Gilberto Gil is a Brazilian music legend and politician known for his work in the tropicália and MPB (Música popular brasileira) pop music movements of the 1960s. He was Brazil’s Minister of Culture in the administration of President Lula from 2003-2008.
A Son of Bahía
Gil was born in Salvador, Bahía, the Brazilian musical heartland in the northeast on June 26, 1942. Originally a samba rock musician, Gil first moved into bossa nova (samba-jazz). In college, he met Caetano Veloso and the two started a collaboration that led to the Tropicálismo movement of the 1968.
Tropicálismo was a great mixing of Brazilian culture with outside influences in all the arts. Before then, there was a lot of copying of European and U.S. culture. But now Brazilians started creating their own.
You can’t imagine how excited we were to hear rock and pop music made in our own voice, instead of as just a reflection of someone else. Brazil became its own cultural reference to Brazilians and the outside world.
Fighting Dictatorship with Words
1968 was a time (like now) when youth culture exploded into protests around the globe. Young people demanded civil rights, an end to the Vietnam War, and the end of dictatorship and colonization.
It was the time of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985). Under dictatorship, you can’t speak your mind. Speaking out will land you in jail or worse (tyrants are the same everywhere). Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso didn’t criticize the government directly. They wrote songs filled with poetic metaphor, but every Brazilian understood exactly what they meant.
Eventually in 1969 both artists were jailed, then held under house arrest and only freed when they promised to leave the country. Gil and Veloso moved to exile in London for a few years. It turned out to be a great move because they absorbed more reggae, rock and jazz influences.
In 1972, Gil returned to Bahia to focus on his music and environmental advocacy. He joined Lula’s government from 2003-2008. Gil then decided to focus his life on what is most important to him and returned to music.
A Multiple Grammy Winner
Gil won Grammys for “Quanta Live” Best World Music Album (1999), “Eletracústico” Best Contemporary World Music Album (2005) and “Gilbertos Samba Ao Vivo” Best World Music Album (2016).
He won a Latin Grammy for “As Cançoes De Eu, Tu, Eles” Best Brazilian Roots/Regional Album (2001). He was the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year in 2003.
However you look at Gilberto Gil’s life and career, he is one of the handful of the most respected and influential Brazilian musicians.