants to be, combining as it does, fuzzed-up Sgt. Pepper / Yellow Submarine-era Beatles psychedelia, with just about every style of Brazilian music that you can fit in the old creative cooking pot. This album, however, pushes the boundaries like few others, jumping between pop and the avant-garde, often during the same song. There’s a brilliant quote from Andy Beta of The Pitchfork Review, who described the album as “the equivalent of Barbra Streisand recording with Boredoms” (a Japanese ‘art-noise-rock’ band) and “one of the heaviest documents of Tropicália.” It is both quite challenging, and funkily brilliant, and includes possibly my favourite Gal Costa track of all, the sublime, North African tinged, psyche-funk number, Tuareg. It’s a wonderfully, slinky, sexy, Balearic shuffler, with a breathy, sultry vocal. Just sublime.
My copy is an early `80s Brazilian reissue, I think. Blue labels with white text rather than the silver of the earlier pressings, but still a lovely thing. There Pam’s some great, trippy, psychedelic sleeve art on this one.
Legal – Philips 1970
This is Gal’s third solo LP, and she seems to have gotten the Captain Beefheart influences out of her system, so here we have a slightly more, dare I say, pop sensibility… although there are still heavy psychedelic influences, as well as funk, and the blues. Featuring a host of Brazilian musical heavyweights such as Tim Maia and Erasmo Carlos, it’s certainly another great collection of songs, but for me the standout track is the Gilberto Gil-penned beauty. Lingua Do P – a lovely little psyche-pop-funk-fusion tune, which changes tempo – slowing down for the end section, before building into a slow, hypnotic funk groove. Totally wonderful. Also of note is the quite bonkers Love, Try and Die, which falls somewhere between a Noel Coward song, something by The Ink Spots, and the kind of odd, musical hall-inspired whimsical number that Paul McCartney might have knocked off for The White Album.
The album cover is a total masterpiece, designed by Brazilian artist, Hélio Oiticica. My copy is an original 1970 mono Brazilian pressing, and has seen better days, but still plays well.
India – Phillips 1973
This is my personal favourite. It’s Gal’s “Revolver” moment, where everything from the music to the cover art are all absolutely pushing the boundaries. There’s not a duff note on this LP from start to finish, and the variety of material is incredible. From the haunting opening title track to Gilberto Gil’s adaptation of the classic folk song Milho Verde, or the Caetano Veloso-penned beauty, Da Maior Importancia, and the gorgeous Passarinho, the music herein is simply sublime. Being the disco kid that I am, though, the top tunes for me are the more dancefloor friendly numbers, Pontos De Luz, a Latin-jazz dance classic, and side 2 opener, Relance. Written by Caetano Veloso and Pedro Novis, this is a slice of insane samba-funk, which sounds like a non-electronic version of Stereolab, but sung in Portuguese. It’s intense, rhythmic, completely unrelenting, and a total bomb! According to my dear friend, Luke Howard, of the Horse Meat Disco crew, who’s far more of an expert on Brazilian music than me, the track’s incredible, hypnotic, woozy sound is a mix of North-Eastern styles, “defined as ‘baião’ or, ‘xaxado’ – with the use of accordion, popularised by Luis Gonzaga – which has now morphed into the modern style known as F’orró’.” The album closes with a beautiful version of the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, Desafinado.
Mine is – I think – an original Brazilian first pressing, which should have come with a paper insert, detailing the track list, and more importantly, a blue plastic bag with the artist and title printed on it in black. Sadly, I have neither the bag nor insert. The bag was necessary to get around the censorship imposed by Brazil’s military government at the time.
This is a masterpiece, and Mr Bongo did a beautiful reissue a couple of years ago, so you should all go and buy a copy. I didn’t even mention that it was arranged by Arthur Verocai!
Gal Canta Caymmi – Phillips 1976
This is another gorgeous set of songs, covering a multitude of styles, but all written by another Brazilian music legend, Dorival Caymmi. The title literally translates as “Gal sings Caymmi”. So there you go, you’ve learnt a little Portuguese today. The album is beautiful from start to finish, but I do have a couple of favourites, and they both come at the end of side 1, in the form of Pescaria (Canoeiro), and O Vento.
Pescaria (Canoeiro) – which translates as “Fishing (Canoeist)” – is 3 minutes of pure joy, a bouncing, bundle of fun – reminding me of some of the most energetic moments on Gal’s first two “Tropicalia” solo LPs, and also including that hypnotic accordion sound found on Relance, from India. O Vento, or “The Wind”, is slo-mo, Brazilian funk at its best. Another hypnotic, heavy groove, that just rolls and rolls and rolls. A total dancefloor destroyer.
Agua Viva – Phillips 1978
From later in Gal’s golden decade of releases comes another beautiful album. This has a softer, slightly more mainstream sound, absorbing influences such as disco that were around at the time – but this is not a disco LP. It is pure audio sunshine. The standout track is left until last, with a song that became a massive Balearic anthem for Richard Moonboots at Manchester’s legendary Sunday nighter, Aficionado, namely, O Gosto Do Amor.
This is a totally bonkers, and undefinable track. I suppose samba-psyche-funk comes somewhere close, but really, trying to define it is just wasting your time. It’s a dancefloor monster! It’s also one of Gal’s most powerful vocal performances, and she duets with the song’s writer, Luiz Gonzaga Jnr, while that other legend of Brazilian music, Sivuca, plays the accordion!
I’ve lost count of the number of times that this track has managed to magically launch my drunken body back onto the dancefloor, when really, I should probably have gone home hours ago!…And what a sleeve, again, as well! I think mine is an early Brazilian pressing. It has this lovely fold-out insert, with another great photo of Gal, and the lyrics on the flip. A total beauty.
Gal, thank you for the music.
You can also check out the super silk screen prints of “Balearic Wife” over at @jo_lambert_print