Gilberto Gil carries out a fundamental role in the constant modernization process of Brazilian popular music. Since the 60′s he has developed one of the most relevant and renown careers as a singer, composer and guitar-player in this field. His condition of being an idol to a vast public, which includes the new generations, is a mark of the fresh appeal that his work contains. Gil’s art is in a permanent state of renovation.
Gil tours abroad and has his records released there since 1978, when he recorded “Nightingale”, his first album especially made for the foreign market. Alone or with his band, he annually takes his concerts to Europe, North America, Latin America and Japan. Other audiences are then able to come into contact with his contagious pop music spoken in Portuguese Brazilian and his international language. A music with a strong rhythmic appeal and melodic richness, as mixed as its people, with native ingredients mingled with foreign components.
Gilberto Gil was born in 1942 in Salvador, Bahia, one of the most traditional and original centers of music creation and production in Brazil and the world. Two musicians left their special mark on his formation: Luiz Gonzaga, the creator of the baião, an urban genre originating in the Northeast hinterland of Brazil, and João Gilberto, from Bahia, the inventor of the style of singing and guitar playing known worldwide as bossa nova. Influenced by rhythms from the Northeast of Brazil, by bossa nova, by samba and by pop, Gil forged a music with its own light wherein he incorporated rock, reggae, funk and new rhythms from Bahia like afoxé. Over these musical bases, Gil has tackled a wide variety of issues in his lyrics, pertinent always to the reality of the modern man in Brazil and in the world. From counterculture to African and Oriental culture; from behavioural freedom to social inequality; from prejudice to racial miscegenation; from religious syncretism to scientific advance; from technology to ecology; from love to friendship. The mastership with which Gil explores these contents makes him one of the greatest Brazilian musician-poets.
The importance of his name to the culture of his country goes back to the 60′s. At the time Gil and his friend, Caetano Veloso, also a singer and composer from Bahia, created Tropicalism, the principal musical movement after bossa-nova. The tropicalists assimilated elements from the international music and pop culture to the national genres and to the harmonic conquests of the bossa-nova. Their records brought radical innovations in the musical scene and had nationally the same significance as the album “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” had worldwide. Deeply critical on political, moral and behavioural levels, Tropicalism ended up being repressed by the authoritarian regime then governing Brazil. Gil and Caetano were imprisoned and exiled.
In the two years he spent in London, Gilberto Gil recorded a LP with songs in English for Famous Music, a Paramount Records seal. When he returned to Brazil, he made “Expresso 2222″, in 1972, an album in which he went back to the origins of Brazilian music under the influence of pop. It was the start of a series of records that became anthological in the 70′s. Two of them registered historical encounters. The first in 1975 was shared with another great singer-composer-guitar-player, the carioca Jorge Ben Jor. And the second in 1976, with Caetano and the singers Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia, the group from Bahia that met up to form Os Doces Bárbaros (The Sweet Barbarians).
Three other albums made up the so-called trilogy re, of conceptual records. “Refazenda”, in 1975, explored rhythmic-poetic lines of country extraction. The urban “Refavela”, in 1977, documented Gil’s meeting with African culture when he participated in a festival of Negro art in Nigeria, with a jamaicano-nigeriano-carioca-baiana fusion of rhythms. And “Realce”, recorded in Los Angeles in 1979, incurred through disco music and fixed Gil’s option for pop, which would orientate, in a greater or lesser degree, the realization of his later work.
A year before, Gil successfully performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Switzerland, which was also recorded live. From then on his shows abroad were accompanied by the release of his albums. In the 80′s they were: “A gente precisa ver o luar”(We need to see the moonlight), “Um Banda Um”, “Extra”, “Raça humana”(Human Race), “Dia dorim noite neon” and “O eterno deus Mu dança”.
“Parabolicamara”, his first work in the 90s, was launched in 1992 during a memorable show for 80.000 people on Copacabana beach. This was followed by two CD anthologies: “Tropacilia 2″, a partnership with Caetano Veloso to celebrate the Tropicalist movement’s 25th anniversary; and “Unplugged”, a collection of his own hits recorded live for MTV.
In 1997 Gil released another remarkable album: the double-CD “Quanta”, a poetic journey into the realm of the relationship between art and science. In 1998, on the track of the success of the “Quanta” concerts, he recorded the live album “Quanta Gente Veio Ver”, a CD for which he won the Grammy Award for Best Album of World Music.
In 2000 Gil released two albums which were significant to his career. The first, “Gilberto Gil e as canções de ‘Eu, tu, eles’” , featuring the soundtrack of the movie “Eu, tu, eles” and the great classics of Luiz Gonzaga. The second album, “Gil & Milton”, shows his legendary partnership with Milton Nascimento. “Eu,Tu,Eles” was recorded alive and released as São Joao Vivo. This concert was attended by thousands of people worldwide and Gil decided to link the tribute to Luiz Gonzaga to another he dreamed to do a long time : Bob Marley.
In 2002 Gil released “Kaya N’Gandaya”. His main idols Luiz Gonzaga, the Cangaceiro, and Marley, the Rastaman, are there together and reborn in just one character: Gil, the man from Bahia. This album is a result of a life and is a masterpiece of an artist and of a singular artisan The tour of the concert Kaya N’Gan Daya started in May 2002 in Rio de Janeiro and has already toured Europe twice, attracting a different audience of teen reggae fans. In December 2002 this concert was recorded alive in Rio. For the future, many projects and a lot of energy to keep on leading his own transcendent career.
Over his 30 years of career, Gilberto Gil has been awarded eleven Gold albums, five Platinum albums, sales of more than five million copies. Among his greatest hits are “Domingo no Parque” “Aquele Abraço” “Expresso 2222″ “Xodó”, “Superhomem – a canção” “Não chore mais” (a version of the Bob Marley classic “No Woman, No Cry”), “Palco” “Drão”, “A novidade”.
He has recorded with names such as João Gilberto and the band The Wailers. He performed live with Stevie Wonder, and also shared the stage with Jimmy Cliff in a show that toured throughout Brazil in 1980. Artists who have recorded Gil’s songs include João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina, Gal Costa, Sérgio Mendes, Ernie Watts, and Toots Thielmans.
For the past 15 years Gil has also been involved with other activities outside the musical world. In 1987, as Cultural Secretary of the city of Salvador, he struggled for the preservation of the city’s historical patrimony. During his mandate as city councilman from 1988 to 1992, he created the Onda Azul Foundation , an NGO of which he is the President and which develops social environmental projects aiming a better quality of life and making people environmentally conscious.
In 1991 he participated, together with Tom Jobim, Caetano, Sting and Elton John, in a show in New York to raise funds for Rain Forest. During President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, he participated in Comunidade Solidária , a governmental social program. In 2002 he openly supported the president to be of Brazil Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, of the Labour party. It was no surprise then that one of President’s first acts after his election in December 2002, was to appoint Gil as Brazil’s new Minister of Culture.
By Carlos Rennó