At 81 years old, Gilberto Gil has this physical status:
Gil met guitarist and singer Caetano Veloso at the Universidade Federal da Bahia (Federal University of Bahia) in 1963. The two began collaborating and performing together, releasing a single and EP. Along with Maria Bethânia (Veloso's sister), Gal Costa, and Tom Zé, Gil and Veloso performed bossa nova and traditional Brazilian songs at the Vila Velha Theatre's opening night in July 1964, a show entitled Nós, por Exemplo ("Us, for Example"). Gil and the group continued to perform at the venue and he eventually became a musical director of the concert series. Gil collaborated again with members of this collective on the landmark 1968 album Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenses, whose style was influenced by The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album Gil listened to constantly. Gil describes Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenses as the birth of the tropicália movement. As Gil describes it, tropicália, or tropicalismo, was a conflation of musical and cultural developments that had occurred in Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s—primarily bossa nova and the Jovem Guarda ("Young Wave") collective—with rock and roll music from the United States and Europe, a movement deemed threatening by the Brazilian government of the time.
Early on in the 1960s, Gil earned income primarily from selling bananas in a shopping mall and composing jingles for television advertisements; he was also briefly employed by the Brazilian division of Unilever, Gessy-Lever. He moved to São Paulo in 1965 and had a hit single when his song "Louvação" (which later appeared on the album of the same name) was released by Elis Regina. His first hit as a solo artist was the 1969 song "Aquele Abraço". Gil also performed on several television programs throughout the 1960s, which often included other "tropicalistas", members of the Tropicalismo movement. One of these programs, Divino Maravilhoso, which featured Veloso, gained attention from government television censors after it aired a satirical version of the national anthem in December 1968.
In February 1969 Gil and Veloso were arrested by the Brazilian military government, brought from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, and spent three months in prison and another four under house arrest, before being freed on the condition that they leave the country. Veloso was the first to be arrested; the police moved to Gil's home soon afterward. Veloso had directed his then-wife Andréa Gadelha to warn Gil about the possibility of arrest, but Gil was eventually brought into the police van along with Veloso. They were given no reason or charge for their arrest. Gil believes that the government felt his actions "represent[ed] a threat [to them], something new, something that can't quite be understood, something that doesn't fit into any of the clear compartments of existing cultural practices, and that won't do. That is dangerous." During his prison sentence, Gil began to meditate, follow a macrobiotic diet, and read about Eastern philosophy. He composed four songs during his imprisonment, among them "Cérebro Electrônico" ("Electronic Brain"), which first appeared on his 1969 album Gilberto Gil 1969, and later on his 2006 album Gil Luminoso. Thereafter, Gil and Veloso were exiled to London, England after being offered to leave Brazil. The two played a last Brazilian concert together in Salvador in July 1969, and travelled to Portugal, Paris, and London. He and Veloso took a house in Chelsea, with their wives and manager. Gil was involved in the organisation of the 1971 Glastonbury Free Festival and was exposed to reggae while living in London; he recalls listening to Bob Marley (whose songs he later covered), Jimmy Cliff, and Burning Spear. He was heavily influenced by and involved with the city's rock scene as well, performing with Yes, Pink Floyd, and the Incredible String Band. However, he also performed solo, recording Gilberto Gil (Nêga) while in London. In addition to involvement in the reggae and rock scenes, Gil attended performances by jazz artists, including Miles Davis and Sun Ra.
When he went back to Bahia in 1972, Gil focused on his musical career and environmental advocacy work. He released Expresso 2222 the same year, from which two popular singles were released. Gil toured the United States and recorded an English-language album as well, continuing to release a steady stream of albums throughout the 1970s, including Realce and Refazenda. In the early 1970s Gil participated in a resurgence of the Afro-Brazilian afoxé tradition in Carnaval, joining the Filhos de Gandhi ("Sons of Gandhi") performance group, which only allowed black Brazilians to join. Gil also recorded a song titled "Patuscada de Gandhi" written about the Filhos de Gandhi that appeared on his 1977 album Refavela. Greater attention was paid to afoxé groups in Carnaval because of the publicity that Gil had provided to them through his involvement; the groups increased in size as well. In the late 1970s he left Brazil for Africa and visited Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. He also worked with Jimmy Cliff and released a cover of "No Woman, No Cry" with him in 1980, a number one hit that introduced reggae to Brazil.
In 1996, Gil contributed "Refazenda" to the AIDS-Benefit Album Red Hot + Rio produced by the Red Hot Organization.
In 1998 the live version of his album Quanta won Gil the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. In 2005 he won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album for Eletracústico. In May 2005 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize by Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in Stockholm, the prize's first Latin American recipient. On October 16 of the same year he received the Légion d'honneur from the government of France, coinciding with the Année du Brésil en France ("Brazil's Year in France").
In 2010 he released the album Fé Na Festa, a record devoted to forró, a style of music from Brazil's northeast. His tour to promote this album received some negative feedback from fans who were expecting to hear a set featuring his hits. In 2013, Gilberto Gil plays his own role as a singer and promoter of cultural diversity in a long feature documentary shot around the southern hemisphere by Swiss filmmaker Pierre-Yves Borgeaud, Viramundo: a musical journey with Gilberto Gil, distributed worldwide. The film also inaugurates the T.I.D.E. experiment for pan-European and multi-support releases.
His album OK OK OK was ranked as the 4th best Brazilian album of 2018 by the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone magazine and among the 25 best Brazilian albums of the second half of 2018 by the São Paulo Association of Art Critics.
Political career (1987–present)
Gil describes his attitude towards politics thus: "I'd rather see my position in the government as that of an administrator or manager. But politics is a necessary ingredient." His political career began in 1987, when he was elected to a local post in Bahia and became the Salvador secretary of culture. In 1988, he was elected to the city council and subsequently became city commissioner for environmental protection. However, he left the office after one term and declined to run for the National Congress of Brazil. In 1990, Gil left the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party and joined the Green Party. During this period, Gil founded the environmental protection organization Onda Azul ("Blue Wave"), which worked to protect Brazilian waters. He maintained a full-time musical career at the same time, and withdrew temporarily from politics in 1992, following the release Parabolicamará, considered to be one of his most successful efforts. On October 16, 2001 Gil accepted his nomination to be a Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, having promoted the organization before his appointment.
When President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office in January 2003, he chose Gil as Brazil's new Minister of Culture, the second black person to serve in the country's cabinet. The appointment was controversial among political and artistic figures and the Brazilian press; a remark Gil made about difficulties with his salary received particular criticism. Gil had not been a member of Lula's Workers' Party and had not participated in creating its cultural program. Shortly after becoming Minister, Gil began a partnership between Brazil and Creative Commons. In 2003, he gave a concert in the UN General Assembly in honour of the victims of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. In that concert, he played together with Secretary General Kofi Annan.
As Minister, he sponsored a program called Culture Points, which gave grants to provide music technology and education to people living in poor areas of the country's cities. Gil asserted that "You've now got young people who are becoming designers, who are making it into media and being used more and more by television and samba schools and revitalizing degraded neighborhoods. It's a different vision of the role of government, a new role." Gil also expressed interest in a program to establish an Internet repository of freely downloadable Brazilian music. Following Gil's appointment, the department's expenditures increased by over 50 percent. In November 2007 Gil announced his intention to resign from his post due to a vocal cord polyp. Lula rejected Gil's first two attempts to resign, but accepted a further request in July 2008. Lula said on this occasion that Gil was "going back to being a great artist, going back to giving priority to what is most important" to him.