All The Colors In Gilberto Gil's Black Music

Get to know Gil's songs that reflect on racial matters

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

By Cristina Doria

Gilberto Gil em show na década de 1970 (Década de 1970)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Long before a day was instituted to commemorate Zumbi dos Palmares and mark the importance of recognizing African descendants in the construction of Brazilian society, Gilberto Gil already addressed the theme in his artistic production.

Bastidores do Afoxé Filhos de Gandhy, no carnaval baiano (1999)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He never denied his blackness, on the contrary, he always sang his African, Bahian, and Afro-Brazilian roots. Candomblé, curly hair, food, religions, and customs that give identity to the black people in Brazil are and have always been part of his musical repertoire.

Gil e Carlos Rennó em lançamento do livro "Todas as letras" (2022-08-30) by Matheus José MariaInstituto Gilberto Gil

According to Carlos Rennó, editor of the recently released book "Todas As Letras", in a new expanded edition, Gil's oeuvre has about 30 songs that deal with the theme.
Discover some of them throughout this exhibition.

Gilberto Gil assiste ao desfile do bloco Afoxé Filhos de Gandhy no Carnaval de Salvador (2019-03-04)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Since his first compositions it is possible to recognize these references, with several citations to religions of African matrix, such as Emoriô, Babá Alapalá and one of the most famous of that period, Filhos de Gandhy, a tribute that became an anthem for the afoxé bloco of the same name.

Gilberto Gil talks about the song Babá Alapalá, present on the soundtrack of the movie Tenda dos Milagres (1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Capa do álbum Cidade do Salvador, de Gilberto Gil (1973 e 1974 (gravação) e 1998 (lançamento))Instituto Gilberto Gil

Tradição por Gilberto Gil no Teatro Opinião


In the song " Tradição", recorded on the album Realce, but composed in 1973, Gil already seeks to give, in his own words, "an aristocratizing sense to a time and space (Bahia, 1950s) of my social history."

Gilberto Gil em show da turnê Doces Bárbaros no Canecão (1976-08-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Chuck Berry Fields Forever

When he participated in the collective Doces Bárbaros (with Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, and Gal Costa) Gil also collaborated with a song that recounts how the music brought from Africa led to rock'n'roll. It is "Chuck Berry Fields Forever", which recalls the ancestral African rhythms.

Cena do filme Refavela 40, com imagens de arquivo da viagem de Gilberto Gil à Nigéria na década de 1970 (Janeiro de 1977)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Refavela por Gilberto Gil durante turnê Quanta no Canecão


But it is Refavela, his 1977 album, that is Gil's most African work. Inspired by his trip to Nigeria to participate in the 2nd Festac - World Festival of Black Art and Culture, in 1977

Cena do filme Refavela 40, com imagens de arquivo de Gilberto Gil durante a década de 1970 (2019)Instituto Gilberto Gil

On the album, two songs are explicit about the subject - Refavela itself, which he wrote, and Ilê Ayê, a re-recording of Paulinho Camafeu's classic (Ilê Ayê - Que Bloco é esse?)

Capa do álbum Realce, de Gilberto Gil (1979)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Another very explicit one is Sarará Miolo, composed in 1976, but recorded in Nightingale (1978) and in Realce (1979). In this song, the idea that "being black is cool" is stronger and wins the sympathy of the public - of all colors - that always sings along proudly in the concerts: 

Translated: "Heal, heal, heal / From this disease of white/ Of Wanting straight hair/ Already having blond hair/ Hard hair is needed/ That is to be you, criolo."

Gilberto Gil e Nara Gil em show da turnê Um Banda Um (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Others that keep bringing the subject of negritude and ancestry are: "Balafon" (the name of a type of instrument, an African marimba); Logunedé (a tribute to Gil's orixá); Axé, Babá (an afoxé to Oxalá) and "Saci-pererê" (recorded by Banda Black Rio).

Gilberto Gil e Nara Gil em show da turnê Um Banda Um no Canecão (1982)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Banda Um por Gilberto Gil durante show em Tókio

Banda Um, from the album Um Banda Um, Serafim , from the album Parabolicamará, and Bahia de todas as Contas are also from this ancestral-religious repertoire.

Capa do álbum Quilombo, de Gilberto Gil (1984 (produção) e 2002 (lançamento))Instituto Gilberto Gil

Quilombo, o Eldorado Negro

In 1984 we have Quilombo, o Eldorado Negro, composed for the soundtrack of the film Quilombo, by director Cacá Diegues, with totally clear lyrics. The whole soundtrack, in fact, is an ode to Africanity, to candomblé, and to the history of the struggle for freedom of the Quilombo dos Palmares.

Capa do compacto de Gilberto Gil, lançado em 1984 pela gravadora Warner Music (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Among the 17 songs, all done in partnership with Wally Salomão, Quilombo, o Eldorado Negro talks about Zumbi dos Palmares, a symbol of black resistance against slavery, whose death date, November 20, ended up being chosen as Black Consciousness Day.

Capa do álbum Z: 300 anos de Zumbi, de Gilberto Gil (1995 (produção) e 2002 (lançamento))Instituto Gilberto Gil

Zumbi (A Felicidade Guerreira) por Gilberto Gil para o filme Quilombo

Zumbi also appears as the title of a song made in partnership with Carlinhos Brown for the soundtrack of the production Z, by the ballet of the City of São Paulo, in 1995.

Music Video A Mão da Limpeza, by Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Going back to the chronology, in 1984, for the album Parabolicamará, Gilberto Gil composed one of the most emblematic and powerful songs on the theme, where he speaks with indignation about the historical prejudice against black people: A mão da Limpeza. The lyrics speak for themselves:

Gilberto Gil discursa em evento da Fundação OndAzulInstituto Gilberto Gil

The white man invented that the black man
When he doesn't get dirty on the way in
He'll get dirty on the way out, ê
Just imagine
It's gonna get dirty on the way out.
Just imagine
What a damned lie, ê
In fact the slave hand
Spent its life cleaning up
What the white man made dirty, ê
Just imagine
The white man's dirt, ê
What the black man had to suffer, ê...

Rascunho da música Oração Pela Libertação da África do Sul, de Gilberto Gil (1985)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Oração Pela Libertação da África do Sul por Gilberto Gil em Sendai

And the following year another masterpiece: Oração pela libertação da África do Sul, which is on the 1985 album Dia dorim noite neon, made to fulfill a request from physicist Mário Schenberg.

Clip of the song Touche Pas à Mon Pote, by Gilberto Gil (1988)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The same album also brings Touche pas à mon pote, a song in French that touches on the issue of racial intolerance, inspired by the SOS Racism movement event, which Gil had attended in Paris at Place de La Concorde.

Capa do álbum Soy Loco por Ti América, de Gilberto Gil (1987)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil canta Jubiabá


Jubiabá, also a commission, this time for the film of the same name, brings up the issue of the black diaspora, the slavery in all of the Americas, portrayed in Jorge Amado's book, which was made into a film by director Nelson Pereira dos Santos in 1986.

Capa do álbum O Eterno Deus Mu Dança, de Gilberto Gil (1989)Instituto Gilberto Gil

De Bob Dylan a Bob Marley - Um Samba Provocação, por Gilberto Gil em Matsuyama

In 1989 two songs address the subject and both are in the repertoire of the LP O Eterno Deus Mu Dança: "De Bob Dylan a Bob Marley, um samba-provocação" and "Réquiem para Mãe Menininha do Gantois".

Gilberto Gil com Nana e Dorival CaymmiInstituto Gilberto Gil

Buda Nagô Gilberto Gil no Afropop Worldwide

In the 90's, there are at least five songs in this repertoire: Buda Nagô, from 91, made for Dorival Caymmi, Haiti, made with his partner Caetano Veloso, in 93; Guerra Santa (about religious intolerance to religions of African matrix) from the CD Quanta; the already mentioned Zumbi...

Ministro Gilberto Gil se apresenta ao povo senegalês ao lado do presidente do Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, e do presidente do Brasil, Lula, durante visita à Ilha de Gorée (2005-04-14)Instituto Gilberto Gil

La Lune de Gorée por Gilberto Gil no Fórum Universal das Culturas

...and La Lune de Gorée (also from Quanta), with lyrics by Capinan, which refers specifically to the anchorage of ships where slaves were shipped to the colonizing countries. Emblematic and beautiful.

In recent years, Gil has continued to address the subject. Another song in French, also very strong and forceful is La renaissance africaine, from the album "Banda Larga Cordel", from 2008. The title is in the name of a festival, a re-edition of the World Festival of Black Arts.

Mario Lucio e Gilberto Gil no palco do Festival Back2Black (2018-10-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Pronto pra preto, from 2009, was also made for a festival, the Back to Black, a welcome song for the meeting.

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso em espetáculo da turnê Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música em Miami (2016-04-16)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Among the more recent ones, there is As camélias do quilombo do Leblon, from 2015, lyrics by Caetano Veloso and music by Gil, recorded on the album "Dois amigos, um século de música". Gil says he only collaborated on the lyrics with a few words or so.

Gilberto Gil com os netos Nino, Lucas, Gabriel, Pedro, Flor, Bento, Sereno, Dom, Francisco e Joao e a bisneta Sol de Maria em encontro de Natal na casa de Araras (Dezembro de 2019)Instituto Gilberto Gil

"I am Brazil, I am Africa"

Just as he also says that he did not participate as much in the song Afro-futurist (2019), made in partnership with his grandson Francisco Gil. This goes to show that the proud African DNA, of its history and ancestry, is dispersed in the family and can bring many new songs.

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