Gilberto Gil: A Life's Work

Ever since Gil first heard the Brazilian art of improvised singing (known as repente) in Ituaçu, he has explored all kinds of genres, and has always followed wherever new creative opportunities have led him.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Ricardo Schott, journalist and music researcher.

Gilberto Gil com seu acordeon em estúdio na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil

Índigo Blue

The Many Faces of Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil is not just a singer and musician. He has been his own personal project, heading down various paths and transforming into different Gilberto Gils in the process. Behind the singer who started his career in Bahia, and the accordion player who trained at an academy in Salvador, lies a man of many talents.

Gilberto Gil com violão na década de 1960 (2004-11-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

There is the qualified business manager who worked at Gessy Lever, and whose career was just taking off when he decided to become a full-time musician.

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

And the singer-songwriter who supported his family by playing concerts all over Brazil, constantly working with new people and writing new songs. A big part of his musical self is the sociable Gil who, having moved to London, made contact with local musicians and ended up jamming with names on the London scene. 

He also recorded his own album in the UK and did concerts all around Europe to promote it—a tour which, in the end, not only gave him a livelihood while in exile but also made his name famous outside Brazil.

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil


One of musician Gilberto Gil's first jobs was writing jingles for the advertising agency owned by the Bahian musician Jorge Santos. Santos would go on to set up his own label and studio under the name JS Discos, where, incidentally, Gil would make his first records. 

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

Jorge became one of Gil's closest friends and, when he began presenting a Saturday TV show for Itapuã TV, he invited Gil (by now almost 18) on to perform his first songs. It was during this time that Gil visited Rio de Janeiro for the first time, when he accompanied Jorge and his wife there to buy equipment for the JS recording studio. 

Gil shared the studio with the four girls from the group Quarteto em Cy, who were in high demand for jingles. Gil recorded some commercials himself, and would go on to allow his future songs to be featured, provided he approved of the use and the brand.

Capa do álbum Raça Humana, de Gilberto Gil (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

For example, his song Indigo Blue appeared in a jeans advertisement in 1984. Gil also lent his voice to some commercials.

Gilberto Gil se apresenta em emissora de rádio na década de 1960, 1964, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
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Gilberto Gil aos quatro anos de idade (1946)Instituto Gilberto Gil

While still a little boy, Gilberto Passos Gil Moreira was already telling his parents that he wanted to be a "musgueiro," which is how he pronounced the Portuguese word músico, for musician. From first hearing the art of improvised singing known as repente, at fairs in Ituaçu, he set about learning the accordion—his first musical instrument. 

Gilberto Gil toca violão para crianças no início de sua carreira, em São Paulo (1967)Instituto Gilberto Gil

After becoming a fan of João Gilberto, he switched to the acoustic guitar as his main instrument for writing and playing songs. Influenced by bossa nova, baião (from northeastern Brazil), reggae, and rock, he always followed wherever the music—and any new professional and creative opportunities—led him.

Gilberto Gil na Inglaterra na década de 1970Instituto Gilberto Gil

Vamos Fugir


Besides Portuguese, Gilberto Gil also speaks, reads, and understands English, French, and Spanish. His world tours brought him into contact with these three languages, and he was able to improve his English while living in exile. 

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

The British singer Terry Reid was Gil's housemate when he first arrived in London, saying in one interview that he started teaching his new friend a few things and he soon became fluent. He also recalled that Gil tended to refer to almost everything as "diabolical."

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

Terry went on to have a solo career in the 1970s and was even asked to be the lead vocalist for the New Yardbirds, who would later become Led Zeppelin, but he turned them down.

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

Gil the Actor

As well as Gil the musician, there is Gil the actor, who has even appeared in big-screen productions like O Demiurgo (The Demiurge), a film written and directed by Jorge Mautner. Filmed in 16 mm in London, in 1970, Mautner has described the main theme of the film as being a longing for Brazil. 

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

Gil played the god Pan, in what he himself described as one of the crazier times in his life. Caetano Veloso and Mautner also appeared in the film.

Release e convite para a estreia do filme Corações a Mil, estrelado e produzido por Gilberto Gil Convite para exposição de caricaturas de Edilson Amorim AraújoInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gil also appeared in the 1983 film Corações a Mil (Heart Pounding Beat). It tells the story of a communications professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC) who decides to study the life of a popular singer, Gil, in an attempt to uncover the secret of mass communication. 

Caetano Veloso, Regina Casé e outros no filme Corações a Mil, que contou com participação de Gilberto Gil (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Caetano Veloso was also involved in the production.

Release e convite para a estreia do filme Corações a Mil, estrelado e produzido por Gilberto Gil Release e convite para a estreia do filme Corações a Mil, estrelado e produzido por Gilberto GilInstituto Gilberto Gil

The film's press release, 1983.

Gilberto Gil e Regina Casé no filme Corações a Mil (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The film was directed by Jom Tob Azulay and the cast included Regina Casé. Gil's fans have also been able to see the singer acting in several of his own music videos. 

Gilberto Gil e Flora Gil em estúdio na gravação da música Vamos Fugir para o álbum Raça Humana (1984-04)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In Vamos Fugir, he appears alongside his wife, Flora, relaxing in front of chroma key (green screen) backdrops—the technology used in the 1980s.

Gilberto Gil no estúdio Nas NuvensInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gil the Producer

As well as working with some of the big names in production, like Liminha and Mazola, Gil is also a record producer himself. He set up the Geleia Geral label, releasing albums by names like Jorge Mautner.

Gilberto Gil no estúdio Nas NuvensInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gil also produced Mautner's 1974 self-titled album, which included a cover version of Gil's song Maracatu Atômico. In collaboration Liminha, Gil and Caetano Veloso also produced their Tropicália 2 album in 1993, which brought the two Bahian musicians back together again.

Gilberto Gil e Sérgio Chiavazzoli no estúdio Nas NuvensInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil and the multi-instrumentalist Sérgio Chiavazzoli during recordings of the album As Canções de Eu, Tu, Eles

Caderno com anotações, dedicatórias e composições de Gilberto Gil Gilberto Gil escreve sobre o trabalho de Jorge MautnerInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gil's writing about the work produced by Jorge Mautner.

Caderno com anotações, dedicatórias e composições de Gilberto Gil Continuação de Gilberto Gil escreve sobre o trabalho de Jorge MautnerInstituto Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso no show Tropicália Duo, 1994, From the collection of: Instituto Gilberto Gil
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Credits: Story

Research and writing: Ricardo Schott
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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