Os Mutantes: the band played with Gil and turned into an international phenomenon

The only group with an independent career to accompany the singer and songwriter was very successful and, over time, collected fans all around the world.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Chris Fuscaldo,* journalist and musical researcher

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Festivals days

When he decided to take the cinematographic “Domingo no parque” to the third edition of the TV Record’s Brazilian Music Festival, to be held on October, 6th 1967, Gilberto Gil thought of innovating.

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (Outubro de 1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Both in the recording of the song for the LP that Philips would release with the events’ songs, and on the stage of the Paramount Theatre, he wanted to be able to mix styles that have been carrying him away ever since he left his native Bahia to try his luck in Brazil’s Southeast.

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The influence of Bahia-born Dorival Caymmi along with a capoeira feeling and a rock’n’roll touch would give a modern atmosphere to the song’s melody, which narrates the dramatic saga of a crime of passion taking place in Salvador, Bahia’s state capital.

For that, the Bahia-born singer and songwriter was looking for a fresher band to accompany him, with musicians able to consecrate the fusion of electric and acoustic guitars, voices, and orchestral arrangement set by Rogério Duprat.

Gilberto Gil e a banda Os Mutantes à época do movimento tropicalista (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Os Mutantes arrived at the right time, and São Paulo-born Arnaldo Baptista, Sérgio Dias, and Rita Lee pleased Gil and the conductor who had referred them.

Gilberto Gil e Nana Caymmi durante apresentação no III Festival da Canção da Record (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Composer of two songs nominated for the festival, “Bom dia”—in partnership with his then wife, Nana Caymmi—and “Domingo no parquet,” Gilberto Gil was looking for a modern sonority for the recording of both in the LP.

Gilberto Gil e Os Mutantes em ensaio para o III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In studio, Gil was impressed when Arnaldo and Sérgio, the instrumentalists, did well in learning virtually overnight the music sheet wrote by conductor Chiquinho de Moraes. They got the song that was going to be performed by Nana right straight away.

Gilberto Gil e o conjunto Os Mutantes durante apresentação no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira da TV Record (Outubro de 1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Afterwards, they confirmed their talent during the recording of “Domingo no parque”.

Unexpectedly with Gil

Also invited to accompany Gil on the stage of the Paramount Theatre, the Dias Baptista brothers had a strong reaction, after all, rock was their business. Rita, who was used to listening to Brazilian music at her parents’ house, was the only one to like the idea of playing “Domingo no parque.” Since teasing was what they enjoyed the most, when they heard they were going to storm an MPB festival with their electrical instruments—and that was likely to cause a big fuzz with the booing from the audience—, the answer to the invitation was a “yes.” From that musical encounter with the Bahia-born singer on, the youngsters would go from a rock band to representatives of the Tropicália movement, along with Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and others that the Bahia musicians were trying to gather, under the proposal of unifying sounds to make something new grow in the Brazilian scene.

Fotografia de Gilberto GilInstituto Gilberto Gil

“Os Mutantes, in my case and Caetano’s, came to join the process of exploration of the Tropicália movement, because they were the symbol of a presence of modernity, of contemporaneity in the Brazilian scene…

“… Tropicalism was very grounded on doing a work of definitive adherence among the whole field of the Brazilian popular music, for the folklorists roots and its urban developments…

“… and we had to associate this to the emergence of rock’n’roll, the new music being produced by the guys. And we met because I had that incident, right?” 
Gilberto Gil

The incident, which the singer and songwriter mentioned in an interview, was a stroke of luck for Os Mutantes. The negative from Quarteto Novo to adhere to the modernity proposed by Gil reminded Duprat of the boldness he had seen in the trio he first met on TV show Quadrado e Redondo, hosted by Sérgio Galvão, on the Rede Bandeirantes channel.

Gilberto Gil e Arrigo Barnabé durante apresentação (1986)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Duprat also recalled Rita Lee and brothers Arnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias from the TV show O Pequeno Mundo de Ronnie Von, hosted by singer Ronnie Von on TV Record. It was there that Os Bruxos—a band that first started under the name O’Seis—were baptized as Os Mutantes, in 1966.

Folder do espetáculo Gilberto Gil, Aquele Abraço – O Musical Foto de Gilberto Gil em detalhe do folderInstituto Gilberto Gil

“The Quarteto Novo musicians declined because my proposal was sort of evasive when it came to the modus operandi of the group, which operated the fusion of MPB with aspects of folk and contemporary music from that time…

“… And I showed up thinking of Beatles, proposing other histories. That was when Rogério Duprat mentioned the guys, who he thought were more suitable to the project…

“… I was amazed by that extraordinary attractiveness of theirs: that charisma, that way of being… And Rita in all of this? An extraordinary fairy! And two wonderful boys, Sérgio and Arnaldo. It worked out.”

Gilberto Gil

The consolidation of the partnership

The performance of “Domingo no parque” in the Brazilian Musical Festival on TV Record channel turned into a classic. For applying a little more “Brazilianness” into his presentation, Gil was a slightly less booed than Caetano Veloso, who performed “Alegria, alegria” accompanied by the Argentinian rock band Beat Boys. Gilberto Gil was awarded the second prize, right behind Edu Lobo, who won the first prize with “Ponteio”. In addition to the presence of a berimbau, a typical capoeira instrument, the performance also had the singer wearing a northeast traditional costume: short pants and a gourd shaped hat. Electric instruments in an MPB festival were an insult to national culture in the views of those more conservative, but the booing was also aimed at the bold figures of these artists, as I wrote in my book Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music.

Gilberto Gil e o conjunto Os Mutantes durante apresentação no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira da TV Record (Outubro de 1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“The rockers from Os Mutantes took the stage without the usual tuxedos and evening gowns. Rita Lee showed up wearing a mini blue dress and, on her left cheek, there was a little heart drawn, following the hippie fashion trend…

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“… Arnaldo Baptista wore a cape over his clothes and Sérgio Dias wore a suit and tie mod style, an English fashion trend of stylized suits, adopted by The Beatles.”

Os Mutantes and Tropicália

Having their chemistry shown to be true in both studio and stage, Os Mutantes then started to join the meetings that took place at the Danubio Hotel, where Gil lived, or at Caetano’s apartment, on São Luiz Avenue, in São Paulo. At such meetings, Os Mutantes would be impressed by the songwriting abilities of the Northeastern artists. In the blink of an eye, they would see a song be born in an easy and fast way: at times, it would be Caetano and Gil creating a partnership, at times it would be the duo Gil and poet from Piauí Torquato Neto, pulling a new song out of their hats. It was in one of these meetings that the Bahia native Tom Zé showed the lyrics of “Astronauta libertado” to Rita Lee. She not only created a melody for it, but changed its name to “2001” and had it recorded on Os Mutantes’ second album.
It was also there that Caetano and Gil offered “Panis et circenses” for “the guys”: the version of Rita, Arnaldo, and Sérgio was featured in Tropicália or Panis et Circencis, a compilation album that went down in the annals of history—and also in the trio’s first album, recorded and released in 1968 (in this second inclusion, the track had its spelling corrected and became “Panis et circenses”).

Gilberto Gil e Rita Lee durante turnê do álbum Refestança (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“Gil had always treated me as a protégé. He was like an older brother that showed me a colorful Brazil that l barely knew. I learned from him that it was forbidden to forbid.”
Rita Lee

Creating their own compass

With all the closeness over the two years they spent together, from 1967 to 1969, the artists from Bahia’s influence on the work of the trio from São Paulo was inescapable. Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso gave them good tips of songwriting in Portuguese, as much as Os Mutantes also taught a lot to their godfathers, as I wrote in the book Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music:

Gilberto Gil e Sérgio Dias em show realizado com Caetano Veloso na Boate Sucata (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“Gil, for instance, learned from Serginho not to hold himself back because of what other people would think or say about him. Only 17 years old, the youngster Dias Baptista would play everything from Mozart to Rolling Stones, including The Beatles, all with the same tranquility".

Gilberto Gil e os músicos tropicalistas Jorge Ben Jor, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Gal Costa, Sérgio Dias e Arnaldo Baptista na estreia do programa Divino Maravilhoso na TV Tupi (1968-10-28)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In the beginning of 1968, when Os Mutantes were just about to go into studio, Caetano Veloso invited them to add voices to a track of his first solo album, composed in partnership with Gil. And he took the opportunity to immortalize a statement to his pupils:

Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Guilherme Araújo e os tropicalistas posam, em 1968, para a Revista Manchete (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“On the end of the song ‘Eles,’ Arnaldo, Sérgio, and Rita start asking ‘What about us? What about us? What about us?,’ to which Caetano answers: ‘Os Mutantes kill it!’ The quote would end up being used by Realidade magazine in an article published the following year…

“… And the compliment only made the guys even more self-confident, for they were too young but were just about to join the professional music circuit.” (Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music).

Gilberto Gil, Arnaldo Baptista, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Nara Leão e Gal Costa em evento de lançamento do disco Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis (1968-08-07)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Thus, with their own compass, Arnaldo, Sérgio and Rita set songs for their first album, such as “O relógio”, “Senhor F”, and “Aves Gengis Khan.” In partnership with Caetano, they wrote “Trem Fantasma” and, composed by him, “Baby” was also added to the track list.

Out of the legacy of the duo Gil and Caetano, Os Mutantes recorded “Panis et circenses” and “Bat macumba.” In the same year that the album Os Mutantes was released, 1968, the trio took their song, “Caminhante noturno” to the third International Festival of Popular Songs.

Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso e Os Mutantes na final paulista do III Festival Internacional da Canção Popular, no TUCA (1968-09-15)Instituto Gilberto Gil

And, in the same festival, they accompanied Caetano Veloso in his controversial performance of the song “É proibido proibir.” Caetano, Rita, Arnaldo, Sérgio, and Rogério Duprat wore futuristic costumes made out of glossy material.

Caetano’s costume was lime and silver. Rita went on stage wearing a pink mini dress and the Dias Baptista brothers wore orange capes. The visual and the protest message from the Bahia-born singer were booed (once again).

And the audience threw tomatoes on stage when the nomination of “É proibido proibir” for the final was announced, along with “Caminhante noturno.”

The exile of the artists from Bahia and the independency of Os Mutantes

With the album released, success still under construction, in December 1968 Os Mutantes took part in the fourth Brazilian Music Festival broadcast by Record, which took place at the Record Theatre, in São Paulo. Already having two additional musicians that would become permanent—Liminha on the 10-string Brazilian guitar and Dinho Leme on the drums. Up on the stage, beside Arnaldo and Sérgio’s oldest brother, luthier Cláudio César Dias Baptista running an audio equipment, there was a very special guest:

Gilberto Gil com seu acordeon em estúdio na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil on the accordion. In that same December, Arnaldo, Sérgio, and Rita started speeding up the production of their new album, as the estimated release date of the second album was February 1969.

In January 1969, Os Mutantes flew off to Cannes, France, after being invited to perform at the International Record and Music Publishing Market (MIDEM, in the French acronym).

Gilberto Gil, Jair Rodrigues e Elis Regina no programa O Fino da Bossa (1966)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Having Dinho, Duprat, and artist manager Guilherme Araújo in their entourage, Os Mutantes were also traveling with Edu Lobo, Elis Regina, and Chico Buarque.

Gilberto Gil e Roberto Carlos no programa Jovem Guarda (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

With them were also Sergio Mendes, coming from the United States with his band Brasil ’66 and his album The Fool on the Hill, and Roberto Carlos, best-selling Brazilian singer in 1968. If it were not for being incarcerated, Gilberto Gil would also be there, to perform his “Bat macumba” accompanied by Os Mutantes.

Gilberto Gil e Rita Lee no show Refestança (1978)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The media reception was good and Os Mutantes left Cannes as Les Mutants du Brésil: “Nouvelle tendences, nouvelles idées, nouvelle vie” (The Mutants from Brazil: new tendencies, new ideas, new life).

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso prestes à partir para o exílio (1969)Instituto Gilberto Gil

With Brazil under a military dictatorship, Gil had been arrested in December 1968, along with Caetano Veloso. With that forced distancing, the two artists from Bahia were growing more and more apart, not only from Os Mutantes, but also from many friends and musical partners.

Gilberto Gil com Pedro Gil e Caetano Veloso, após saída da prisão (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

After being freed, they were obligated to stay in Salvador, until negotiating the terms of their departure to Europe, where they would be free of persecution.

Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil no show Barra 69, apresentado antes da partida para o exílio (1969-07-20)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In the third week of July 1969, while the North American mission Apollo 11 was making history as the first spaceflight to land humans on the moon, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil went on the stage of the Castro Alves Theatre, in Salvador.

Caetano Veloso no show Barra 69, que apresentou com Gilberto Gil antes da partida para o exílio (1969-07-20)Instituto Gilberto Gil

And in the very same day they performed the concert that would later be called Barra 69 when the album got released (1972)—the last concert before leaving for exile—, Os Mutantes premiered the concert Planeta dos Mutantes, at the Casa Grande Theatre, in Rio de Janeiro.

Mixed reviews

Planeta dos Mutantes put together songs from the album released in 1969— “Dom Quixote”, “Fuga nº II,” and “Caminhante noturno” —and released “Quem tem medo de brincar de amor”, which would go into the 1970 album recording. The compositions by Rita Lee and Arnaldo Baptista (some of them in partnership with Sérgio Dias) were well-received, unlike the whole product. There were no sold out tickets and reviews were mixed. Newspaper Correio da Manhã, in August 1969, qualified the musical as great, in an article called “A Terribly Young Planet,” whereas Jornal do Brasil newspaper was sorry the band didn’t have the “theatrical Rogério Duprat”.

Gilberto Gil com o cantor e compositor Caetano Veloso em Londres, durante o período do exílio (Dezembro de 1969)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“Without the Tropicália crew, in a way, Os Mutantes were a little lonely in the experimentation world. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil came back from exile in January 1972, and arrived in Bahia with their production geared to the pop universe they had discovered while in London…

Gilberto Gil no casamento de Torquato NetoInstituto Gilberto Gil

“… what they had brought from there matched the MPB trend. In November of the same year, one of their friends back from Tropicalist times (one that was isolated from everyone else) would commit suicide: Torquato Neto.” (Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music).

The beginning of the end, which turned into a continuation

Already having Dinho Leme and Liminha as official members, Os Mutantes turned into a quintet. The band released five albums: Os Mutantes (1968), Mutantes (1969), A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado (1970), Jardim Elétrico (1971) and Mutantes e Seus Cometas no País do Baurets (1972). Rita Lee released two solo albums: Build Up (1970) and Hoje é o Primeiro Dia do Resto da Sua Vida (1972). And, in the same year Gilberto Gil returned from exile, 1972, the band started to dissolve. First, Rita left. Then, Arnaldo, Dinho and Liminha gave up moving forward with Os Mutantes, while Sérgio rushed to renew the sound of the band: the young Dias Baptista moved on with an expert team in progressive rock, a sound way different than the original proposal.

Gilberto Gil e Chico Buarque em ensaio para o show do evento Phono 73 (1973-05-13)Instituto Gilberto Gil

There was even a few more albums and concerts, one of them in the Phono 73 festival, the same in which Gil and Chico Buarque de Hollanda had their mics turned off by police officers during their performance of “Cálice.” The song conveyed a message to the military: “Pai, afasta de mim esse cálice.” [“Father, move that chalice away from me”—chalice has the same sound as “shut up” in Brazilian Portuguese.]

“After 1976, when Os Mutantes released their last album, a lot happened in the life of each of the members. In that same year, pregnant with her first child, Beto, Rita Lee was arrested for possession of marijuana. Freed, in 1977, she released Refestança, a live album recorded with Tutti Frutti and with Gilberto Gil and his band Refavela.”

Chris Fuscaldo, in Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music.

Gilberto Gil e Rita Lee em show da turnê Refestança (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Funnily enough, in the year Rita ended up behind bars, the same thing got Gil arrested, during a Doces Bárbaros tour. In the next year, they got a chuckle out of it together, in the backstage of Refestança.

Capa do álbum Refestança, de Gilberto Gil e Rita Lee (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil e Rita Lee no 11º Prêmio Sharp de Música Brasileira (1998-05-13)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Thirty years later, in 2007, when celebrating 40 years of career releasing Biograffiti, a box set containing three documentaries DVDs, Rita listed the most important moments of her history in music: “the TV Record festival in 1967, accompanying Gilberto Gil in “Domingo no parque…

Gilberto Gil, Roberto de Carvalho, Rita Lee e Flora Gil no camarim, nos bastidores de show (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

“… when I got expelled from Os Mutantes and started to write songs on my own, the formation of Tutti Frutti; the beginning of my partnership with Roberto de Carvalho; the rest of it is yet to come,” said Rita in an interview published by Rio de Janeiro’s newspaper Extra.

With other Mutantes, Gilberto Gil would still have some history to be told. When sounded out by Sérgio Dias to compose something for Fool Metal Jack, an album released in 2013 for the 21st Century formation of Os Mutantes, the Bahia-born singer suggested him to bring back “Eu descobri.”

Gilberto Gil e o guitarrista Sérgio Dias no show 20 Anos-Luz (Novembro de 1985)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The song was in the track list of his 2012 album, Concerto de Cordas & Máquinas de Ritmo. The only track recorded in Portuguese in that new work by Os Mutantes, the song had an arrangement inspired by oriental music, even featuring a zither.

“When we had it sent to Gil, he didn’t understand a thing. He said: ‘C’mon, I thought it was going to be a Beatles-like thing’,” said an amused Sérgio.

Gilberto Gil e Liminha na Jamaica (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The most fruitful partnership was with Liminha, who from the 1980s on produced some of Gil’s most famous albums and became his business partner in the studio Nas Nuvens. Once, Gil put together both the bassist and Sérgio Dias to have them record “Não chore mais,” his version of “No woman, no cry.”

Gilberto Gil com Chris Fuscaldo, Ceci Alves, Liminha e Carol Fazu na festa de lançamento da segunda temporada do programa Amigos, Sons e Palavras, exibido pelo Canal Brasil (2019-09-02)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A status of a cult band

At the turn of the century, with the attention of collectors and producers turned to the uncovering of rarities and unreleased albums, Os Mutantes ended up labeled as a cult band. With a little help from David Byrne—former leader of Talking Heads, who released abroad the compilation album Everything is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes in 1999—the band attracted international attention and eventually went back on stage, conducted by Sérgio Dias, from 2006 on. For the new generations, who have all sorts of equipment at hand and get very impressed by the way Os Mutantes have been able to immortalize a totally new sound, there is a message that, in music, everything is possible. Thanks to Gilberto Gil, the world now knows that Os Mutantes kill it!

Credits: Story

Research and text: Chris Fuscaldo (*author of the book Discobiografia Mutante: Albums that Revolutionized Brazilian Music)
Assembly: Patrícia Sá Rêgo

General credits

Editing and curating: Chris Fuscaldo / Garota FM Edições
Musical content research: Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Laura Zandonadi, and Ricardo Schott
MinC content research: Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, and Chris Fuscaldo
Photo subtitles:  Anna Durão, Carla Peixoto, Chris Fuscaldo, Daniel Malafaia, Fernanda Pimentel, Gilberto Porcidonio, Kamille Viola, Laura Zandonadi, Lucas Vieira, Luciana Azevedo, Patrícia Sá Rêgo, Pedro Felitte, Ricardo Schott, Roni Filgueiras, and Tito Guedes 
Data editing: Isabela Marinho, and Marco Konopacki
Copyediting: Cristina Doria
Acknowledgments:  Gege Produções, Gilberto Gil, Flora Gil, Gilda Mattoso, Fafá Giordano, Maria Gil, Meny Lopes, Nelci Frangipani, Cristina Doria, Daniella Bartolini, and all photographers and characters in the stories
All media: Instituto Gilberto Gil

*Every effort has been made to credit the images, audios and videos and correctly tell the story about the episodes narrated in the exhibitions. If you find errors and/or omissions, please contact us by email atendimentogil@gege.com.br

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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