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Gilberto Gil - Biography of Brazilian Artist Gilberto Gil

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Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil

Courtesy Pascal Le Segretain /Getty Images

Born: :

June 29, 1942 in Salvador, Brazil (Bahia)

Looking at the dread-locked picture of Gilberto Gil, it's surprising to realize that this is the visage of Brazil's Minister of Culture. But Gilberto Gil has made a habit of demolishing preconceived ideas, from his early days as co-founder of the 'tropicalia' musical movement (with Caetano Veloso) to political activism as an ardent supporter of Brazil's 'Green Party'. And always he focused on the music, releasing 40+ albums in his 4 decade long career.

Early Days:

Gilberto Gil Moreira was fascinated by music at an early age. By the time he was 7 he had taught himself to play the trumpet and spent hours listening to street singers at the local marketplace. Gil then switched to accordion; by the time he was a teenager, he was performing with his first musical group, Os Desfinados. But even the accordion was dropped after hearing Joao Gilberto play the guitar to the smooth rhythms of a new type of music that was starting to gain in popularity - a musical style called bossa nova that was nudging more traditional samba out of first-place on the nation's airwaves.

Gil picked-up the guitar and immersed himself in bossa nova. He continued on to the University of Bahia, where he persued a business degree. While there, he met fellow musicians Caetano Veloso and Veloso's sister, Maria Bethania. Gil and Veloso quickly teamed-up.

Having finished his degree and decided business was not for him, Gil delved more deeply into music.

Tropicalia or Tropicalismo:

In 1967, Veloso and Gil, along with other like-minded artists, introduced a new style of music that was subsequently named 'tropicalia' or 'tropicalismo'. They felt that while bossa nova had a great rhythm and sound, the popular music was elitist, stressing traditional Brazilian music to the exclusion of the popular music coming out of the west. They wanted a new musical attitude, one that pointed out the economic and cultural deficiencies in their society. It was time for a musical revolution.

First Album 'Louvacao' :

"Domingo no Parque" (Sunday in the Park) was Gil's initial entry into tropicalia. It stirred up controversy with its politically charged lyrics. Gil had also written a hit song for future icon, Elis Regina. "Louvacao" did so well that Gil decided to record the song and subsequent album himself. Louvacao was his debut album, released in 1967.

Jail and Exile for Gil and Veloso:

A growing popularity was not enough to protect Gil from the military dictatorship that dominated Brazil starting in 1964. In 1969,, Gil and Veloso appeared on television; their performance was perceived as criticism of the government. They were both arrested. After a couple of months in jail, Gil was put under house arrest for the next 8 months. At government urging, Gil and Veloso left Brazil for London. Gil stayed there for the next 3 years, returning with a change in Brazil's government in 1972.

Awards and Honors For Gilberto Gil:

In the last decade, Gilberto Gil has been reaping the rewards of his 4 musical decades. Among other honors, Gil's Quanta Live album won him a Grammy award for 'Best World Music Album' in 1998; he took home another Grammy in 2005 for Electracustico. He was also the Latin Recording Academy's 'Person of the Year' in 2003.

Gil Becomes Brazil's Minister of Culture:

From the beginning's of his career, Gilberto Gil has been concerned with Brazil's political climate. Associated with the 'Green Party' (Partido Verde), Gil won a seat on Salvador's city council in 1988.

In 2003, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio da Silva named Gil his Minister of Culture. In an interview with Newsweek, Gil said that "Brazil's image abroad is associated with popular culture: samba, the way we play football. But what we need to do is break the prejudice that popular culture is a lesser product."

After 5 year, Gil gave up the Cultural Minister position in Aug. 2008 in order to be able to spend more time on his music.

Few people have been more successful than Gilberto Gil is promoting that musical culture, both at home and abroad.

Gilberto Gil has been married 3 times; he has had 7 children. Among them, his daughter Preta Gil is a musician; his son, Pedro Gil, was a drummer with the band Egotrip before his death in a car crash in 1990.

Early Recordings

  • Louvacao (1967)
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  • Refazenda (1975)
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  • Realce (1979)
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    Later Recordings

  • Acoustic (1994) (AKA Gilberto Gil Unplugged)
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  • Quanta Live (1998)
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  • Kaya N'Gan Daya (2002)
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