Today in Toronto OCAD will host Gilberto Gil, Brazil’s most venerable artistic son and icon of the new Brazil. Here is a quick low down on the great man.
It is funny to think that the creative young musician from Salvador, Bahia, an important part of the counter culture 60s & 70s Tropicalia movement, and pressured into exile by the country’s military dictatorship in 1970, would one day become the country’s minister of culture.
And what an incredible minister he was, bringing great change to a ministry that was long seen as not valuing the country’s huge wealth of traditional artistic manifestations (beyond commercial carnivals in Rio & São Paulo).
He created the Pontos de Cultura or the Points of Culture, as part Cultura Viva. The ‘points’ are centers of community arts all around the country and through the years they were mostly kept alive by the strength and convictions of the main agitators. Gil made the different pontos official, recognized by the state and funded for so that they can continue to grow in a modern world. I know of two examples, Maracatu Estrela Brilhante do Recife and the NGO Raizes da Tradição in Rio. Gil also emphasized the term “Economia da Cultura” or the economy of culture, in a famous article on the ministry of culture’s website, where he made clear the reasons that both government and private interest should look at culture as a hugely vital part of the economy: it is a huge employment area, a great marketing avenue, and it brings joy & leisure to peoples lives. With the new digital mediums there is more room than ever for creative content.
OK, while the politically minded Gil is amazing, lets look back at the amazing artist. My introduction to Gil was the soundtrack for the movie Eu Tu e Eles (a Gil album) and very forró. Listening to that album brings back some of the best memories of my life. But really Gil is a master of all the Brazilian popular musical genres and the country’s heart seems to accompany his consciousness.
He was originally part of the tropicalismo movement and launched it with the album Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circenses (Tropicalia: Bread and Circuses) Here is a blog post I wrote a few years back about Tropicalia. click here.
According to Gilberto Gil, tropicalismo arose with the convergence of several movements floating around the urban centers of Rio and São Paulo in the sixties: the resurgence of carioca samba, bossa nova, and the Brazilian rock movement. These trends, combined with the outside world’s counter culture movements headed by the Beatles and the Stones, peaked the interest of the likes of Gil, Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Zé. These four were all “new style” creative musicians from Bahia state in the Northeast , determined to break the hegemony of Rio based musicians.
Tropicália became the cultural cannabalism of all societies, taking in influences from all types of genres and concocting something unique.
While in exile in London Gil discovered reggae … the rest is history … he was greatly influential for the reggae craze in Bahia and the rest of Brazil. He even did a Bob Marley cover album.
He was also at the forefront of the baião (Northeaster Brazilian rhythm) revival and the understanding of Brazil’s forró tradition. He claimed that the rhythm was responsible for “a revolution in [his] life.” Again and again he brought attention to the big masters of Brazilian Northeastern music, like Luis Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, who were being forgotten in the Brazilian music scene. Here is a clip from the film The Man Who Bottled Clouds about Humberto Teixera, a great composer of popular music using the baião rhythm.
To sum it up, Gil is an important man in the national identity of Brazilians. He is the humble musician, the creative genius, a masterful politician and a diplomat with enormous vision. Today he will talk about The Power of Art.