While most of UCSB’s population was in I.V. at some sort of Halloween party last Friday night, a small number of us, along with other community members, got our own party started at Campbell Hall. Internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and guitarist Gilberto Gil certainly rode the wave of positive energy that flooded the room that night and gave us all an education in his unique Brazilian style.
What makes his music so unique is the variety of influences from which he creates his own material. From African drumming patterns to musical structures inspired by Scottish traditional music, to the Beatles and Ravi Shankar, Gil’s music is jam-packed with fresh ideas, but reveals a strong Brazilian backbone.
A key component to the clear Brazilian voice is found in Gil’s percussion section, comprised that night of two percussionists on various Brazilian samba instruments as well as Western instruments. With the thick syncopated patterns and distinct Brazilian feel of “swingy,” the crowd was quick to catch on to the beat and wiggle up and out of their seats. I had never seen all of Campbell Hall in a dancing frenzy until that night, but Gilberto Gil’s music was too infectious for anyone to resist the urge to move. He appeared to be at such ease on stage, even amidst the complex rhythmic drive and atypical harmonic movements. The group was at such a high level of musicianship that they truly conversed as they played; they were not just performing. Along with the percussionists, Gil had a bassist, a guitarist and a fiddler. With a very jam-band feel, each musician took a soulful yet playful solo every now and then, continuing the rush of the upbeat mood. Gil would also break at times and treat us with a mellow and easy tune with luscious harmonies and more relaxing grooves.
Gilberto Gil is not only a musical gift to the world but a progressive and forward thinking activist. Originally in protest of the Brazilian coup d’état of 1964, Gil began writing politically charged songs, creating a new subgenre of music commonly known now as “tropicalia.” Gil also started an environmental organization for the protection of Brazil’s oceans and served as Brazil’s Minister of Culture for several years.
Throughout the history of our civilization, the distinguishing things that we remember are the artistically driven endeavors, the forward thinkers and the courageous believers. Gilberto Gil is an example of each of these things, wrapped up in one musical mastermind.