Jeff Tamarkin on Gilberto Gil
It's been said that there are two Gilberto Gils: The first is
the legendary Brazilian singer, songwriter, and guitarist—a prime
mover in his nation's music for a half-century now. He began as a
high-profile trendsetter during the heady days of the Tropicália
movement in the 1960s—a revolutionary trend that embraced music,
theater, film, and poetry—and he's been an innovator since,
incorporating rock, reggae, jazz, and African elements into
Brazilian music, opening it up beyond the traditional samba sound.
The other Gilberto Gil is the social force: Once imprisoned because
the powers that be saw the outspoken musician as too palpable a
threat to the status quo, he later became politically active
himself, changing the system from within and ultimately rising to
serve as Brazil's Minister of Culture for five years—the first
black person to hold a cabinet minister post in his country. "He
doesn't just make music, he also makes policy" (The New York
But it's not true that there are two Gilberto Gils. Those seemingly
incongruent aspects of this extraordinary human being are
inextricably intertwined. His catalog of more than 50 albums—which
has earned him a shelf full of awards that include nine Grammys—is
permeated with words that speak to Gil's commitment to social
justice, spirituality, and righteous philosophical truths.
Conversely, his work within the public sector has always been in
service of the arts.
Example: Just as he's labored for decades to create honest,
insightful, sometimes provocative music, Gil has also done much to
preserve the music made by other Brazilians. Working in tandem with
Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow and others within the
worlds of arts and technology, Gil helped to establish an online
music repository that aims for nothing less than the archiving of
every Brazilian song ever recorded, all eventually available for
free download. According to Barlow, "It'll take time, but it'll
happen. Brazilians are all about patience."
When Gil returns to Carnegie Hall, he plans to celebrate his roots
in forró, the joyful, high-powered dance music long
popular in Brazil's Northeast, where he was born. It's both a full
circle and another step forward for this icon of world music. "It
is our historical task to take advantage of the favorable
conditions that exist today and to move on from celebration to
transformation," Gil once told a gathering of dignitaries in New
York. Celebration and transformation: What more admirable goals
might one possibly have in this life?
—Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of
Glberto Gil on Forró
Gilberto Gil and Osvaldo Golijov on International Influences on Brazilian Music.
Osvaldo Golijov on the Global Influence of Latin American Music.
Latin American Music and Artists at Carnegie Hall: From the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Gilberto Gil performs "Óia eu aqui de novo."
Gilberto Gil performs "Pedras que cantam."