Gilberto Gil Brings Brazil To New York

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[World Music]

On a crisp autumn night, November 8, 2012, Carnegie Hall played host to one of the iconic figures of Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil, as part of the Around the Globe and Voices from Latin America festival curated by Osvaldo Golijov. 

This mostly sold out concert was one of Gil’s subtle yet powerful performances in the US, showcasing his bona fides as a true cultural ambassador for his native Brazil- one who can forcefully present Brazil to American audiences. His repertoire showcased not only the samba and bossa nova musical legacy of Brazil, but also its vast and diverse musical genres-a cauldron where any musical genre that finds its way there can be, as in the words of Caetano Veloso, “cannibalized” or made Brazilian.

This was on full display when Gil took on Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and “Redemption Song” and made it uniquely Brazilian marrying both Portuguese and English in the lyrics. Not only did it bring home a nostalgic feeling for one of the pioneers of reggae music and champion of the oppressed world over but Marley’s music was transported into an entirely different world, conjuring a carnivalesque atmosphere in the middle of Manhattan.

With his trademark dreadlocks gone, Gil looks more refreshed and agile; a look that betrays his half a century’s worth of work on the  world-stage where he thrills audiences with the musical genres of his youth in Bahia, Northern Brazil, as well as the variegated influences that constitute Brazilian music today- such as forró and baião, which he continually improves upon and modernizes.  Ever the cultural ambassador, Gil explains with wit and contemporaneous humor, the origin of each piece he plays and the history behind them. With a troupe of accomplished musicians, Gil was able to deliver each rendition with ardor and rigid interpretation that any musicologist will find satisfying.

If the aim of the festival is to show Latin America in its diverse cultural and musical form, the evening was unquestionably successful. Unlike the common perception of Latin American and Caribbean culture as the epicenter of hedonism unchecked, this festival shows a depth of musical genres from the joyous to contemplative and serious. With an amalgam of cultures from European colonizers to indigenes in the Americas and slaves brought in from Africa, Latin American music has at its essence, both classical and spiritual roots.

Gil's mastery is in his ability to tap into these to give a performance that pays tribute to all these influences. With classic tunes Andar com fe, Oi Eu Aqui de Novo and Asa Branca he was able to show the audience the various influences and his unique ability to relate to them. Inviting them to be an integral part of the chorus, he was able to arouse the packed room to their feet, dancing in sheer delight.

The electric atmosphere in the room was heighted by David Byrne of the Talking Heads who joined Gil onstage with one of his more popular songs. Overall, the concert was testament to the fact that even after 50 years in show business, politics and activism. Gil has shown little sign of slowing down or giving it up. What a job well  done by this true and dedicated son of Bahia!

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