Rogério Duprat is the most overlooked vital contributor to the sound of Tropicália, the Brazilian musical genre of the late-1960s that incorporated elements of Brazilian music (such as samba and bossa nova), international rock and roll (especially psychedelic rock), and orchestral arrangements. Though not as famous as Gilberto Gil or Os Mutantes, without Duprat, Tropicália would have sounded fundamentally different.
Like many other tropicalistas, Duprat had a basic background in music, but his path was unique among the more renowned names of Tropicália. Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1932, Duprat’s family soon moved to São Paulo. While a child, Duprat taught himself to play the acoustic guitar, the cavaquinho (a small 4-stringed guitar common in samba and choro, as well as in Hawaiian music), and the harmonica. By the time he was 24, Duprat was one of the founding members of the Orquestra de Câmara in São Paulo. Duprat also traveled to Germany, where he studied with modern avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. This eclectic background formed the basis for Duprat’s broader views on music. In 1963, he was using computers to make music, even while teaching music at the recently-established Universidade de Brasília. There, he advocated tearing down the walls between musical genres, including between classical music and the increasingly-popular rock music coming from the United States and England.
Though the military coup of 1964 brought an end to Duprat’s tenure at the university, he continued advocating for the blurring of genres, a message that ultimately led him into contact with a group of musicians who had recently relocated from the Northeast to São Paulo, including Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. The latter two had already begun exploring the fusion of Brazilian rhythms and the sounds of rock, but with Duprat, they found somebody classically trained in music composition who could help them further explore this mixture, even while Duprat found in Gil and Veloso willing partners who wanted to smash musical barriers. Though Duprat was nearly 15 years older than the young baianos, it was not long before a Duprat had become a vital contributor to the Tropicália sound. His string arrangements can be heard on some of the most important recordings from the period, including Gilberto Gil’s heartbreaking “Domingo no Parque” and the breathtakingly gorgeous opening swells on Gal Costa’s beautiful “Baby,” as well as other lesser-known tracks like Caetano Veloso’s “Acirílico” off his 1969 self-titled album. Indeed, although he rarely got individual song-writing credits, Duprat’s stamp is all over the first two albums by Os Mutantes, Gilbert Gil’s first two self-titled albums from 1968 and 1969, as well as on the classic Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circenses, which included Duprat on the cover, showing just how deep his involvement with the movement’s sound was.
Nor did Duprat solely contribute to others’ albums. In 1968, the same year that Tropicália came out and that Gil and Veloso released their seminal first self-titled albums, Duprat released his own album, A Banda Tropicalista do Duprat. The album featured his orchestral re-interpretations of a variety of American and English songs that was in part pastiche, in part sincere effort to further blur the lines between classical music and rock and roll. Songs on the album included covers of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (renamed “Judy in Disguise,”) and “Lady Madonna,” The Cowsills’ “We Can Fly” (changed to “Flying“), and other songs from Brazil and abroad. In the process, in both his own music and in his arrangements for other tropicalistas, Duprat tapped into the cultural ferment of the movement, incorporating foreign musical and cultural elements (like western orchestras or North American rock music) and giving it a particularly Brazilian texture, both sincere yet pastiche, regurgitated yet original. This cultural mixture managed to alienate and anger both the fans of more traditional protest-folk who felt music should directly challenge the military regime in Brazil in the late-1960s, even while the military regime itself saw the music and its playfulness and politically ambiguous lyrics and sounds “subversive” and affiliated the music with drug use.
Although by 1970 the sound of Tropicália had faded away (although Os Mutantes and Tom Zé would continue to push its boundaries into the early-1970s), Duprat continued contributing to music, contributing arrangements to singers like Chico Buarque and Alceu Valença. He also wrote jingles for radio and television ads in Brazil. However, over time, his hearing started to fade, leading to Duprat gradually going into seclusion. His later years were also marred by the onset of Alzheimer’s, so that this master composer could not only no longer listen to music, but could not even recall his role in one of the key cultural moments in Brazilian music and history. Diagnosed with cancer in addition to the Alzheimer’s, Duprat passed away at the age 74 of in 2006. However, Duprat’s musical contributions to Tropicália continue to resonate both in the music itself and in the musicians throughout the world that tropicalismo influenced, and his contributions to the music and its aesthetic remain an indispensable part of Tropicália, even while his name remains less known than those of Gil, Veloso, and others.
For the past few weeks, this series has focused on musicians from Brazil’s Tropicália movement like Gil, Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Gal Costa. Other entries include Machado de Assis and Pedro Álvares Cabral.