Gilberto Gil makes his debut at Disney Hall Tuesday night.
There was a time and place in which pop music was a revolution.
In Brazil, in the late 1960s, Gilberto Gil was a rising pop star, the leader of the ambitious and culturally voracious Tropicália “Afro power” movement that infused traditional rhythms from the rural northeast of the nation with psychedelia, poetry, and art rock. When the Gil and his “Tropicalistas” plugged in and played rock n’ roll rhythms at a São Paulo song festival in 1967, it was an unheard of act of rebellion. The crowd jeered, but Gil’s popularity soared: his music was a jolt heard not only throughout Brazil but the region and the world.
Two years later, the military regime imprisoned Gil. Upon his release, he lived in exile until 1972, when he returned as a cultural hero and continued a career in which he covered as much artistic and stylistic ground as any artist in the world for the next four decades – his only interruption in musical output coming when he became the first black Brazilian appointed to the nation’s cabinet, serving as cultural minister from 2003 to 2008. As poet Torquato Neto once noted, “There are many ways to sing and make Brazilian music. Gilberto Gil prefers all of them.”
Gil, who plays the Disney Concert Hall Tuesday night, was world music before the term world music existed. He brought together not only musical strands from all over the globe but created a sound and carried a message that lifted listeners throughout Latin America.
“Growing up in Latin America, I heard Gilberto Gil’s music everywhere: from the humblest streets to the fanciest dinner parties,” wrote Inés Taracena, a Tucson Weekly writer originally from Guatemala. “….A lot of his lyrics are a reflection of what it was like to be Afro-Brazilian during a time when Brazil was almost ashamed to have an Afro-Brazilian community, and ashamed of the African influence in the country. His music is a protest against injustices but also a manifest of how much he loves his country.”
Since leaving government, Gil has returned to the traditional forró style of music and dance and has once again brought his exuberant, vibrant, ever-evolving musicality to worldwide audiences. As he told the New York Times near the end of his time within government, he has come to regard his role as a musician more broadly.
“I no longer see music as a field to be exploited,” Gil said. “I see it now as an alternative area of action, part of a broad repertory of possibilities that I have. Music is something visceral in me, something that exudes from me, and even when I’m not thinking about it, I will still be making music, always.”