Gilberto Gil To Steer Brazil's Cultural Policy
- WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 1, 2003 2:10 a.m. EST
Grammy-Winning Pop Star To Steer Brazil's Cultural Policy
DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP)--Just before Luiz Inacio da
Silva was elected president, Brazilian music star Gilberto
Gil strutted onto a Copacabana beach concert stage dressed
in the red and white colors of the Worker's Party.
"I've been surfing on Lula's wave for a long time," Gil
said, using the populist candidate's nickname, "and this
time, we're going to surf until the shore."
Gil, the quintessential symbol of Brazilian pop music, will
surf even further, becoming Brazil's cultural minister
Wednesday after Silva's inauguration as president.
Brazilians hope the singer and songwriter, a 1998 Grammy
World Music Award winner, won't forget the lyrics of one his
most popular songs, "Novidade," or "Novelty" in English.
"Oh, the world is so unequal," Gil sings in the 1986 song.
"On the one side all this Carnival, on the other, total
Gil's appointment is seen as demonstration of Silva's
closeness to Brazilian cultural roots and its large, poor
black population. Before Gil, the only black appointed as a
cabinet minister was soccer star Pele, by outgoing president
Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Sandwich shop worker Iara Sales, 21, who saw Gil perform
Christmas Day in Rocinha, a hillside Rio shantytown of
160,000, believes his appointment is a good sign.
"I hope the government will promote many events in poor
communities like this one," Sales said. "It's what we needed
all along. We're poor, but we have our dignity."
Others are less convinced Gil is still in touch with the
ideals of equality and social justice he espoused after
bursting upon the Brazilian pop scene in the late 1960s. At
the time, he helped create the rebellious "Tropicalismo"
movement that advocated individual liberties, sex and a
permissive attitude toward drugs.
"Nothing against Gil, but everything is against this type of
arrangement, where culture is treated as an ornament,"
Brazilian filmmaker Joao Batista de Andrade told the Rio
newspaper O Globo.
Gil's mix of traditional Bossa Nova with rock 'n' roll and
reggae was a revolution for Brazilian music, and he has sold
millions of records and compact discs in his career.
He has been criticized in the Brazilian media for grumbling
it could be difficult to support his lifestyle on the
cultural minister's $2,500 monthly salary. But Gil has
Silva's blessing to do concerts when he's not performing his
"I can work from Monday through Friday at the ministry and
do shows on Saturday and Sunday," he told reporters.
Gil wants to increase tax breaks for companies who invest in
cultural projects, boosting the relief from 4 to 6 percent.
He has also said he may donate money from future
performances to the cultural ministry because its budget is
scheduled to shrink 25% in 2003.
And the 60-year-old musician is no stranger to politics.
After helping found Tropicalismo with other musicians
resisting the dictatorship that ruled Brazil until 1985, Gil
was jailed for several months in 1968 after he and his
friend Caetano Veloso angered the right-wing regime with
Gil went into exile in London in 1969, and stayed there
He became culture secretary in his hometown of Salvador in
northeastern Brazil from 1987 to 1988, and was a city
councilor from 1989 to 1992.
He also is a prominent member of the Green Party that gained
five seats in Brazil's Lower House elections in October and
is allied to Silva's party.
In the 1990's, Gil also chaired the "Blue Wave"
environmental education group that promotes the preservation
of Brazil's rivers.
Like Silva, Gil seems to have softened his radical views in
recent years, trading them for ideas more reminiscent of
European-style social democracy. He also took up yoga,
intensely studied Zen Buddhism and stopped drinking, smoking
and eating meat.
Some of his contemporary music draws heavily from
traditional composers from the backlands of his home state
Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. Just last week,
Gil showed up for a meeting of Silva's future Cabinet
wearing the white T-shirt and white trousers favored by
Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion he admires.
Gil is scheduled to sing live in Brasilia after the
inauguration, but he will attend the ceremony in a suit.