For me, the heaviest and most experimental album produced during the Tropicália movement in Brazil was not recorded by Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, or Gilberto Gil. It was Gal Costa’s second solo album, Gal, from 1969.
Working with producer Rogério Duprat, Costa gave us an album drenched in psychedelia, but with soulful and exotic rhythms as well. As far as her singing, she could go from crooning to screaming — usually in the same song.
No track better highlights this contradiction than “Meu Nome É Gal” (My Name is Gal). The beginning of the side is dominated by horns and strings, although the band anchors the song with a laid-back groove. In the middle of the song, there’s brief spoken word section where the then 24 year-old gives us a brief autobiography and declares if she ever finds love, she doesn’t need a surname.
After that, she and the band really let loose. The brass section blows a hard-driving vamp, while the guitarist throws down some awesome licks. Then Costa returns. She’s singing the same verses but differently this time, punctuating the words with moans, shouts, and even a very deep growl. Regardless of whether you know Portuguese, you get what Costa is trying to say: the sweet, first part of the song was me, but so is the wilder second part. She didn’t write this song, but she certainly made it her own.
Over the years, she has continued to experiment with the arrangements of the song while removing it from its psychedelic roots. In one recent concert, she sang it with only a guitar accompaniment. Maybe I’m biased, but while Costa still has the chops, these later performances of this song lack the power and energy of the original.
Regardless, the 1969 version is not only essential Gal Costa, but a great introduction to the fearless artists that made up the all-too-short-lived Tropicália movement.
(Song recommendation by Christopher Iacono)