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Posted on Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 6:43 a.m.

Gilberto Gil brings exuberant sounds of Brazil to Hill Auditorium

By Will Stewart


Gilberto Gil publicity photo

What did you think of the concert? Leave a comment and / or vote in the poll at the end of this post:

Gilberto Gil delivered a lesson in Brazilian music at Hill Auditorium on Friday, schooling an eager crowd on the intricacies and vagaries of the music that he’s made a career out of both honoring and enhancing.

So it should come as no surprise that Gil’s two-hour performance, with a percussive and insistent six-piece band, paid homage to one of Gil’s own heroes, the singer and accordionist Luiz Gonzaga, the father of Brazil’s forro style of music.

“One man had the spirit and the charisma and an accordion and he said it all,” said Gil by way of honoring Gonzaga. "This is his music that we’re honoring tonight.”

With that, Gil and his band launched into a series of Gonzaga's forro numbers, highlighted by syncopated triangle, zabumba drum (similar to a marching band’s tenor drum and played on one head with a soft mallet and on the other with a timbale stick) and dancing accordion melodies.

Although sung in Portuguese, the songs almost made us taste the dusty, northeastern Brazilian air as the band traded solos and pushed one another through the joyous tunes.

Fit and trim at 70 and dressed all in white, Gil cut an exuberant figure, dancing and whooping throughout the night and singing in that remarkable voice that’s, by turns, light and airy, then deep and resonant. He also remains a dap hand on guitar, applying a light, rhythmic touch on electric guitar.

A pioneer of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement during the 1960s and 70s, which blended traditional Brazilian music with rock, folk and psychedelia, Gil remains a cultural chameleon. Even on the musi-traditional numbers, little flourishes of rock ‘n’ roll found their way into the material, including an occasional guitar debt to George Harrison, particularly in some slide figures. Meanwhile, fiddler Nicholas Krassic, a veteran of Gil’s bands for a decade, provided some riveting and inventive solos throughout the gig.

And yet for most of Friday’s performance , it occupied an uneasy middle ground between studious recital and exuberant concert. Audience members were polite, but the occasional clap-along and intermittent foot tapping were about as much as they seemed willing to give.

Ironically, it was Gil’s ill-fitting excursion into reggae, via largely pointless, rote readings of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and “No Woman, No Cry,” that final broke the ice. By the end of the latter song, the crowd was singing along.

Earlier in the evening, Gil resisted calls for some of his better-known songs, demurring politely, “ “Tonight is about home.”

But by the time he applied the forro treatment to some of his own tunes, like “Andar Com Fé” and “Madalena,” the crowd began to stir. Soon the aisles on both sides of the stage filled with dancers, who helped bring the show home in every respect.


Ed Kimball

Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

Like Jessica, I saw people moving and dancing in their seats around me throughout the show. My only complaint was that on some numbers the instruments were so over-amplified that I could barely hear Gil's beautiful voice. I was sitting very near the sound operator -- if it doesn't sound perfect there, where does it sound right?

Jessica Webster

Sun, Nov 18, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

Will, Where I was sitting, people (including me) were all dancing in their seats. To me, it was such an exuberant and beautiful performance that I was near tears for much of the night. Almost all of the songs he performed last night are in regular rotation on my show on WEMU (I'm a big fan of the Me You Them soundtrack), so perhaps I was predisposed to love it. I liked how different this show was from his last Ann Arbor performance. The band was incredible, and the energy coming from the stage was infectious.

Enio Dill

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

Will, I thought Gil's excursion into reggae last night fit perfectly well within the context of the concert. Forró stems from an area of Brazil where European cultural influences other than Iberian left distinct marks. A good part of this region, including the city of Recife, was a Dutch colony for the better part of a century and, more recently, the English-owned Great Western Railway of Brazil, based on the same city, used to entertain with public balls starting in the latter part of the 19th century, hiring local musicians but managing the repertoire. Some of this Dutch, English and other European influences are shared with Caribbean cultures, including Jamaican. Gil was a big admirer of Bob Marley, who visited Brazil a few times. They knew each other well, played together and Gil also recorded with the Wailers. Gil has paid inspiring homages to Bob Marley by writing Portuguese lyrics to some of Bob's songs and recording these versions, which conveyed similar ideas and messages, in his won albums. Gil clearly recognizes, and has said as much, the shared influences between the forró family and Caribbean rhythms. Thus, the appropriatenes of bringing it together last night. It didn't hurt that Americans are much more familiar with Bob Marley than forró so the perfectly timed excursion into reggae helped put the crowd to dance, which is what Gil loves to do. "Festa na fé, Fé na festa!" loosely translated as "Party (as in festivity, not political) in faith, faith in the party!") To conclude, Gil didn't apply the forró treatment to Madalena. That was always a forró tune since first recorded it in the Parabolicamará album, itself a treaty on the start of small, rural communities in Brazil being exposed to the rest of it all through TVs and satellite dishes in the late 80's.


Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

It was a great show! Gilberto Gil is an engaging performer, and he has an amazing voice. The musicians were a very talented group and fun to watch, too. Their love for the music they were playing came through in every song. My favorite of the night was Casamento da Raposa. It did take the audience a while to get to their feet and start dancing (maybe people were trying to be polite to those sitting behind them?), but once the dancing got started, the energy in the auditorium changed and was what I would expect for a Brasilian show. Great article, Will!