Gil, 78

Carlos Zilio, PIECES OF MINE, 1971, gouache on paper, 50x32,5cm
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By HENRY BURNETT*

Commentary on CD and DVD "Bandadois

Somewhere in the past, I quote from memory, in an interview, Gilberto Gil stated that at the end of his career – after the various stylistic experiments he had always done – he would end up playing a drum. Gil may be far from the end of his career, but Bandadois (CD and DVD, 2009) was the first release of that announced synthesis, although the drum remained as a metaphor for his unique guitar, refined to the extreme of his musical identity, as an extension of his body.

Today, in 2020, the impressions about Bandadois largely confirmed, especially after two other albums where we can find the musician revisiting his repertoire, in the Concert Strings & Rhythm Machines (2012) and Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – Two Friends, A Century of Music (2015). And it also offers the opportunity for a more detailed comment on his place in the history of Brazilian music, especially today, due to his 78 years.

In projects dedicated to Bob Marley, Luiz Gonzaga and João Gilberto, the interpreter stands out. At the Bandadois, and in the subsequent projects I mentioned, armed with his guitar, Gil was naked, even next to an orchestra. Today, after facing health problems, which his fans followed with alarm, as if in a rite of passage, he seems to have entered the most serene phase of his life and the album OKOKOK (2018), as he himself stressed, arrived as his first “old age” album. A moment where he surrounded himself with family and greeted life with a tender wisdom that is hard to describe, and impossible to aestheticize.

Typically, two composers have attracted the most polarized attention from academic critics: Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque. They are constantly confronted, even today, even in a country where there are thousands of song writers. Something, moreover, understandable. Meanwhile, Gil built a gigantic work, apparently apart from polarity. A sentence I've seen attributed to Zé Miguel Wisnik, clarifying our doubts as always, is that Gil hovers over the two like a spirit, or something like that. Despite the political hiatuses – how I miss our Minister of Culture – and far from critical extremes, his legacy has always been more permeable to hearing and his poetry today is, admittedly, of excellence.

Gil has reached the strange place of myth. People speak of him as an entity. A lively esotericism that expresses the African heritage in a sweeping and limitless musicality, where everything seems to fit. But amid all this, the key word is generosity. Although everything he does is involved in big productions and is always the focus of great attention, it is when he is alone with his guitar that this aura shows itself most clearly. Luminous Gil (2006) brings together the composer's literary and musical epitome, and there is no better set of songs for those who intend to start in his work. We could take each song as a single piece and talk about it at length.

That's what I tried when I watched Bandadois for the first time. I revisit those comments here, knowing that they will always be smaller and insufficient in the face of the expression of these songs, especially in an occasional text. I return to them, above all, because it seems to me that it was from there that the elevated place where he finds himself was defined, the containment of expression, the playing of the guitar at the limit of perfection, in the closure around the shoots that follow it. the trail, like José Gil and Bem Gil, but today also with other sons, daughters, loves and grandchildren. I ask the reader to review what seems chronologically and clearly outdated.

Gil did not make the current option of re-recording on Bandadois a set of “hits”, on the contrary, opted for the detour, even for songs that they had never recorded. Unfortunately, I said, he left out a song called “I'm not afraid of death”, which can be heard on Youtube [and that would be recorded for the first time precisely on the album Concert Strings & Rhythm Machines, 2012, where he revisited his work for the second time].

The direction was by Andrucha Waddington, who had directed the documentary Hurray Saint John (2002), a record of Gil's tour of the northeast of June, a beautiful film already sold out, and several other audiovisual productions by the composer. Far from the aridity of the sertão, the director had a brand new theater for that record, one of the most modern and well equipped in São Paulo. He opted for a black & white, austere environment with a certain classic air. Framed by the production, the songs remained intact, each piece, each theme breathing on its own. Hence the great chance of perceiving them more closely. Part of the DVD is available at this link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE0597B402E110026. We also find there some extras of great interest to guitarists, video lessons that Gil himself recorded for the DVD. “Abacateiro”, “Banda um”, “Refavela”, “Esoterico” and “Expresso 2222” in the smallest harmonic details.

 

Bandadois

In the first track of the DVD, “Máquina de rhythm”, Gil asks about his own place and also about the musical form of his work: “I may bequeath you a dictionary of measures / In the future you will play my samba hard without wanting to (… )/ Is it possible, for example, that my deaf person will be mute after all / Hanging like a dinosaur in the carnival museum? // And he warns that not even he himself knows: If you bet the answer is yes / by God send a sign //”.

Em Bandadois Gil revisits “Flora”, written for his partner. One of the most beautiful songs about the experience of love and its continuity: “It's your life that I want to embroider in mine / as if I were the cloth and you were the thread” (“The thread and the linen”). The familiar themes, as I said, appear there for the first time, unless I'm mistaken, with the air we still find today. We know about a daughter's marriage and we heard the theme composed in the form of advice: “If life is hard / Your stepmother and voracious / Be capable, daring and good / Make peace at night bonbons / And natural mishaps will be part of the song / There will be setbacks and new beginnings / One at a time, each month / And you will get used to it //” (“Of the two, one”). At the end, a “God bless you”; inner blessing.

On a few occasions Gil refers to his masters: when singing “Saudades da Bahia”, he refers to Dorival Caymmi in a reverent tone, speaks of Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, and sings a swinging interpretation of “Chiclete com banana”, a version of that Gil had been maturing for many years and which reached its peak precisely in that execution.

For the rest, everything revolved around his own work and the most enduring songs, those that, for Gil himself, seemed to have the strength of continuity and the grains of self-reflection, “Tempo rei”, “Metáfora”, “Superhomem – the song ”, “Refarm”, “Esoteric”. Is that why several songs for Flora were included in the end? An intimate connection between love and the song that remains?

Few originals could be heard, such as the unknown “Rouxinou”, a partnership with Jorge Mautner, a delicious and unpretentious theme, but which served as a cue for the second part of the DVD, where the strong mark of Gil’s live performances, the pop songs , set the tone.

The smooth transition begins with the “violated” guitar of “Refazenda”, to give way to a less frequented theme, “Banda um”, which shows the powerful rhythm that makes Gil a double of Benjor – one imagines a new meeting of the bands. two, with just their guitars.

Then he sings “Human Race” for the audience to rehearse a wistful applause. Bem's guitar definitely stands out. Proof that these “philosophical” songs have their impact. “The human race is a week of God's work / The human race is the burning wound / A beauty, a rottenness / The eternal fire and death / The death and the resurrection / (…) The human race is the tear crystal from the mine of solitude / from the mine whose map is in the palm of the hand //”.

Ahead he announces: “África!”, and sings in sequence “La renaissance africaine”, “Pronto pra preto”, “Andar com fé”, and we are already in the encore when another son, José, takes the stage on double bass, for “ Refavela” and the genealogy “Babá Alapalá”: “Aganjú, Xangô, Alapalá Alapalá Alapalá/ Xangô Aganju/ The son asked his father/ Where is my grandfather?/ Where is my grandfather?/ The father asked his grandfather Where is my great-grandfather/ My great-grandfather, where is he?/ Grandfather asks his great-grandfather/ Where is his great-grandfather?/ Great-great-grandfather, where are you?/ Great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather, father Xangô Aganju/ long live Egum Baba Alapalá// ”.

Gil ends by referring to the past, to African tradition, to the cradle, to black religiosity. To what remains in him as a document of his ancestral identity. Gil is one and multiple, in him the so-called “world music” can make some sense. The truth is that Gil sings the world from his universal shell. It contains humanity and its contradictions.

The sertão has often been aestheticized, in cinema, in photography. A 35 mm film can turn the semi-arid into a painting, and a PB photo makes everything look more artistic than it is. But there is one thing that cannot be invented, experience. One can deal with this and with certain sufferings that we go through in various ways. But it cannot be denied that what remains of a lifetime is the flash of this contemplation of time and the world.

Gil could invent whatever he wanted, and he did, metaphors, pseudoscientific trips, psychedelics, but he couldn't mask the reflections of his personal history – that's what we call experience and which marks our popular music so strongly – that is why I end this text by risking saying that “Lamento sertanejo” is the highlight of the DVD and one of the highlights of his work.

It is there that Gil exposes the exact geography of his music: his entry into the threatening city, his dealings with the symbolic city – which constituted him to the same extent as his early childhood in Ituaçu, Bahia –, perhaps some solitude, the thought that closes in on itself, “I hardly know anything”, knowing so much, flashes that reflect the whole of this unique work.

Gilberto Gil & Dominguinhos: “Because I’m from the sertão / From the cerrado / From the interior, from the bush / From the caatinga, from the swidden / I hardly go out / I hardly have any friends / I almost can’t / Stay in the city without being upset /// Because I'm from there In the certainty, for that very reason / I don't like a soft bed / I don't know how to eat without pork rinds / I hardly speak / I hardly know anything / I'm like stray cattle / In this herd crowd / Walking aimlessly.

It remains to be seen how this teaching can be revived in a time of victorious brutalities. Long live Gilberto Gil and his significance for Brazil.

*Henry Burnett He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp.

[Modified and updated version of article originally published on the website Trópico, on April 10, 2010].

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