The Polar Music Prize 2005 is being awarded to the Brazilian composer and musician Gilberto Gil for his unflinching creative engagement in bringing to the world the heart and soul of the rich music of Brazil. A unique composer powered by immense talent and curiosity. A unique musical ambassador powered by firm cultural conviction.
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.
Inspiration from the whole world
Influenced by bossa nova, samba and pop, Gil forged a music with its own light wherein he incorporated rock, reggae, funk and 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 importance of Gilberto Gil’s name to the culture of his country goes back to the ’60s and the Tropicalism movement. 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 idea of “antropofagia” was originally put forth by poet Oswald de Andrade in his essay “Manifesto Antropófago,” published in 1928, and was developed further by the tropicalistas in the 1960s.
The tropicalists assimilated elements from the international music and pop culture to the national genres and to the harmonic conquests of the bossa nova. A dominant principle of Tropicália was antropofagia, a type of cultural cannibalism that encouraged the conflation of disparate influences, out of which could be created something unique.
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 then exiled.
To London and back
During the two years he spent in London, Gil recorded an album in English for Famous Music, a label of Paramount Records. Upon returning to Brazil in 1972, he set about recording Expresso 2222, an album on 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 ’70s. Two of them registered historical encounters.
The first in 1975 was shared with another great singer-composer-guitar-player, 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).
Gil, the man from Bahia
The ’90s were marked by several successful albums and the Quanta live concerts that gave him a Grammy Award for Best Album of World Music in 1997. 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 great classics of Luiz Gonzaga.
Eu,Tu, Eles was also recorded live and released as São Joao Vivo. The concert was a great success, and Gil decided to link the tribute to Luiz Gonzaga to another hero he had dreamed of honouring 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.
In 1987, as Cultural Secretary of the city of Salvador, Gilberto Gil 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 at a better quality of life and making people environmentally conscious.
During President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, Gilberto Gil 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. After Lula’s election in December in 2002, he appointed Gil as Brazil’s new Minister of Culture.
Stockholm, May 2005
Gilberto Gil stayed several days in Stockholm in May 2005 for the prize ceremony, he did both a concert at Mosebacke and gave a lecture at Kulturhuset with Leif Pagrotsky, then the Swedish Minister of Cultural Affairs.