"Why a punk rock band?" Christiane Amanpour, interviewing a former Russian government official, asked on CNN on Aug. 2. "What is President Putin so afraid of?" The band in question was Pussy Riot, whose members -- three Russian feminist artists -- are on trial in Moscow for "hooliganism" following a confrontational guerrilla performance in an Orthodox cathedral. As the trial has mushroomed into a broader debate over political and cultural freedom in Vladimir Putin's Russia, the president has cautioned leniency in the case. It's a characteristically canny move by the Russian leader: In the history of asymmetrical conflict between musical provocateurs and repressive regimes, the strongman rarely gets the last laugh.
On March 31, 1964, troops loyal to the rogue general Olímpio Mourão Filho marched on Brazil's seaside metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, the beginning of a coup that toppled the democratically elected government of leftist President João Goulart and plunged the country into two decades of military dictatorship. Four years later, a collective of musicians from the state of Bahia, led by the singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, released Tropicália: ou Panis et Circensis, a genre-defying manifesto of an album that launched an arts movement of the same name. The Tropicalistas criticized the military regime in the album's lyrics and sardonic subtitle -- "Bread and Circuses" -- but their riskiest political statement was musical.
Tropicália cut and pasted traditional Brazilian bossa nova and samba with the psychedelia of the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, the sonic experiments of musique concréte, and the aesthetic provocations of French New Wave film. The resulting collage was an act of defiance in a country where military rulers and leftist nationalists alike believed that keeping Brazil's celebrated musical tradition free of foreign influence was a patriotic necessity. Within a year, Veloso and Gil were imprisoned and then exiled to London, where they stayed until 1972.
But as the regime's cultural crackdown worsened, forcing even musical traditionalists like Chico Buarque to wait out the early 1970s in Europe, Brazilians came to see the Tropicalistas as political heroes -- and, in time, cultural icons every bit as Brazilian as their predecessors. Eighteen years after Brazil returned to democracy, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made the rehabilitation official, naming Gil his minister of culture.
ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images
JEAN-CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET/AFP/Getty Images