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May 2003

Gil and Gal—What a Guy, What a Gal

Brazil's Culture Minister, Gilberto Gil, should make singer Gal Costa
an arts ambassador and send her round the world. This single act would
lead to Portuguese ousting English as the international language and have
tourists flocking here by the million. Gal's voice is as clear as a bell
 with a sensual warmth that cocoons the listener in ethereal bliss.

John Fitzpatrick

It says a lot for Brazil and its President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, that he chose one of the country's greatest singer-songwriters, Gilberto Gil, to be his culture minister, and it says a lot for Gil that he accepted. Although Gil managed to get permission to perform a couple of times a year but, by taking on this position, he stands to lose quite a bit of income from giving shows. Not only that, the busy life of a government minister means that he has had little time for composing.

According to the local press, Gil has written nothing in the last few months. Maybe this is not too bad a thing since his last album, an awful tribute to Bob Marley, was pretty dire. Why someone as talented as Gil should waste time on something as trite, repetitive and monotonous as reggae is a mystery. I have a feeling he was trying to appeal to the younger market, which has been fooled by the Marley industry into believing Bob was some kind of symbol of black aspirations.

It is unlikely that the post of government minister will provide much inspiration, but perhaps a few months away from his real profession will give our arts minister time to reflect on his next step.

Griping Artists

Having said that, Gil's post is no sinecure. Artists are a difficult lot to deal with in any country and are always quick to bite the hand that feeds them, whether it comes from the state or private sector. Gil is currently trying to sort out a row over tax breaks granted to companies in return for funding the arts. Some state-owned companies recently appeared to be saying that the money should only go to artistic projects which supported government polices and/or centered on Brazilian issues. As usual, the artists—mainly filmmakers—voiced concern at this so-called threat to their artistic freedom.

It would be interesting to know what the man in the street—and Minister Gil, who does not rely on handouts from the taxpayer—thinks of this. I recently watched a couple of (mercifully) short films which had been sponsored by Petrobras. They were the grainy, black and white, confusing kind of pretentious stuff you would expect college students to make. Maybe good raw material but definitely to be kept behind closed doors. Most of us probably think we have great voices when we sing in the shower, but we don't inflict our offerings on the public. The difference with these films was that it was the taxpayer and consumer who was footing the bill for the director's narcissism.

The government is, probably correctly, showing signs of intervening and overruling the companies. This means we can be thankful, perhaps, that Petrobras-sponsored short films will be confined to whatever subject the director cares to inflict on us rather than on documentaries on tractor production figures and record harvests. Or can we? In any case, we should be pleased to have someone like Gil, rather than a hack politician or bureaucrat, in charge of culture, although whether a culture as vibrant as Brazil's needs a ministry is another matter.

I saw him just over a year ago when he and Milton Nascimento were presenting a CD they had made together. After a splendid two-hour show, they came down into the audience and spent half an hour singing their old hits, dancing and, at one point, formed a giant conga. It was a marvelous evening and I could not help but admire both artists for their sheer energy and the way they genuinely bonded with the audience. You could never imagine an American or British rock star making an effort like this.

Gal Costa—the Voice of Brazil

Finally, if I were an adviser to minister Gil I would suggest he exploit one of Brazil's greatest natural resources—the voice of Gal Costa. He should make her an arts ambassador and send her round the world. This single act would lead to Portuguese ousting English as the international language and have tourists flocking here by the million. Even though she is in her mid-50s, Gal's voice is as beautiful as ever, as clear as a bell with a sensual warmth that cocoons the listener in ethereal bliss. I would recommend her to anyone who is learning Portuguese since her diction is so clear that every word becomes a sparkling jewel. Listen to "Quando Eu Fecho os Olhos" on her latest CD Galbossatropical and you will see what I mean.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—  www.celt.com.br, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br

© John Fitzpatrick 2003




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