CHARLIE ROSE INTERVIEWS CAETANO VELOSO
Brazilian singer and songwriter Caetano Veloso introduces his first English language album, "A Foreign Sound," and performs on set.
Original broadcast date: 5/11/2004
* A conversation with and a performance by Caetano Veloso, Singer / Songwriter - CD: "A Foreign Sound"
Charlie Rose: Caetano Veloso is here. He is one of Brazil's most admired and accomplished singer/songwriters. His rise to fame is closely tied to his country's political and social evolution. During the time Caetano and others started Tropicalia, a counterculture movement that incorporated elements of Brazilian art, poetry, drama and music. Despite his relative obscurity in the United States, John Parelas (ph) of "The New York Times" calls him one of the great songwriters of the century. For the first time in his career, he has released an all-English album. It is called "A Foreign Sound." He pays tribute to some of the great American songwriters who have influenced him over the years, from Irving Berlin to Kurt Cobain. I am pleased to have him at this table for the first time. Welcome. Great to see you.
Caetano Veloso: Great to be here.
Charlie Rose: Let's talk about this first, and then your life. "A Foreign Sound" comes from Bob Dylan?
Caetano Veloso: Well, yes, it's a phrase from "It's All Right, Ma," a song by Bob Dylan from his album, "Bringing It All Back Home," which is my favorite among his.
Charlie Rose: But the phrase "A Foreign Sound" comes from -- what's the line?
Caetano Veloso: From the song "It's All Right, Ma, I'm only Bleeding," and it says -- it's the first refrain of the song. It goes, "so don't fear if you hear a foreign sound to your ear. It's all right, ma, I'm only sighing."
Charlie Rose: Now, is this a foreign sound we're going to hear? I mean, this -- because what's interesting about this is two things. Number one, it's American songs sung by you. But you say it's in the great tradition of all the things you've done in Brazil.
Caetano Veloso: Well, yes.
Charlie Rose: And so how is it different for Americans? I mean, is your interpretation different? Do you look at these songs differently?
Caetano Veloso: Yes, no doubt. It has to be. You know, because it's seen from the outside. American song has been part of our lives all over the world across the 20th century. You know? Throughout the 20th century. But still, from each part of the world -- of the world, you'll have different, subtly different responses to that presence, which has been a gift but also something that you -- one has had to face in a way, because, you know, you have national traditions, having a dialogue with this beautiful contribution that came from the United States. So it's -- this record is mostly about this dialogue. So it's foreign, because those are foreign songs for me, although I've grown up knowing them.
Charlie Rose: With all the artists and with the songwriters and with the composers and the people.
Caetano Veloso: I sound foreign singing them, with my accent and my choices.
Charlie Rose: The choices are fascinating. "So in Love" by Cole Porter. "Always" by Irving Berlin. Kurt Cobain, "Come As You Are." "Feelings."
Caetano Veloso: That's a funny one.
Charlie Rose: And where does that come from?
Caetano Veloso: Well, as a matter of fact, it's a false American song.
Charlie Rose: A false--
Caetano Veloso: It's Brazilian.
Charlie Rose: Oh, it is Brazilian?
Caetano Veloso: It was written by a Brazilian guy--
Charlie Rose: But it was popular in America.
Caetano Veloso: Very.
Charlie Rose: Worldwide.
Caetano Veloso: It became an international American hit, but it was a fake American song.
Charlie Rose: "Love for Sale," Cole Porter. "The Man I Love," Gershwin and Gershwin.
Caetano Veloso: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," Jerome Kern. "Cry Me a River," Arthur Hamilton. "Jamaica Farewell." Now, who's -- did Harry Belafonte sing that?
Caetano Veloso: Harry Belafonte sang that, yes.
Charlie Rose: "Nature Boy." "Nothing but Flowers," David Byrne. "Manhattan," Richard Rogers. Here's one of the earliest songs I remember, pop songs. "Diana." "Diana" by-- One of the earliest songs I remember.
Caetano Veloso: Me too. Me too.
Charlie Rose: Because you and I are about the same age. "Summertime."
Caetano Veloso: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: Gershwin.
Caetano Veloso: Crazy to record that, but I did.
Charlie Rose: "It's All Right Ma," Bob Dylan. Here's one, "Love Me Tender."
Caetano Veloso: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: You've got everybody here. "Body and Soul." Steve Wonder.
Caetano Veloso: Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder, too.
Charlie Rose: "Something Good," Richard Rogers. "Blue Skies," Irving Berlin. Now, what were you looking for in putting all these songs together? What was the idea?
Caetano Veloso: I wanted to respond sincerely to what these songs did to me, and to what they did to our sentiment in Brazil. You know.
Charlie Rose: Did you choose this time in particular to release this album, to record this album?
Caetano Veloso: Well, I -- as a matter of fact, this is a very old project. I've been postponing it for decades. You know.
Charlie Rose: Why?
Caetano Veloso: Because I have always thought in the end it's going to be just irrelevant, you know, but for me it's not.
Charlie Rose: Irrelevant in that one more great artist is singing great American standards?
Caetano Veloso: Well, yes, it's something that everybody has done. And I think always, most of the time it's better than I can do.
Charlie Rose: Yeah.
Caetano Veloso: You know, so that's why--
Charlie Rose: If you can't make it special, don't do it.
Caetano Veloso: Well, yeah. But in the end, I thought the thing itself might be special for me, you know, as an experience of, you know, purifying my relationship with these things. You know.
Charlie Rose: Suppose your sister had never been -- had gone off to make that song when she did. At that performance that she did. Would you have become a singer?
Caetano Veloso: I don't know. I don't think so. I wanted to be a filmmaker.
Charlie Rose: Do you still?
Caetano Veloso: I still do somehow. I made one feature movie in the mid- to late '80s.
Charlie Rose: And was that experience satisfying?
Caetano Veloso: Yes, it was in a way for me. But it didn't lead me to make others as I thought it was going to.
Charlie Rose: In other words, you feel such an urgency and such a sense of the power of film that you wanted to go out and do others -- or you had so many things you wanted to express that you would--
Caetano Veloso: No, the thing is, while I was making it I was already thinking of many others that I was going to make, because I thought that it was, you know, going easily, and I felt good doing it, you know, making -- being in the set, of -- of shooting and everything. But when it was finished, and I had to face opinions, and, you know, the post-production things were a little, you know, painful. So it was kind of more difficult than music. So I was not, you know, stimulated to continue that.
Charlie Rose: The music came first, before the politics.
Caetano Veloso: No doubt.
Charlie Rose: No doubt.
Caetano Veloso: No doubt.
Charlie Rose: And the influence was Gilberto and the bossa nova?
Caetano Veloso: No doubt. Jean Julbert (ph) and bossa nova -- when I heard Jean Julbert (ph) for the first time, it was like enlightenment. You know, it was like.
Charlie Rose: What did it say?
Caetano Veloso: As a matter of fact, it was just, you know, a lesson on beauty and on taste. You know, it was a lesson of criterion.
Charlie Rose: And that was the most powerful influence.
Caetano Veloso: Well, yes. It was more and less (ph) than an influence--
Charlie Rose: It was?
Caetano Veloso: -- because it was more than an influence, because it was like an enlightenment. It served for everything. Even if I was not to make, you know, to work with music, that had been, you know, something that would somehow, you know, define my life.
Charlie Rose: Did your music reflect his?
Caetano Veloso: Well, yes. But, you know, my music, I have always found it in a way, you know, not, I have always thought that it doesn't deserve to say that it has been influenced by Jean Julbert (ph), you know.
Charlie Rose: Why is that?
Caetano Veloso: Because, you know, you must deserve to be influenced by some people. You know, you must make some things that allow you to say -- it's not easy for a person, you know, to begin to write and say, I'm influenced by Dostoevsky--
Charlie Rose: Because it's--
Caetano Veloso: It's just -- it's--
Charlie Rose: It's a little bit sort of being, you know, modesty prevails you not to say, oh, sure I was influenced by Shakespeare.
Caetano Veloso: Yeah, it's a little, you know.
Charlie Rose: You're associating yourself with the people that you have such high esteem for that you don't want to--
Caetano Veloso: That's the way I see Jean Julbert (ph).
Charlie Rose: This is from David -- your good friend, David Byrne. "It is amusing to watch North American journalists try to describe Caetano Veloso by analogy and by comparison to local models. The Bob Dylan of Brazil doesn't quite fit, because despite his also being a poetic composer, Caetano's voice and melodic invention are profoundly beautiful, and his arrangements are often radical at the same time. Neal Young doesn't match either, despite the ethereal and wistful similarities. Harmonically, the inventiveness rivals Lennon and McCartney. But perhaps this comparison isn't fair, because Veloso is still evolving and mutating, and part of that partnership is long gone. Hybrids? Leonard Cohen and Gil Evans? Serge Ginsburg and Bowie? Stevie Wonder? Cole Porter plus Marvin Gaye? The fact is, there just aren't any parallels." Pretty good by David, don't you think?
Caetano Veloso: Yes, he's a great guy.
Charlie Rose: When did the politics get involved, for you and also for Gilberto Gil?
Caetano Veloso: Well, it was, you know, in 1964. We were very young, and a coup d'etat came in Brazil.
Charlie Rose: Right, the generals were in power.
Caetano Veloso: Yeah. We had been under -- we had been under military dictatorship for 20 years, about. And in 1968, when we had started to become well known in Brazil with our movement that was known as Tropicalia, then the, you know, hard-liners within the military dictatorship made this coup within the coup, and Gilberto Gill and I were put in jail.
Charlie Rose: Right. For how long?
Caetano Veloso: For two months. And then four months more of kind of home arrest. And after that, two-and-a-half years exile in London, the two of us.
Charlie Rose: At the same time, when you look at Brazil today, you have a rather remarkable political figure in charge, Lula.
Caetano Veloso: Yes.
Charlie Rose: Your friend is now the culture minister. Gilberto Gil.
Caetano Veloso: Yes.
Charlie Rose: Is all well in Brazil? Do you have -- are you optimistic about where your country is and the place that you're so closely associated with?
Caetano Veloso: I wouldn't say I'm optimistic. I'm happy that Gill is there and he's happy being there. I'm happy that Lula became president, which is in itself a political event, you know, a historical step.
Charlie Rose: Because of his political background.
Caetano Veloso: Because of his life background, because of everything. You know, he's the first president in Brazil that didn't come from the elite. He came from the very poor, you know--
Charlie Rose: What was he, a union leader?
Caetano Veloso: He became a union leader. He became a worker. He was a very poor child from the northeast, just like me. And then he emigrated to Sao Paolo, and became a worker. And as a worker, he became union leader. And from there -- from that to politics, and finally he became president of Brazil. You know, the president of the republic--
Charlie Rose: Here's what's interesting about -- go ahead -- what's interesting about him from my standpoint is that on the one hand, with that kind of heritage and with his own sort of very, very, very much seen as a spokesman for poor, you know, a spokesman for social justice, there are two things that are interesting. He is very much an advocate of economic growth and very much an advocate of -- of capitalism.
Caetano Veloso: Nowadays, yes. And I think it's pretty wise that he is like that. He has become pretty pragmatic. You know.
Charlie Rose: Pragmatic is a better word than anything.
Caetano Veloso: He has become -- he has become that.
Charlie Rose: Has he lost support from his natural base because of that?
Caetano Veloso: Some of it. Not entirely. In numbers, he has been supported in all his decisions by the majority of the population. And by people who backed him beforehand. But some people in his own party reacted against his more pragmatic moves, you know? But it was a minority, who kept on wanting to be ideological instead of, you know, just administrative.
Charlie Rose: Everybody who talks about you, they talk about the songwriting. This obviously is things that are written by other people. They also talk about this extraordinary range that you have. I mean, how do you characterize yourself? Do any of these comparisons make sense to you?
Caetano Veloso: Not really. Not really. I don't think much of myself, you know, trying to define or describe myself. I just go on.
Charlie Rose: Just go on and do it. Right?
Caetano Veloso: I just go on.
Charlie Rose: Create the art and move to the next job.
Caetano Veloso: Oh, yes. I accept what comes mostly.
Charlie Rose: Someone said that they thought that these songs in "A Foreign Sound" were in part a kind of protest against anti-Americanism. Any truth to that?
Caetano Veloso: In a way, it could be seen a little bit like that, because nowadays there is this anti-Americanism spread or diffused all over the world. Even in Brazil. But in Europe a lot, and everywhere. And for many reasons, that you know. But I didn't want to, you know, I didn't want to give up making the record now because of that. On the opposite, I felt like doing it more because there was this anti-Americanism feeling around.
Charlie Rose: To show that notwithstanding whatever the politics of the moment, you have this great love for Americans.
Caetano Veloso: Yes, yes, for the good things that America means.
Charlie Rose: The culture and values and--
Caetano Veloso: Yes, everything. You know, the American Revolution is something -- it's a treasure of humanity. You know, the American Revolution is a treasure of for all of us.
Charlie Rose: Thank you for coming.
Caetano Veloso: Thank you very much.
Charlie Rose: Caetano Veloso, "A Foreign Sound." We are pleased that he's going to take some time to record something here in our tiny little studio. I'll say good-bye at this point. Thank you very much for joining us.
a foreign sound
01. Carioca (The Carioca) 3:31
02. So in Love 5:30
03. Always 3:43
04. Come as You Are 4:16
05. Feelings 4:33
06. Love for Sale 2:37
07. The Man I Love 4:10
08. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes 2:39
09. Cry Me a River 3:10
10. Jamaica Farewell 2:45
11. Nature Boy 1:59
12. (Nothing But) Flowers 4:20
13. Manhattan 3:58
14. Diana 3:28
15. Summertime 2:33
16. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) 6:08
17. Love Me Tender 3:24
18. Body and Soul 3:31
19. If It's Magic 3:04
20. Detached 1:30
21. Something Good 1:38
22. Blue Skies 2:47
uma produção UNIVERSAL MUSIC
dirigida por Caetano Veloso e Jaques Morelenbaum