Iconic Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil mesmerises audience at Cairo Jazz Festival (VIDEO)

Rowan El Shimi, Saturday 23 Mar 2013

Ahram Online talks to Gilberto Gil, Grammy Award-winning musician, activist and former Brazilian culture minister on music, social activism and musical fusion

Gilberto Gil at Cairo Jazz Festival
Gilberto Gil at Cairo Jazz Festival (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

World-renowned artist Gilberto Gil took the stage at the fifth edition of the Cairo Jazz Festival performing a selection of his music as well as Bob Marley and John Lennon covers. He was briefly joined by Egyptian musician Dina El-Wadidi, whom he mentors.

The multi-award winning artist boasts an incredible musical history, as well as a career in political and social activism in Brazil since the 1960s. He is a member of the Green Party in Brazil and served as culture minister between 2003 - 2007. Festival founder and jazz musician, Amro Salah, presented Gil with the Cairo Jazz Festival's lifetime achievement award at the end of his performance.

A phenomenon, Gil managed to captivate the audience from start to finish and bring them to sway to the Brazilian tunes. As he sang and strummed his guitar, Gil brought a sense of happiness and calm to the crowd with his musical stylings that mix traditional music from his hometown Bahia, in the north of Brazil, along with influences of Reggae, Rock n' Roll and African music.

"This is one of the natural things we have in our contemporary times," Gil told Ahram Online regarding events, such as the Cairo Jazz Festival, that bring musicians together from all over the world. "You already have a strong communication system going through television, newspapers and the internet now playing a big role, but being present is still very important, such as someone like me coming here from Brazil to perform; to live, to breathe the same air, to share sights with the local people."

"So these festivals are very important in bringing people from all over the world, to make their music available for local audiences," he concluded.

Gilberto Gil and Dina El-Wadidi on stage

Gil was joined by Dina El-Wadidi, along with Wael El-Sayid, accordionist from her band, on stage where they performed a Portuguese song, followed by a cover of Sayid Darwish's 'Aho Dah El-Sar' (This is what happened) and El-Wadidi's song 'Hozn El-Ganoub' (The Sorrow of the South).

"He is the best mentor I could have asked for," El-Wadidi said on stage smiling at Gil.

In June 2012, El-Wadidi won the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative award, giving her the chance to work alongside Gil in a mentorship capacity for one year. Later this year she will join him on an international tour where they will present their collaborations.

Activism and music

Gil's smile, and undeniable stage presence was not all that was on that stage. The artist's music, which he classifies as pop, has inspired audiences worldwide for more than fifty years.

His musical career started in 1963 during his time in the Federal University of Bahia, where he met his long-time collaborator Caetano Veloso. The two, and others with them, created the tropicália movement in the late sixties, which created music, poetry, theatre and other arts influenced by traditional Brazilian culture as well as Rock n' Roll and African music. Gil and Veloso's album released in 1968, 'Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis,' is considered the start of the tropicália movement and highly criticised the coup d'état staged by the army and their dictatorship in Brazil.

The album got both artists imprisoned and later exiled. Gil's musical activities continued in London, where he lived for several years before returning to Brazil in 1972 where he again took up environmental activism.

The Brazilian military dictatorship, which was in place from 1964 - 1985, took actions that hit close to home. Through a restricted constitution, the regime stifled freedom of speech through systematic arrest of opposition figures in the name of national security and adopted nationalism, along with economic development as priorities.

However, Gil does not believe that music or art in general can be used as a weapon, but rather that it is always there following people and their movements

"In all the societies that we have, all the nations that we have, the role that music and arts play in people's lives is a constant role, it's a daily role," he told Ahram Online before his performance.

"We breathe music, we eat music, we walk music, we work music, music is making people move all the time, so when people move in a certain direction, like Egyptian people moving now towards more freedom, more openness, more transparency - music is there."

Gil referred to Tahrir Square, the heart of the Egyptian revolution: "There was a stage where music was played," he said. "So people were there protesting, questioning the system, proposing new ideas and everything, and music was there but at the same time music was at home, music was on TV, music was everywhere."

Having dealt himself with freedom of expression infringement, Gil was sympathetic to Egypt's current situation with the issue.

"It is going to depend on how responsible the government is going to be," he told Ahram Online. "It will depend on how tuned to a profound sense of governing the government will be. It's not just an Egyptian issue - it's an issue everywhere."

Gil further explained that culture is life, and that work and all these other things people do, are side effects and are secondary in spite of their importance as well. "The peasants go to the land to plant and to harvest during the week, to have a cultural weekend, to relax with the family," he said. "They go to places, they go to the theatre, they go to the movies for culture purposes."

"The main purpose of life is culture. It's loving the children, loving the family, being able to share entertainment with the family, it's culture, the purpose of life" he added.

"I hope they [the government] will be as responsible as we want them to be for the people's cultural lives," he said.

Gil's career in music, activism and politics continues to inspire people worldwide. Next up Gilberto Gil will be bringing his music and positive vibes to Tunisia on 26 March.

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