What’s up with Gilberto Gil?

What’s up with Gilberto Gil?

We look at the astonishing life of one of Brazil’s most beloved musicians, who performs tonight at the Abu Dhabi Festival

By Adam Zacharias

Published: Sat 23 Mar 2013, 7:07 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:14 AM

Cinemagoers love a good musical biopic – with Oscar-winning films like Ray (the story of Ray Charles) and Walk the Line (Johnny Cash) proving enormously popular among critics and audiences.

Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil’s 70 years on Earth are certainly ripe for the silver screen treatment. Never mind his genre-hopping exploits over the past half-century – covering styles from bossa nova to samba, while also pioneering the ‘tropicalia’ genre in the late 1960s – Gil’s life outside the studio tells an impressive tale of rebuke and redemption.

We bring you some quick snapshots from the dreadlocked music man’s existence.

Gilberto rose to prominence in the mid-1960s, where he was renowned for performing protest music against the Brazilian authorities.

In 1968, the musician and his collaborator Caetano Veloso were arrested by the country’s military dictatorship for their subversive activities, which including performing a satirical song on television which broke newly-imposed free speech laws.

After being jailed for three months, both Gil and Veloso were exiled from the country. Both moved to London, where they became interested in reggae music as a form of political expression while befriending and performing with popular acts like Yes and Pink Floyd.

It was in London that he also bought his first electric guitar – something Gilberto would later be criticised for using in his music from some more traditional Brazilian quarters.

He eventually returned to his northern Brazilian hometown of Bahia in 1972, after a regime change in the country’s leadership.

In the 1970s, Gil began to explore his African heritage in greater depth with frequent visits to the continent, while also incorporating elements of African music into his own work. In 1977, he headed to Nigeria for the Festival of African Culture and met fellow musicians including Stevie Wonder and local hero Fela Kuti.

Gilberto is credited with popularising reggae in Brazil, specifically when his cover of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry alongside Jimmy Cliff hit number one in the charts in 1980.

In the late 1980s, he entered the world of politics – winning a seat on his local city council by a landslide. Representing the Green Party, he focused on conservation work and helping the underprivileged.

In 2003, Gil was selected to become Brazil’s Minister of Culture. Despite some controversy over the matter, he went on to successfully hold the post for five years before leaving to focus again on music.

Gilberto has won two Grammy Awards in the World Music category – triumphing with Quanta Live in 1999 and Eletracustico in 2005.

Among his many honours are formal nods from both the French government and the United Nations.


What: Gilberto Gil in concert: A Taste of Brazil

Where: Emirates Palace Auditorium

When: Saturday, March 23 (tonight), from 8pm, with a pre-concert talk from 7pm

Cost: Dhs125 to Dhs350

Tickets: See www.timeouttickets.com/abudhabifestival

For more info: Visit www.abudhabifestival.ae


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