Gil: Prison and Exile

The musician was imprisoned twice during the military dictatorship, the first time for disrespecting the Brazilian flag and the second for possessing cannabis.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Chris Fuscaldo, journalist and music researcher

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


The persecution of artists and intellectuals was one of the most absurd aspects of the military regime that held power in Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Freedom of expression was restricted, protests were banned, and any defiance of the authorities could end in imprisonment, torture, and even disappearance or death. A lot of people disappeared after being captured by the military and were never seen again. It wasn't so easy for this to happen to artists, given the exposure they had in the media. Even so, many were unable to avoid imprisonment and torture.

Gilberto Gil na Passeata dos Cem Mil (1968-06-26)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A Nuisance

Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso were already proving to be a nuisance for the military. Their behavior during their appearances was transgressive for the time and was causing a stir. Their outspokenness on the TV show Divino Maravilhoso led the directors themselves to take it off air after only three months. 

A Nuisance

Their involvement in protests and demonstrations also put them in the spotlight, and their performance at TV Globo's 3rd International Song Festival (Festival Internacional da Canção) in 1968 would prove to be the final straw for the country's leaders.

Gilberto Gil no III Festival Internacional da Canção Popular (1968-09-14)Instituto Gilberto Gil


Just a little more defiance from Gil and Caetano was enough for the military to issue a warrant for them both to be arrested. At the 3rd International Song Festival, Gil performed the song "Questão de Ordem" (Question of Order) with the Argentinian group Beat Boys. 

The song sent a message to the military, who had taken power four years earlier: "If I stay at home / I am preparing / Slogans / For my comrades / Who are waiting in the streets / All around the world / In the name of love."

And the very title of Caetano Veloso's song "É Proibido Proibir" (It's Forbidden to Forbid) was a challenge to the "order" imposed by censorship. On December 27, 1968, they were arrested.

Gilberto Gil e Sérgio Dias em show realizado com Caetano Veloso na Boate Sucata (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil


Rumors in the press claimed that Cateano and Gil had disrespected the national anthem during a concert at Rio de Janeiro's Sucata nightclub, but the accusation against them was that they had incited young people to rebel. On December 27, 1968, they were imprisoned for two months in various facilities, including the army barracks in Rio de Janeiro's Realengo neighborhood. They then spent a further two months under house arrest in Salvador.

Gilberto Gil na prisão em Florianópolis (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil


Passed into law 14 days before the two Bahian musicians were imprisoned, President Artur da Costa e Silva's Institutional Act No. 5 (known as AI-5) withdrew political rights, suspended the powers of Brazil's National Congress (Congresso Nacional), and led the violence against government opponents to worsen. 

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The Act affected more than 1,300 people in the first two years, with its impact ranging from dismissals to deaths. It marked the end of the Tropicália movement and the start of a persecution that would end with the two artists going into exile.

Cetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil no exílio em Londres (Década de 1970)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Aquele Abraço, por Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso ao vivo em Geneva

Aquele Abraço

Taken by officers from the 2nd Army (II Exército), they both spent a week in solitary confinement in tiny cells at the Army Police (Polícia do Exército) barracks in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Tijuca. 

Trecho manuscrito da música Aquele Abraço, de Gilberto Gil (1969)Instituto Gilberto Gil

At night, it was pitch black. By day, a shaft of light allowed them to read books. At the headquarters in Realengo, Gil composed songs in his cell on a guitar borrowed from a soldier. When he got out, he wrote "Aquele Abraço", based on a TV presenter's catchphrase he heard his jailers repeat every day.

The song, with its samba beat, was also his goodbye to Brazil: Gil and Caetano were forced to leave the country to avoid losing their freedom once again, and Gil recorded the song before going into exile.

Caetano Veloso no show Barra 69, que apresentou com Gilberto Gil antes da partida para o exílio (1969-07-20)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Raising Funds

With no money and no clear plan for what they should do, Gil and Caetano decided to stage a concert in Salvador—called Barra 69—to raise funds to travel to the UK. On July 20, 1969, the evening that Man first walked on the Moon, Gil and Caetano were not following Neil Armstrong's adventure because they were on stage at the Castro Alves Theater (Teatro Castro Alves). They performed again the next day. 

When they returned from exile, the Barra 69 concerts would be released as an album, despite being precariously recorded on a cassette tape by Gil's percussionist Djalma Corrêa.

Gilberto Gil e Sandra Gadelha durante o exílio do artista baiano (1970)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Three Years Abroad

Gil, Caetano, and their wives, Sandra Gadelha and Dedé Gadelha, remained in London until 1972, when they finally managed to negotiate their return to Brazil.

Gilberto Gil e Gal Costa na época do exílio do músico baiano em Londres (1971)Instituto Gilberto Gil


Unable to work, they initially lived off their royalties, relying on the solidarity shown by Brazilian artists who were recording their songs. Gradually, they started producing music again.

Gilberto Gil na Inglaterra na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil

Recording Abroad

Gil recorded his fourth album, Gilberto Gil, in London. Released by Philips Records in April 1971, the album featured songs in English, as did Caetano's album released the same year. One of those songs was a cover of Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home".

Cetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil no exílio em Londres (Década de 1970)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Can't Find My Way Home by Gilberto Gil

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

The Demiurge

While still in London, Gil and Caetano appeared in O Demiurgo (The Demiurge), a film directed by the musician and writer Jorge Mautner, who had approached them during a trip to London. The philosophical fable combines the theme of exile with poetry and the feminist revolution.

Gilberto Gil no filme O Demiurgo, gravado durante seu exílio em Londres (1972)Instituto Gilberto Gil

According to Mautner, the film's theme is a longing for Brazil. On his return, he found that the film had been censored for public screening, but he started showing it after his concerts.

Gilberto Gil durante o exílio em LondresInstituto Gilberto Gil

A New Problem

On their return to Brazil from the UK, everything seemed much calmer. But there were rules that Gilberto Gil—and everyone else—still had to follow. A hardened dictatorship was still in place and censorship was still meddling in artists' work. 

But it was cannabis that led to Gil being arrested for the second time, in 1976. It happened while he was on tour with Doces Bárbaros in Florianópolis, capital of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, which is renowned for being more conservative.

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Search and Seizure

The drug unit (Delegacia de Tóxicos) received a complaint that there were drugs in the rooms where the members of Doces Bárbaros were staying. Without any fanfare, the chief and his officers left for the hotel where the four musicians were staying. They decided to search Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. On Caetano, they found nothing. On Gil, they found a pre-rolled joint and a packet of cannabis with enough for one or two more.

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Under Arrest

The officer asked Gil if the cannabis belonged to him. Gil replied that it did and that he had brought it with him from São Paulo. The officer then placed him under arrest, to which Gil's response was "OK." "I stuck to the truth and that helped a lot," the musician explained in an interview after he was acquitted. The drummer Chiquinho Azevedo was also taken into custody.

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976-07)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The Trial

During the trial, the representative from the Public Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Público) told Gilberto Gil and those present: "It was not the citizen who was arrested when caught in the act of possessing that evil weed, which causes so much misery in thousands of homes across Brazil.

"...It was not the artist Gilberto Gil, but the criminal Gilberto Passos Gil Moreira who, instead of sharing his brilliant music, found himself, perhaps unwittingly, propagating this drug that we are trying so hard to fight."

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

"We are certain that this will serve as an example to those young people who are fearfully awaiting the outcome of this inquest. We ask that the defendant be sentenced in accordance with the penalties under Article 281, Paragraph 1, Subsection 3 of the Penal Code."

Gilberto Gil em julgamento após ser preso por porte de maconha (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The Defense

The case was heard on July 15, 1976. Reporters, photographers, and camera operators piled into the courtroom at the First Criminal Court (1ª Vara Criminal) in Florianópolis to follow the trial, which lasted almost two hours. Once recorded, Gilberto Gil's words would become famous and go on to be used in several documentaries about music and that era in Brazil's history.

He declared, in his defense, that he liked cannabis and that using it did him no harm, nor did it cause him to do harm. Gil declared that using cannabis helped him considerably in his mystical introspection.

Gilberto Gil durante julgamento (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Chuck Berry Fields Forever por Gilberto Gil em show no Red Ballroom

Gilberto Gil com Pedro Gil e Caetano Veloso, após saída da prisão (1976)Instituto Gilberto Gil


Gilberto Gil's defense asked for him be hospitalized rather than sent to prison so he could be treated for addiction. The judge took this request into account in his sentencing, ordering Gil and the drummer Chiquinho Azevedo to be transferred and admitted in Rio de Janeiro. Five days later, Gil returned to Rio, where he was required to make regular visits to the Botafogo Sanatorium (Sanatório Botafogo) for treatment as an outpatient.

Gilberto Gil, Sandra Gadelha e Pedro Gil na saída da prisão (1976-07)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Credits: Story

Research, writing and structure: Chris Fuscaldo

General credits

Editing and curation: Chris Fuscaldo / Garota FM 
Research - music: Ceci Alves, Chris Fuscaldo, Laura Zandonadi and Ricardo Schott 
Research - Ministry of Culture: Carla Peixoto, Ceci Alves and Chris Fuscaldo 
Subtitles: 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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