Panis et Circenses

Lyrics from “Panis et Circenses” (Bread and Circus) by  Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso with Os Mutantes; arrangement and sound by Rogério Duprat

Album:  Tropicalia: ou Panis et Circensis (1968) & Os Mutantes (1968)

I wanted to sing my song, illuminated by the sun

I unfurled the sails on the masts in the air

I set free the tigers and the lions in backyards

But the people in the dining room

Are busy being born and dying

I ordered that a knife be made, of pure shiny steel

To kill my love, and I killed…

At 5 o’clock, on the Central Avenue

But the people in the dining room

Are busy being born and dying

I ordered planted

Leaves of dreams in the garden

The leaves know how to seek the sun

And the roots, to seek, to seek

But the people in the dining room

Those people in the dining room

They’re the people in the dining room

But the people in the dining room

Are busy being born and dying

— Interpretation —

The album cover from the 1968 collaboration album “Tropicalia or Panis et Circensis” is a parody of a bourgeois family photo. The photo illustrates the theme of the album’s title track, which satirizes bourgeois family life.

The title “Bread and Circuses” is an allusion to the classical poet Juvenal, author of the Satireswho scorned ancient Romans for their easy and predictable manipulation through bread and circus — or the diversion of food and games.  The song, in turn, is a satire of bourgeois conventions. In the lyrics, a first-person poetic voice tries desperately to alarm the family, to snap them out of their mental and physical stagnation; the attempt is futile.  During these early years of military rule in Brazil, when economic liberalization brought quick financial boons to the complaisant and complicit upper middle class, expressions of rejection of these mores were frequent in Brazilian music. (Ouro de Tolo carried quite a similar message, as did Chico Buarque’s Valsinha).

Brazil’s armed forces seized power in 1964 and, adopting the mantra “Brazil: Love it or leave it,” imposed an overbearing nationalism on all aspects of civil and cultural life in the country, including popular music.  Still, up until 1969 and Institutional Act V (AI-5), the government tolerated a leftist subculture.  The left,  in response to the military’s nationalism, embraced popular music as a tool for resistance, promoting its own radically nationalistic music, but in the name of anti-imperialism rather than social control.

At the time, urban popular music was roughly divided into two camps: the first, that of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), an eclectic and ever-evolving style whose affiliates – including icons like Edu Lobo and Elis Regina –   defended ‘authenticity’ and purity in Brazilian music; and the second, the international rock movement called the Jovem Guarda (Young Guard), whom the MPB camp felt was politically and culturally “alienated” (while MPB was culturally “engaged”).

But in 1967, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – and their friends, including Os Mutantes – brought an end to this dichotomy when they took the stage at the immensely popular Third Festival of Brazilian Popular Music. They stunned the crowd (including almost any Brazilian with access to a television) and their critics with their innovative style, fusing international and local musical forms. The movement, which quickly became known as Tropicalismo, used foreign sounds and instruments along with typical Brazilian ones to make uniquely Brazilian music, while lyrically satirizing the extremes on both ends of the musical debate.

The rock group Os Mutantes was fundamental to the Tropicália movement: Os Mutantes represented the São Paulo contingent, while artists like Gil, Veloso, Tom Zé, Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia made up the Bahian contingent. The two groups met in São Paulo in 1967, through mutual friend and poet Augusto dos Campos.  Brothers Arnoldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias Baptista had formed Os Mutantes in 1966, with Brazilian rock icon Rita Lee as the lead vocalist.  In 1968 the collective released the collaborative album Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circensis, which was hailed as the Brazilian response to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

By 1969, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso were forced into exile by the military government.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)

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