When tropicalismo erupted on the horizon of Brazilian popular music in the late 1960s, the Brazilian military dictatorship was in full swing. Not surprisingly, resistance, irreverence, and political confrontation became defining features of the movement, which in turn led the military government to pay very close attention to tropicalismo’s protagonists.
Gal Costa’s career unfolded in this highly charged context. She was the only female performer who was associated with tropicalismo from the very beginning and throughout the movement’s traumatic developments, and therefore became the muse-in-residence for all the tropicalists, and the most revered interpreter of their works.
Costa had an enormous impact on the reception of tropicalismo and its aesthetics, especially through her irreverent stage presence and performing style. She took to heart the confrontational aspects of tropicalismo and embodied them in her stage persona, which was constructed from a combination of musical, visual, and theatrical elements.
One of the most distinct aspects of her performances was the intense sexuality and eroticism that emanated from her onstage. She was a very accomplished guitarist, and for most of her early career she would accompany herself on the guitar, playing the instrument as she sat with her legs widespread and animated by a sensual, provocative movement that made many conservative spectators a bit uncomfortable. Her mass of unruly hair added an animalistic intensity that was made all the more vivid through her wild and aggressive vocalizations.
Costa gave voice to several of the iconic songs of tropicalismo, many of which were composed specifically with her vocal qualities in mind. In her first live album, Fa-tal: Gal a todo vapor (1971), she crystallized all the defining elements of her style. The album became a classic in the history of Brazilian popular music, and was ranked the 20th greatest Brazilian album of all time by Rolling Stone Brasil.
This according to “‘Eu sou uma fruta gogóia, eu sou uma moça’: Gal Costa e o Tropicalismo no feminino” by Rafael da Silva Noleto (Per musi: Revista acadêmica de música 30 [July–December 2014] pp. 64–75).
Today is Gal Costa’s 70th birthday! Below, the quintessential teasing, sultry tropicalista.
BONUS: A Brazilian friend describes this as “making Tom Jobim very happy in heaven.”