“When Tropicália took place as a movement, we had been confined to specific areas,” offers Gil, 70, over the phone from Brazil. “We had samba, we had baião, we had bossa nova, and we had Jovem Guarda, which was the first sort of rock & roll movement in Brazil.
“What Tropicália did was say you all belong to Brazil. You all represent Brazilian culture. Get the Beatles, get the Rolling Stones, get Bob Dylan, get Jimi Hendrix – get it all. Take elements from all those sources and mix it with Brazilian ones, and that’s what Tropicália did.”
Pushing musical and cultural boundaries was enough to earn the ire of the era’s military dictatorship. Gil and Veloso spent three months in prison before being exiled for three years to London, beginning in 1969. His exile made it all the more remarkable when Gil was appointed Minister of Culture in 2003 by then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He left the post five years later but still serves as a de facto ambassador of Brazilian culture.
His current tour celebrates the music of northeastern Brazil and the late king of baião, Luiz Gonzaga. Distinct from Gil’s coastal hometown of Salvador, the Caatinga is known for its dusty interior and stretches of backlands, not beaches.
“Very early in infant times I was brought to the Caatinga,” Gil remembers. “I was brought there with the peasants, the troubadours, the violin and viola players, accordion players, and improvisers that used to rap – to use a modern word – about the lifestyle, their good and bad adventures.
“I’m a lover of that culture. Musically, it’s a whole different thing compared to the rest of Brazilian music.” – Thomas Fawcett