Born June 29, 1942 in Salvador, Brazil. Addresses: Record company--Blue Jackel Entertainment, P.O. Box 87, Huntington, NY 11743.

A dominant force in contemporary Brazilian music, Gilberto Gil helped shape that nation's modern music in the twentieth century. His lasting influence could be seen beyond the borders of Brazil. Towards the end of the century he continued to exert his influence on new generations of musicians by discovering and nurturing new talent in, while continuing his schedule of recording and performing.

Gilberto Gil was born June 29, 1942 in Salvador, Brazil and spent his childhood in Bahia, in the Brazilian interior. As a child he began playing drums and showed interest in various forms of music. He started teaching himself to play trumpet by listening to radio programs at the age of seven. His family moved back to Salvador when Gil was in his teens. It was in 1950, after hearing the music of Luiz Gonzaga that he decided to learn to play the accordion. Gil played with a group Os Desfinados while still in high school. When he heard Joao Gilberto on the radio, he switched instruments again, this time to guitar.

Gil studied business at the University of Bahia and worked for a short time in Sao Paulo for Gessy-Lever, a huge multinational firm. In 1966 he decided to devote himself solely to a career in music. Early musical influences, in addition to Gonzaga and Gilberto, included Sivuca and Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim, the legendary Brazilian composer with whom he studied at the Goethe Institute. Gil had his first recording contract in 1966, and he had his first hit as a songwriter Ellis Regina's version of "Louvaçáo" that same year.

It is truly difficult, if not entirely impossible, to write about Gilberto Gil without mentioning Caetano Veloso. Both were musicians shaped by almost identical influences. They were university students in Bahia and met at the Teatro Vila Velha in Salvador in 1963. Gil and Veloso competed in several music festivals Gil's "Domingo no Parque" was one of his first songs to be widely recognized through participation in these competitions. "For their part, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso," writes Tarik De Souza in a 1986 UNESCO Courier article, "picked up, each in his own way, the musical threads laid down by [Dorival "Dorri"] Caymmi and Joao Gilberto." They would become long-time friends and artistic collaborators.

As Mark Holston writing in Guitar Player wrote that Brazilian musicians "owe their privileged status to a unique combination of factors present only in Brazil. Through imported African slaves came Brazil's most important musical ingredient, as Jobim describes: 'The striking feature of Brazilian popular music is the basic African rhythm.' Europeans, Jobim continues, also had an impact: 'The European contribution, as can easily be seen, is enormous: melody, harmony, and form, as well as instruments. The fact is that European culture found new and fertile ground here.'"

Gil and Veloso were among the artists attempting to amalgamate all these various influences, with the addition of electric guitars from British and American rock, while remaining politically and artistically relevant and uniquely Brazilian. The result was a movement called Tropicalismo. The movement has been described in various terms, often perceived as a counterpart to the American hippie movement. Bahian artists including Gil and Veloso, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia (Veloso's sister) and Jose Carlos Capinam were associated with the movement from 1967-69. The band Os Mutantes, composers Rogerio Duprat and Julio Medaglia, and poets Augusto and Haroldo de Campos were all associated with Tropicalismo, as well.

Tropicalismo was "a [cry] for moral and aesthetic liberty launched by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil," explained Mario de Aratanhain the UNESCO Courier. "Political dissent invaded the realm of music, growing into full-blooded revolt against the military dictatorship set up in 1964. Under the new rulers, harsh artistic censorship joined up with police violence to silence a generation." "Their lyrics were socially-conscious and provocative, but they also experimented with the electrifying rock sounds that emanated from England and the United States," wrote Christopher Dunn in Americas. "One particularly ingenious song by Gilberto Gil and poet Torquato Neto, 'Geleia Geral' (General Jelly), reconciles rock with traditional Brazilian popular culture." In that same article Gil told Dunn, "Tropicalismo opened the doors to all influences, it had a democratic attitude towards culture. It helped to reaffirm the popular culture of the streets, and influenced the re-africanization of Brazilian culture."

Around the same time, Brazil was entering a period of increased protests, political violence, military censorship and political and cultural repression. President Arthur da Costa e Silva, in December 1968, censored the arts and press with Institutional Act V. Under this legislation left-wing leaders, labor organizers and artists, including Veloso and Gil, were arrested. "We were very supportive of what was happening in the universities in the [U.S.] and in Paris, for instance," said Gil, "and reproduced those events for Brazilian students. So I wound up in jail for two months, then house arrest for six months. Then I was sent away to London, where I stayed for three years."

During his exile Gil made several trips to Africa and began exploring music of the diaspora throughout the Caribbean, particularly reggae. The most influential of these voyages was a trip to Nigeria in 1977. "When I went to Nigeria in '77, I met Fela, Stevie Wonder and King Sunny Ade. That trip really gave me the push toward blackness, toward really trying to understand the roots and spirit of the culture," explained Gil. "I made the links between Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis and Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley: people speaking out, being proud of being black, understanding the difficulties of getting black culture into Western civilization. So when I got back to Brazil, I started doing music in a more black-oriented vein."

From Tropicalismo sprung Música Popular Brasileria (Brazilian Popular Music) or MPB. Gil is considered the first MPB musician to use an electric guitar. This wave of music in the 1970s introduced new Brazilian artists to the United States, but Gil's music was not widely recognized in American until the 1980s when Talking Heads founder David Byrne and other English-speaking musicians injected bossa nova and other Afro-Brazilian sounds into their own music.

In addition to being active as a recording artist throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Gil became politically active, particularly in Bahian cultural programs. He was a city councilman, elected with more votes than any other candidate and one of the few blacks in Brazil to hold public office in the late 1980s. He formed a group called Blue Wave and performed at events to raise funds and awareness for rainforest preservation. In 1995 he became part of the council for the Brazilian social program called Comunidad Solidaria. However, he decided against running for a second term saying, "I just couldn't adapt to the character of being a politician. The masks you wear. I'm not a warrior. I'm a humanist. And politics are not humanist at all."

Even after his short political career, Gil's popularity did not wane, and he continued to record and tour internationally. Gil's Quanta Live was recognized with a 1998 Grammy award. Gil told Rhythm "the most important thing to me is that I like the record, and that's the best point about receiving an award." Recorded live at the peak of the band's form in Brazil, Gil considered the Grammy as band achievement.

Towards the end of the century Gil by now in his fifties continued to grow musically. "I've always been a musician, and I have always tried to keep developing new ideas," said Gil in an interview for O Sol De Oslo. "Since I see change as a natural process, I think I've always been changing and developing my music. It's hard for me to state precisely which directions I took, but I have moved along using my feelings and intuition."

by Linda Dailey Paulson

Gilberto Gil's Career

Played various instruments in childhood and youth, including accordion, drums and trumpet; met Caetano Veloso in 1963; signed first recording contract, 1966; first noted hit "Domingo No Parque"; founded Tropicália movement in 1967 with Veloso and others; government censorship imposed in Brazil, Gil and Veloso arrested, jailed, and forced into exile in London1968; began exploring roots of Brazilian music; trip to Nigeria in 1977 resulted in recording Refavela; entered Bahian politics, successfully ran for city council, and is appointed to various cultural and social organizations, 1987; retired from politics, but remained involved in some organizations on a voluntary basis1992; continued to record throughout 1990s with Veloso, other musicians and as a solo artist. Awards: 1998 Grammy for Quanta Live; Knight of Arts and Letters (France) and Cruz da Ordem de Rio Branco (Brazil).

Famous Works

Recent Updates

November 30, 2004: Gil's album, Unplugged, was released. Source:,, December 2, 2004.

February 8, 2006: Gil won the Grammy Award for best contemporary world music album for Eletracustico. Source:,, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading



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