By Pedro Souza
May 31, 2016
Brazil is a country that boasts a rich musical heritage. Musicians like Carmen Miranda, Tom Jobin, Catano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Luiz Gonzaga and Elis Regina have left their mark in history, and are now appreciated worldwide. Yet, few musicians have influenced the music and culture of Brazil as profoundly as Raul Seixas, who is called by many the father of Brazilian rock.
Raul was born in 1945 in Salvador, in the state of Bahia. In his teenage years he was introduced to rock ‘n’ roll when a friend lent him some albums. He fell in love with the style, listening to the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, who was his main inspiration. In the late fifties, a young Raul gathered some friends and formed a band. As he got his first taste of playing live, the band went through many changes in name and composition before settling for “Os Panteras” in 1963. By the time the band consolidated, they had turned into a local sensation. In 1968 they launched an album, named “Raulzito e os Panteras” (Raulzito and the Panthers).
The album was a failure, ignored by both the critics and the public. Determined to make his way into the music scene, Raul entered the VII Festival Internacional da Canção (International Song Festival) presenting two songs: “Eu sou eu, Nicuri é o diabo” (I am me, Nicuri is the devil) and “Let me sing, let me sing”, a song that mixed rock ‘n’ roll with a Baião, a traditional musical style from northeast of Brazil. Although he didn’t win the prize, his song “Let me sing let me sing” reached the finals, enchanting the public with its originality and eclecticism.
Raul’s name was growing, but fame would only arrive in 1973 when Raul launched his first solo album titled “Krig-ha, Bandolo!”. The album was a huge success, featuring songs that are still considered to be some of his best. The highlight of the album is “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold), a scathing critic of the middle-class dream of finding a job and consuming your way to happiness. Another classic song from the album is Metamorfose Ambulante. Even nowadays most Brazilians are familiar with the song chorus that goes: “Eu prefiro ser uma metamorfose ambulante do que ter aquela velha opinião formada sobre tudo” (I would rather be a walking metamorphosis than have the same old opinions about everything).
In 1974 Raul launched the Sociedade Alternativa (Alternative Society) with the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Heavily influenced by English Occultist Aleister Crowley, the society was centered around studying philosophy and the esoteric. The influences Raul acquired during this period are quite evident in his lyrics from this point onwards, as Raul always used his songs as a way to express his personal philosophy. He was also planning to start living communally with the society in the state of Minas Gerais, until he was caught by the repression led by the military junta which governed Brazil at the time. Arrested and tortured, he went in exile into the United States.
In this year, he also launched his second solo album, named Gita. With more than 600,000 copies sold, the album earned Raul his first Golden certification. The tracks “Gita”, “A Sociedade Alternativa” (The Alternative Society) and “O Trem das 7” (7’s Train) are considered some of his best songs. Well established into the music scene, Raul would go on to launch many albums in the following years, teaming up with other musicians such as Claudio Roberto and Marcelo Nova. As Raul kept playing, he grew into a legend, but his health started deteriorating due to his alcoholism. In the eighties, the quality of his music had clearly deteriorated as well, and he often played his concerts in a sorry state.
In august 1989, Brazil cried when Raul died of an alcohol-induced pancreatitis at the age of 44. Now, 26 years after his death, he is more alive than ever. His eclectic mixes of rock with traditional Brazilian musical styles and poetic yet comical lyrics have influenced and still influence many musicians to this day. He is also the main musical influence of the Brazilian counterculture, becoming almost a patron saint for Brazilian hippies. In live shows and campfires, his music requested so often that it has become an ongoing joke among Brazilians. Sometimes, when a band playing live takes a break between songs, someone will get up and jokingly scream “Toca Raul!” (Play some Raul), and everyone will have a good laugh.