World-renowned Brazilian singer and songwriter Gilberto Gil performed at Campbell Hall last Friday as part of his ongoing tour, “For All.”
The concert, the first of Arts and Lectures’ World Music series, paid tribute to the baião music of northeastern Brazil, a style of music popularized by Brazilian folksinger and poet Luiz Gonzaga. Gil performed an eclectic range of styles and played many of his own songs as well as covers of his contemporaries such as Gonzaga and Bob Marley.
According to UCSB Spanish and Portuguese associate professor Elide Valarini Oliver, who specializes in Brazilian literature, Gil’s set touched on a broad array of genres including baião, samba, rock, bossa nova, reggae and Tropicália.
“I would describe Gilberto Gil’s music as music with roots in all the traditions of Brazil: the European, the indigenous and the black,” Oliver said. “It’s an original creation … but is always looking to something new.”
During his performance, audience members got up to dance along the sides and front of the stage as they cheered on the singer. Oliver said this interactive audience-performer rapport is not uncommon during Gil’s performances.
“If you go and watch … his shows, everybody in the audience knows the songs he sings and follows along,” Oliver said. “Everybody is singing together.”
According to Gil, his music resonates with American audiences because of the similarities between the United States and Brazil in terms of cultural history and demographics.
“They are the closest nations in terms of the ways they were formed,” Gil said. “They started historically at the same moment … both having this blend: [a] cultural, racial [and] civilizational blend. Like, if you listen to this music I was playing tonight, [there are] lots of similarities [between] the countries — American folk, country, Cajun music, music from Mississippi, music from Louisiana, you know — a mix of black and local Indians, and Europeans. They are very close countries.”
Comparative literature graduate student Rodrigo Bauler said Gil’s prominence makes him somewhat of a cultural ambassador, bringing the art and traditions of Brazil to the United States and elsewhere.
“It’s all connected to music,” Bauler said. “Soccer is connected to music, lifestyle is connected to music, food is connected to music and Gilberto Gil is a big part of this identity. He is still today the main musician in Brazil.”
Gil’s popularity and political activism led him to be appointed Minister of Culture of Brazil by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003. According to Gil, the president’s administration shifted Brazil’s government away from an autocratic rule and incorporated more democracy into the system.
“President Lula was a kind of hope; he represented a leakage in this sort of bottle,” Gil said. “[So] I served as a public servant. I did my best.”
Gil has been recognized together with Caetano Veloso as a founder of Tropicália, a musical and cultural movement that began in the 1960s and built upon modernism with traditional Brazilian and foreign cultures.
During that time, Gil used his music to criticize the 1964 dictatorship in Brazil, which led to his banishment in 1969. He returned to Brazil in 1972 once the regime ended.
According to Oliver, the idea behind Tropicália lies in antropófago — the concept that Brazil’s strength comes from its “ritual consumption” of foreigners in order to absorb their culture into Brazil’s.
“The beauty of Brazilian music is that it is totally made of miscellaneous [culture],” Oliver said. “Bossa nova was jazz, and [it] was Brazilian music and was samba … and Gilberto [did] the same thing [with Tropicália].”
Gil said he would like to urge the student body to use music as a healthy outlet for stress but to remain focused on education as a top priority.
“Study, but also give a good piece of time to relaxing [and] thinking about nothing; go really cool about different things,” Gil said. “But study — it’s been paid for.”