Tropicalia (the band) is no more; long live Os Tropies.That's the short version of an updated announcement we mentioned in our post (Tropicalia, transformation and magic) last August 2012. That's when the group played the final gig under their former name, and true to their promise, they are back: Now known as Os Tropies (their own nickname for themselves), the project relaunches with a new EP featuring original material and a series of shows at The Piston in Toronto this February.The band emerges from a writing and recording cocoon that songwriter and lead singer Amy Medvick previously described this way:"Our focus is shifting from being primarily a cover/tribute band to working more on original material. Of course, I don’t think we will ever give up playing our favourite Os Mutantes or Novos Baianos tunes, it's way too much fun! But writing in this style is truly exciting and liberating. I feel like there really isn’t any territory that isn’t open to a tropicalista, now more than ever. I’m writing in equal parts English and Portuguese and incorporating anything that inspires me."Though they will continue to feature tropicalismo classics in their live shows and recordings, the EP, appropriately titled TROPICALIA!, marks their metamorphosis from a cover band to one that writes and performs original tunes. On the five-song CD, Medvick's lyrics in English, Portuguese and French ride energetic grooves drawing from the group's steady mix of bossa nova, psychedelic rock, and samba references, all in keeping with tropicalia tradition.Les Chattes Jolies (available for free downloadIn true Toronto tropical-lovin' fashion, Os Tropies have put together a whole mess of fun and unique musical support for the series of shows comprising their EP release residency at The Piston. Each Wednesday night show has its own theme, based around honouring one or more of the band's crucial tropicalismo references. (Says drummer Eric Woolston: "You can choose your favourite flavour of Brazilian psychedelic spirit possession, or collect the whole set!")The group's photo shoot for the EP release pays homage to the photography for the landmark album Os Panis et Circenses (on which artists like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Os Mutantes and Gal Costa all collaborated), down to sly nods to the 1968 classic like the picture frame, the boho-mystic-hippie chic of the day and the fellow agitators and allies in the movement.Supporting artists during the February residency include Aline Morales, Maria Bonita and the Band, Petra Glynt and other locals on the live act side (two guest live bands plus Os Tropies at each show), as well as a host of weekly rotating DJs including Uma Nota founding resident DJ General Eclectic, Firecracker, Maylee Todd, David Dacks, Friendlyness and Sandro Perri.The original Tropicalia movement and its artists were nothing if not products of their era. Os Tropies, in resurrecting, celebrating and re-visioning the music in all its theatricality and exuberance, create their own Toronto-born interpretation with style to spare. A singular feat for any band, at any time of the year, much less a mid-week residency during the city's coldest months -- still, there is plenty of substance behind Os Tropies' confidence in their series.Os Tropies play The Piston (937 Bloor St. W.) in Toronto on Wednesdays February 6, 13, 20 and 27. All shows start 10 p.m. Cover charge is $5 and the EP is $5. More information is available on the Facebook event page or on the band's website. Uma Nota Culture is supporting this event series.
This project spent a long time as an idea, a fantasy. Between myself, our keyboardist Dave Atkinson, and our most recent addition to the band on drums, Fraser McEvoy, there had been this sharing of Brazilian music of all kinds over a period of several years (and cities!). The music from the tropicalia movement always had a special appeal for each of us, and I think we each had our own fantasies of performing this music, as unlikely and untenable as that seemed at the time. Eventually Dave and I, both living and working as musicians in Toronto, were in a position to start it up for real. We weren’t sure exactly who would come and see us play this obscure style of music, or even who was going to play in the band! But I had a feeling the right people would materialize and they sure enough did, and always have. Shortly after we agreed to make it happen, we found and collected the rest of the original members, including our guitarist Graham Campbell and our percussionist Eric Woolston (we arrived at our current line-up with the later additions of Carlie Howell on bass and Fraser on drums). Though the original idea was just to do a couple of shows for kicks, we did our first gig for a lovely, supportive audience of fellow tropicalia fans — who were singing along to the Portuguese lyrics without understanding a word! It was a very inspiring thing, and from that first show I knew we had hit on something that people were going to respond to, obscurity and foreign-language not withstanding.
I think both our biggest advantage and disadvantage are one and the same thing— the genre itself, specifically the fact that it is relatively unfamiliar to the general population both in Brazil and Canada. Depending on the venue or event, people who haven’t been exposed to what tropicalismo is all about can be a bit confused by the mix of pysch rock, “Latin” rhythms, Portuguese lyrics and unmitigated wackiness. However, there is a die-hard core of people who love this music and love seeing it played live. With the release of several compilations of the tropicalia classics, the genre is becoming more well known, and the sounds of the music, if not the names, are spreading even further into facets of the popular music scene here in Toronto. We were lucky that we started up at the exact moment when the fans of the style were enough to build an audience, but no one else here was playing this music. And we have watched as enthusiasm for tropicalia has spread throughout our community over the two years we have been playing it.
We started out mostly playing covers. We are definitely not purists, but we tend to stick close to the originals — why fix what’s already uncontrollably awesome? On the other hand, as I spent time learning more of these psychedelic tunes, my writing naturally started to incorporate those sounds. It was only a couple of months before we started bringing in original material, and now we have enough to play a set of only originals if we wanted to, with contributions from myself and our guitar player, Graham Campbell. We have also done a few covers from outside the tropicalia genre, although always bearing a strong relationship to what we are doing. For example, sometimes we play the aptly titled Beck song, Tropicalia, giving our audience something a bit more familiar or accessible that still references our main inspiration. On the other hand, more recently I brought in a song from what I think of as the psychedelic era of Iran, a tune called Mano Tou by legendary Persian singer Googoosh. I had been checking out this whole new genre of music and I started to get the feeling that they had been checking out some Brazilian music. So I thought I would complete the circle, so to speak, and bring in a tune to Tropicalia. Singing in Farsi was a challenge, but a blast— I always love to sink my teeth into a new set of sounds in a new language!
I don’t know if there has been one performance highlight in particular, we have had a lot of great moments, if I don’t say so myself! My favourite moments, however, are always when we have a certain balance in our audience— some people who know and love us well, some who know what we are about and are curious to hear us for the first time, and some who have no idea what they are about to hear. When that balance is there and the energy on stage is right, I can feel the impact of the first notes on the audience, like a shockwave, and I see folks start to get excited. It’s really thrilling when that can happen.
... these days you are more and more likely to see me getting on stage dressed up as Queen Cleopatra or writing tunes about having a love affair with a Caveman. I think it all works in this style… Jorge Ben was writing about the Taj Mahal and desert nomads, the Mutantes about Don Quixote, and Ney Matogrosso was singing about the women of Athens while decked out in feathers and gold. I want us to continue the journey back in time into those fantasy worlds.