Minister of funk back for more

Slightly built and sporting a loose summer shirt, sandals and dreadlocks, Brazilian music legend Gilberto Gil introduced himself to local fans last July at the Herod Atticus Theater – and convincingly won them over. Best known to latin music listeners, Gil also entered the world of politics in the fall of 2002, as culture minister for Brazil’s leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The artist seems to have found a way to balance the finer details of his dual roles. This could be because, after four decades of cultural activity at home and abroad, Gil does not need to prove his worth. Just prior to embarking on a European tour that includes two dates in Greece, tonight in Thessaloniki and tomorrow in Athens at the Lycabettus Theater, the leading Brazilian artist spoke to Kathimerini’s K magazine from a Rio de Janeiro studio, where he is working on a new album. So, you’re returning to Greece for a second time… Yes, and I’m particularly happy. My experience at the Herod Atticus last year was amazing – a fabulous theater and audience. I’m glad that I’ll be with you this year, too. You see, for me, this is my holiday break. That’s what I’ve agreed on, to use my leave from Brazil’s Culture Ministry for concerts and coming into contact with people. How has your experience as Brazil’s culture minister been so far? I’m enjoying it because I was able to propose ideas, turn the government’s attention to culture and institutions related to culture, and to culture’s strategic importance in various aspects of human life. Even with the modest amount of money allotted to the ministry, we’ve managed to maintain its traditional role, for example in preserving our cultural heritage. Not as well as we would have liked, though, because, as I told you, the money for culture is little, always very little. That’s the lifelong complaint of many of my ministerial colleagues from other countries. Governments, you see, handle their cultural portfolio as an inferior issue. How are your ties with President Lula and the other members of the government? Very good, both on professional and personal levels… On occasions there are problems concerning time management. Certain decisions are not made on time. Elections will be held in Brazil next year. Do you intend to remain at your post should a re-elected President Lula ask you to? Yes. If the president needs me, for whatever amount of time, I will be at his disposal. No matter what, though, I always have my music. And that’s very refreshing. You began your career in the ’60s. Comparing now and then, what are the differences in music and the music industry? There are many differences. Music has changed considerably because of electronic technology and electronic instruments. Lyrics, too, have changed a lot. Back then, greater emphasis was given to melodies. Today, rhythm probably dominates. Lyrics have become more rhetorical. Rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop changed music tremendously. As for the music industry, it has also changed a great deal. It’s not as profitable as it was in the past. There are problems with the major labels and, especially, the business plans they’re implementing. There’s also the crucial problem of piracy through the Internet. These problems don’t seem to be affecting your musical course. How have you managed to keep audiences excited over four decades? Could it be your ability to regularly fuse many kinds of music? I think it has mostly to do with my frequent performances. I don’t trust recordings. I didn’t build my career by simply making records. Recordings promote an artist’s work, but performances before audiences are crucial. In Europe, for example, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, as well as the USA, fans became acquainted with me through my concerts. I became sort of known thanks to my live performances. It’s the best way to share your art with fans. That’s how it always was, for me, at least. In the past, some of your songs were inspired by political conditions. Where do you get your inspiration from these days? Over the past seven years, I’ve turned to the material of artists that interest me particularly, such as Luiz Gonzaga, a music legend from northeast Brazil, as well as Bob Marley, a musician I love very much. You often collaborate with other well-known musicians who are your friends, like Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque. Collaboration between musicians is a tradition in Brazil. Nowadays, you also get collaborations between musicians in many other countries. But, yes, it’s true that we in Brazil have always collaborated among ourselves. That’s because we acknowledge the talent of others. It’s natural for us to fuse styles – samba, funk, the rhythm of northeast Brazil – and musical textures between us. Collaboration is a natural thing for me, and not only with Brazilian artists. Yesterday, for example, Susana Baca, the fabulous singer from Peru, sent me a recording of her new material so I can add vocals to it. Recently, I also worked with Jimmy Cliff in Stockholm. Very soon, I’m going to perform with Youssou N’Dour in Geneva. Music never abandons you – or, more precisely, you never abandon it. Yes. But care is needed. The voice, too, needs care. A few years ago I needed to undergo vocal chord surgery. I’m well now, but I take care. I do vocal exercises to keep my voice in form. I sing virtually every day. When I get back home from the ministry, I sing and play music. I always carry my guitar with me. When I travel, no matter where I am, I always carry my guitar with me. Of the younger artists, who have you singled out? I don’t like to declare my preferences publicly, that is to say so-and-so is good, or so-and-so will reach very high. I’ll just tell you that there are lots of worthy young artists whom I follow. Countless artists begin careers in Brazil every day. When I travel in my country, when I go to Sao Paolo or Bahia, I return with plenty of records. Brazil’s music scene is very lively. Considering the success, in recent years, of films like «City of God» by Fernando Meirelles or «The Motorcycle Diaries» by the Brazilian director Walter Salles, is the Culture Ministry of Brazil supporting film production? Through its audiovisual division, Brazil’s Culture Ministry is supporting 90 film festivals in Brazil. It also takes part in film festivals in Miami and New York, as well as Cannes. We’ve signed deals for the production of audiovisual projects in Germany, Argentina, and, next month, we’ll be doing the same with France and Australia. We’re particularly active in this specific sector, and I hope we do even more.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.