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Os Mutantes were formed in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1966 by 2 brothers Arnaldo Baptista (guitar, keyboards and vocals) and Sérgio Dias Baptista (bass and vocals) and lead singer Rita Lee, originally named Six Sided Rockers. The Baptistas' father was a poet and mother a pianist, and the two had previously had a band called The Wooden Faces. Their current name was settled upon immediately before a performance on a Brazilian television program.
Through other TV performances, the band was able to meet Gilberto Gil, an influential musician in the Tropicália movement, who brought them into the movement's circle. Os Mutantes released two albums heavily influenced by Tropicália, which blended psychedelic rock with other forms of art. They played with many artists of this period, including Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, prior to their arrest and subsequent exile.
When Os Mutantes was formed, it combined influences from the English-speaking psychedelic acts like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix with the sounds of bands like Sly & the Family Stone. Although they met with limited success in their own time, Os Mutantes also influenced a great number of Brazilian bands such as Pato Fu, Júpiter Maçã and Sepultura, who recorded a cover of the song "A Hora E A Vez Do Cabelo Nascer". In addition, many contemporary underground or independent bands in the United States and Europe cite Os Mutantes as a major influence. Kurt Cobain publicly requested a reunion tour from the trio in 1993, writing a letter to Arnaldo Baptista. Cobain was introduced to them by Pat Fear from White Flag (whose collaboration with Redd Kross and other friends under the name The Tater Totz was the first American band to cover or even cite Os Mutantes on their 1988 LP Alien Sleestaks from Brazil). Beck paid tribute to the group with his single "Tropicália" from the album Mutations. The Bees (UK band) covered "A Minha Menina" on their first album, Sunshine Hit Me. Kevin Barnes of of Montreal cites Os Mutantes as an important influence. Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has worked to publish and promote the group's music through his Luaka Bop label.