You Need Your Natural Curls: Gilberto Gil's Hairstyles

A symbol of black empowerment, Gil used his hair as an emblem and a way of communicating throughout his musical career.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Written by Ricardo Schott, journalist and music researcher

Gilberto Gil em apresentação no início da carreira (1966)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Sarara Miolo

Hair and History

If hair was once just an adornment for the face, over time it became a symbol of strength for men, and of seduction for women.

Gilberto Gil e seu violão na década de 1960 (Década de 1960)Instituto Gilberto Gil

This difference is epitomized by the idea that Samson gained his strength from his hair, while the Greek goddess Aphrodite used her tresses to cover her nakedness. Whether following Black Power fashion, Gilberto Gil played his part in helping women acquire that same power. 

Gilberto Gil na década de 1960 (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

And, especially, for the Brazilian African American population. A symbol of black empowerment, Gil used his hair as a kind of emblem and as a way of communicating throughout nearly his entire career.

He also introduced it as a theme in his songs to help Afro-Brazilians regain their self-esteem. One such song is Sarará Miolo, which includes the lyrics: 

You need your natural curls 
It is about being yourself, Creole.

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

From Short Hair to Black Power

In the early days, when Gil was recording his 1967 album Louvação, the singer's look was quite conventional, with his curly hair cut very short. Gil was still employed as a manager at Gessy Lever, but was gradually spending more and more time on his music. 

Gilberto Gil no III Festival da Música Popular Brasileira (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The singer-songwriter appeared with a beard at Record TV's 3rd Brazilian Popular Music Festival (Festival de Música Popular Brasileira). His hair was a bit bigger, although still quite short. He was letting it take on a Black Power look, and grew his beard, too.

Gilberto Gil durante o período da Tropicália (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

His mustache became so twisted and wiry that his friends called it "demonic" or "Mephistophelian," like the demon in German folklore. 

It was this hippie look—which was more akin to black rock stars in the US and Europe—that Gil chose for his appearances on the TV show Divino Maravilhoso, which was aired by TV Bandeirantes in 1968.

Gilberto Gil durante o período da Tropicália (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The public also saw him with this look when he sang his entry Questão de Ordem at the 3rd International Song Festival (Festival Internacional da Canção) in 1968.

Gilberto Gil em apresentação na década de 1960 (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Ensaio da música Alegria, Alegria por Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil para o show Tropicália 2

Provoking hairstyles

Both Gil and Caetano Veloso's hairstyles concerned people. So much so that Caetano—who wrote the famous song Alegria, Alegria—received combs as "gifts" in the mail while he was appearing on Esta Noite Se Improvisa, a TV show in which famous singers of the time had to try to guess the songs. 

Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso e Gal Costa (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

It was no coincidence that Gil and Caetano had their heads shaved by the military when they were imprisoned, 14 days after Institutional Act No. 5 (known as AI-5) came into law in 1968.

Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil em apresentação na época do movimento Tropicália (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

From Tropicalism to Exile

While the Tropicália movement was at its peak, Gil and Caetano wore their hair styled up and out of their faces, as was later proposed by the band Os Mutantes in their 1972 song A Hora e a Vez do Cabelo Nascer, which had some lyrics censored by the military dictatorship.

Gilberto Gil e o Conjunto Folclórico Viva Bahia no show Barra 69, apresentado com Caetano Veloso antes do exílio (1969-07-20)Instituto Gilberto Gil

But after their arrest in 1968, Gil and Caetano both kept their hair short and their faces clean-shaven until they left for exile, even at their farewell Barra 69 concert in 1969.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio para capa do álbum de 1971 (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil

During the almost three years they spent in exile, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and their hairstyles did nothing to upset the government or anyone else.

Gilberto Gil em Londres durante o exílio (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil

 In the UK—where he was influenced by new wave rock and roll, which he had started following closely—Gil could let his Black Power style take on a psychedelic feel, and grow his beard freely. 

Gilberto Gil em cena do filme O Demiurgo (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil

With his hair and beard getting longer, year after year, by 1971 his look was very different from what people in Brazil were used to seeing.

Gilberto Gil durante show da época da turnê Expresso 2222 (1973)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Back in Bahia

The 1970s

After his return from exile in the early 1970s, Gilberto Gil appeared on stage wearing a Black Power hairstyle. This was his look at the time of albums like Expresso 2222, in 1972. 

Gilberto Gil em apresentação à época do álbum Refavela (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A trip to Nigeria was a new experience for the singer and he started to see African style through new eyes. 

Os Doces Bárbaros em entrevista coletiva (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Os Mais Doces Bárbaros, por Maria Bethânia e Gilberto Gil no 37º Festival de Jazz de Montreux

Discreet braids with a bandana became Gil's trademark look at the time of the Doces Bárbaros tour in 1976. It also paved the way for the almost Rastafarian look—with braids and a colorful hat—that he adopted when he released his Refavela album in 1977. 

Gilberto Gil em apresentação de divulgação do álbum Refavela (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

On Refavela, Gil wears messy braids and a beanie.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico do álbum Realce (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Não Chore Mais (No Woman no Cry)

 By the time of his 1979 Realce album, Gil had added beads to his braids, and the Rastafarian influence was becoming more and more obvious in his look and in his work.

Gilberto Gil em fotos de divulgação do álbum Realce (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em fotos de divulgação do álbum Realce (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Refazenda (1975)Instituto Gilberto Gil

When he launched the 1975 album Refazenda , Gil went through an intermediary stage where his hair was long - not as long as when he lived in London - with no beard or mustache.

Gilberto Gil em turnê do álbum Luar (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

1980s Hairs

In 1981, at the time of his Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar) album, Gilberto Gil went back to short hair, only this time with one extra detail that caused a stir. He lightened two bits of his hair to create a crescent moon on the right side of his head...

Gilberto Gil nos bastidores da turnê Luar (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil


...and a five-pointed star on the left.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Luar (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

This was Gil's look during the Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar) album tour.

Gilberto Gil nos bastidores do show da turnê do álbum Um Banda Um (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

For his tours to promote the albums Um Banda Um (1982), Extra (1983), and Raça Humana (1983), Gil turned off his moon and star—symbols of the renewal of life and nature—and slowly began letting his hair grow into a quiff. 

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico para o encarte do álbum Extra (1983)Instituto Gilberto Gil

By the Extra album tour, a Black Power starts to form.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê do álbum Raça Humana (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The Raça Humana tour was completed with a quiff.

Gilberto Gil em apresentação no Rock in Rio (1985-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

For his appearance at Rock in Rio in 1985, he adopted a Black Power style, with a square-top haircut and a small quiff. 

Gilberto Gil, Flora Gil e Bem Gil em ensaio fotográfico para a capa do álbum Dia Dorim Noite Neon (1985)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Later that same year, after the birth of his son Bem Gil and the release of his album Dia Dorim Noite Neon, he posed for photos on stage with a similar look, although with a less prominent quiff. Maturity and empowerment went hand in hand.

Gilberto Gil no show da turnê do álbum Quanta, no Canecão (1997)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The First Grays

In the 1990s, as Gil reached the age of 50 and the gray hairs started to show, he went for a more restrained look and kept his hair short most of the time.

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Eu, Tu, Eles (2000)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In the following decade—most notably when he first became culture minister in President Lula da Silva's government—Gil let his hair grow once again. While recording the soundtrack for the film Eu, Tu, Eles (Me, You, Them) in 2000, he went back to his original hairstyle, albeit this time somewhat grayer

Gilberto Gil em sessão de fotos para o álbum Kaya N'Gan Daya (2001)Instituto Gilberto Gil

And he kept this style for his Kaya N'Gan Daya album tour in 2002.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico para a revista IstoéInstituto Gilberto Gil

A Political Hairstyle

The following year, when he took up the post of culture minister, Gilberto Gil rediscovered the full force of his political verve. He resolved to use his hair to make his presence felt in the Brazilian Congress and in all the other places around the world where he would be representing Brazil as minister.

Ministro Gilberto Gil em Portugal (2003)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Now in a position of power, the singer once again allowed his hairstyle to become more African, wearing his hair in dreadlocks. While initially discreet, they became very long by the time he left office.

Gilberto Gil e Danilo Santos de Miranda na cerimônia de assinatura do Protocolo de Intenções (2006-08-07)Instituto Gilberto Gil

It was a look that lasted for a few years, with the dreadlocks almost always fastened with a hair tie.

Ministro Gilberto Gil e o presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2000)Instituto Gilberto Gil

When he stepped down from the ministry in 2008, he kept his tied-back dreadlocks for his Banda Larga Cordel album tour. 

Gilberto Gil pelas lentes do fotógrafo Luiz Garrido (Agosto de 2008)Instituto Gilberto Gil

As well as being a factor in self-esteem, hair can contribute to a sense of valuing race and identity, and this was something that Gil always wanted to illustrate by doing whatever he pleased with his.

Gilberto Gil pelas lentes do fotógrafo Luiz Garrido (Agosto de 2008)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil pelas lentes do fotógrafo Luiz Garrido (Agosto de 2008)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil pelas lentes do fotógrafo Luiz Garrido (Agosto de 2008)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Credits: Story

Exhibition credits

Research and writing:
Ricardo Schott
Structure: Chris Fuscaldo

General credits

Editing and curation: Chris Fuscaldo / Garota FM 
Musical content research: Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Laura Zandonadi e Ricardo Schott 
Ministry of Culture content research: Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo 
Captions: Anna Durão, Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Daniel Malafaia, Fernanda Pimentel, Gilberto Porcidonio, Kamille Viola, Laura Zandonadi, Lucas Vieira, Luciana Azevedo, Patrícia Sá Rêgo, Pedro Felitte, Ricardo Schott, Roni Filgueiras e Tito Guedes 
Data editing: Isabela Marinho and Marco Konopacki
Gege Produções Review: Cristina Doria
Acknowledgements Gege Produções, Gilberto Gil, Flora Gil, Gilda Mattoso, Fafá Giordano, Maria Gil, Meny Lopes, Nelci Frangipani, Cristina Doria, Daniella Bartolini e todos os autores das fotos e personagens da história
All media: Instituto Gilberto Gil

*Every effort has been made to credit the images, audios and videos and correctly tell the story about the episodes narrated in the exhibitions. If you find errors and/or omissions, please contact us by email

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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