Gilberto Gil: the Brazilian Minister of Culture

The singer-songwriter accepted an invitation from Brazil's president at the time, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to head up the Culture Ministry from 2003 to 2008.

By Instituto Gilberto Gil

Text: Chris Fuscaldo, journalist and musical researcher

José Gil Moreira, pai de Gilberto Gil, em seu consultório médicoInstituto Gilberto Gil

A Political Being

The word politics comes from the Greek word politikos, meaning "relating to citizens or to the state." Gilberto Gil was born a political being.

Gilberto Gil com seu pai, José Gil Moreira, na década de 1980 (1981)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Of African descent, he was raised by a father who had gone against the tide by becoming a doctor in a country where black people never had the same opportunities as white people. As a result, Gil's music came to express themes relating to citizenship from very early on.

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

While Brazil was living under a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, Gil also started airing his feelings about the State in his songs. For this, he paid a high price.

Gilberto Gil e Caetano Veloso prestes à partir para o exílio (1969)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He was arrested with Caetano Veloso on December 27th 1968 – just after the "Ato Institucional nº 5" [Institutional Act nº 5], which reduced free speech, being decreed.

Gilberto Gil durante seu exílio na Europa pelas ruas de Paris (1970)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In July 1969, Caetano and Gil were exiled in England and set base in London, in Chelsea neighbourhood. When Gil went back to Brazil, in 1972, he didn't stop being and sing what he was and thought. 

Gilberto Gil, Irene Ravache e Regina Duarte no movimento Diretas Já (1984)Instituto Gilberto Gil

On January 25th 1984, Gil participated in the first big demonstration of "Diretas Já" [Direct (Elections) Now] at Sé square, in São Paulo, which asked for direct elections for presidency.

Gilberto Gil na década de 1980 (Década de 1980)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Tancredo Neves' victory in the indirect presidential elections on January 15, 1985 marked the end of more than 20 years of military rule in Brazil. With this political opening, artists felt free to be themselves for the first time since 1964.

Gilberto Gil no show Momento 68 (1968)Instituto Gilberto Gil

And Gil was finally able to have another career alongside his music.

Gilberto Gil com Pierre Verger e Cristina Castro no Teatro Gregório de Mattos (1989)Instituto Gilberto Gil

From Music to Politics

Gilberto Gil started flirting with politics in the late 1970s, when on July 1979 he took the position of member of the Council of Culture of Bahia State – in which Maria Bethânia was also part – integrating what was could the "Chamber of Music". 

Gilberto Gil participa de evento no Benim (Janeiro de 1987)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He was the first black man to be part of this institution. In 1987, he took the presidency of the Fundação Gregório de Mattos, institution under the Municipal Secretary of Culture of Salvador, city where he moved with his family.

Campanha de Gilberto Gil para vereador de Salvador (1988-09-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He launched his campaign as a pre-candidate for mayor of Salvador on March 2, 1988, but in August he decided to stand for a vacancy on the City Council (Câmara Municipal) as a candidate for the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).

Gilberto Gil, à época de vereador, ladeado por Waly Salomão, Mário Kertész, Jorge Mautner, Antonio Risério e José Carlos Capinan (1989)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In the elections on November 15, the singer was elected councillor for the Bahian capital with the largest number of votes.

Gilberto Gil no dia da posse do cargo de Ministro da Cultura. (2003-01-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In 2002, Gilberto Gil made public his support to the presidency candidate Luís Inácio Lula da Silva. When Lula was elected, in December, Gil accepted the invitation from Lula to take up the post of Minister of Culture in 2003. 

O então ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil na cerimônia de posse da equipe do seu Ministério (2003-01-15)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The musician oversaw Brazil's cultural sector as minister until 2008, splitting his time between his political and artistic careers.

Gilberto Gil, Lula, Dilma Rousseff, Antônio Pallocci, Marina Silva, Benedita da Silva, Cristovam Buarque, Miro Teixeira, Olívio Dutra, José Dirceu, Agnelo Queiroz e outros (2003-01-01)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Inauguration Speech

In his inauguration speech, Gilberto Gil explained that his aim would be to invest in diversity, a hallmark of Brazil: "Brazil's cultural diversity is a fact. Paradoxically, we also have a fundamental, overarching, and profound cultural unity...

Gilberto Gil em ensaio fotográfico para a revista IstoéInstituto Gilberto Gil

"... In truth, we can even say that our internal diversity is, today, one of our most distinctive characteristics. It is what makes someone living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, with their ties to samba and the Macumba religion...

"... and an Amazon caboclo, with their carimbo dances and encantados [ancestral spirits], feel equally Brazilian."

Gilberto Gil in an interview as Minister of Culture and rehearsal with his band in Rio de Janeiro (2003)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil com o cacique Paulo Miriecuréu, políticos, e representantes indígenas, da Unesco (Organização das Nações Unidas para a Educação, a Ciência e a Cultura), Unicef (Fundo das Nações Unidas para a Infância) e FAO (Organização das Nações Unidas para a Alimentação e a Agricultura) durante visita ao projeto de uma nova aldeia para os índios Bororo (2004-04-15)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Cultura Viva [Living Culture]

The policy created by Gilberto Gil when in the Ministry of Culture was based in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which set three strategies:

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil, o presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, o governador do Ceará, Lúcio Alcântara, o presidente do STJ, ministro Edson Vidigal, com integrantes do grupo Samba Chula Os Filhos da Pitangueira, durante lançamento do Programa Nacional do Patrimônio Imaterial (2004-05-10)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Symbolic production, with actions to stimulate cultural production; right to citizenship, emphasizing the social dimension of Culture in inclusion projects; and the economy, understanding the economic function of the creative industry.

O então ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil, o então ministro da Justiça Márcio Thomaz Bastos (30/07/1935 - 20/11/2014) e o cantor Netinho de Paula na inauguração do Parque dos Brinquedos, em São Paulo (2004-11-20)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The objective of this policy was to reverse priorities that had previously been crystallized. The Cultura Viva program, conceived in 2004, was responsible for the Culture Points, "a network of articulation, reception and dissemination of initiatives and creative wills".

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil e TC Silva na abertura do evento Teia de Cultura e Cidadania, Mostra de Cultura do Brasil e Economia Solidária (2006-04-05)Instituto Gilberto Gil

A promotion action aimed at strengthening existing cultural groups, contributing to the maintenance and expansion of their actions.

Gilberto Gil com pessoal do Maracatu. (2004-11-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Focus on plurality and tolerance

Gil was delighted at the chance to use his image and his real understanding of what it means to live from art to represent Brazilian culture, and to attract international attention and investment within his country. From the start, he made it clear that he would be seeking a diverse and tolerant democracy: 

Mestre Salu presenteia Gilberto Gil. (2004-11-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

"The cultural policy of this ministry, and of the Lula government, should from now on—from this very moment—be seen as part of the overall project to build a new hegemony in our country;...

Gilberto Gil discursa no primeiro Encontro das Culturas Cariri. (2005-06-16)Instituto Gilberto Gil

"... as part of the overall project to build a truly democratic, diverse, and tolerant nation; as an integral part of a coherent and creative project of social radicalism; and as an integral part of building a Brazil for everyone."

Gilberto Gil discursa no primeiro Encontro das Culturas Cariri. (2005-06-16)Instituto Gilberto Gil

For Northeastern Brazil

Brazil is a country with huge cultural diversity. One of the regions that has always lacked investment is the Northeast—the region Gilberto Gil himself left to take up a job. 

Gilberto Gil discursa no primeiro Encontro das Culturas Cariri. (2005-06-16)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Gil frequently returned to the Northeast during his time in office in order to better understand local culture there, and to enable him to choose areas on which to focus. In 2004, the culture minister visited Pernambuco State for an event featuring maracatu performers:

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil, Mestre Salustiano e João Paulo, prefeito do Recife, na Casa da Rabeca do Brasil (2004-02-13)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Groups specialised in a musical rhythm, dance, and ritual that is rooted in local religion. Gil was given a rustic bow instrument known as a rabeca, which was a predecessor to the violin.

Gilberto Gil toca rabeca ao lado mestre Salu e João Paulo Lima e Silva, entre outros. (2004-11-03)Instituto Gilberto Gil

It was presented to him by Manuel Salustiano Soares—known as Mestre Salu—a Brazilian actor, musician, composer, and artisan who was included on Pernambuco's Registry of Living Heritage in 2007. 

Gilberto Gil no primeiro Encontro das Culturas Cariri. (2005-06-16)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In 2005, the culture minister also visited the Cariri region in Ceará State to learn about the local culture. Three years later, in 2008, Ceará would host its first World Masters Meeting (Encontro de Mestres do Mundo)—a gathering of Mestres de Cultura, or masters of intangible cultural heritage, organized with the national Culture Ministry (MINC) and the state's own Culture Department (Secretaria de Cultura do Estado).

Gilberto Gil em evento no Centro Cultural Ação e CidadaniaInstituto Gilberto Gil

A Win for Brazilian Culture

One of the main challenges by Gilberto Gil in the Ministry was to increase your administration budget: he managed to increase it in 130%.

Gilberto Gil discursa em evento no Centro Cultural Ação e CidadaniaInstituto Gilberto Gil

When he took up the post in 2003, investment in culture stood at 0.2% of Federal budget – around R$ 706 million [US$239 million]; it reached 0.6% in 2006 and was kept in this way in 2007 – a leap to over R$ 1.6 billion (around US$840 million).

Sérgio Mamberti, Wanderléa e Gilberto Gil em evento no Centro Cultural Ação e CidadaniaInstituto Gilberto Gil

With this new budget, the Ministry invested in circuses, an artistic sector previously overlooked by the public authorities, creating the Caravana de Circulação de Espetáculos to take theatre and dance companies to over 500 cities. 

Sérgio Mamberti, Wanderléa e Gilberto Gil em evento no Centro Cultural Ação e CidadaniaInstituto Gilberto Gil

He revived the Pixinguinha project—a cultural event that sought to promote Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) throughout the country. 

O então ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil, a cantora Elba Ramalho e o ex-presidente Lula da Silva em lançamento de ponto de cultura na França (2005-07-13)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He also supported the creation of Cultural Points (Pontos de Cultura), which were sociocultural projects for underprivileged communities, run by government and non-government agencies alike with funding from Brazil's Culture Ministry. 

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil e presidente Lula em visita a cidades do Recôncavo Baiano (2006-07-12)Instituto Gilberto Gil

The minister and artist also ensured that samba de roda—music, dance and poetry performed in a circle (roda)—from Bahia's Recôncavo region was included in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Gilberto Gil toca berimbau em roda de Capoeira. (2005-10)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Looking Out for Brazil's Cultural Heritage

Soon before he left Brazil's Culture Ministry, Gil set up the National Culture Plan (Plano Nacional de Cultura) in May 2008. The aim of the program was to plan and implement public policies to promote cultural, artistic, and ethnic diversity. 

Grupo Capoeira Berimbau posa para foto. (2005-10)Instituto Gilberto Gil

Another positive to emerge from his time in charge of the culture portfolio was that elements of regional culture such as capoeira, frevo (a style of music and dance), samba de roda, and indigenous body painting received recognition as Brazilian Cultural Heritage (Patrimônio Cultural Brasileiro).

A Associação de Capoeira Ladainha confere ao Ministro Gilberto Gil o Mérito Social Ladainha, por sua contribuição prol da Capoeira FrenteInstituto Gilberto Gil

The Brazilian Culture Ministry also set up a program targeting the Afro-Brazilian population, with measures for developing traditional communities, including what remained of quilombos (settlements established by fugitive slaves) and terreiros (ritual spaces in the candomblé religion). 

A Associação de Capoeira Ladainha confere ao Ministro Gilberto Gil o Mérito Social Ladainha, por sua contribuição prol da Capoeira VersoInstituto Gilberto Gil

Capoeira performers from all over Brazil were grateful

Gilberto Gil discursa para os artistas presentes no encontro.Instituto Gilberto Gil

Proving His Love of Culture

With these measures, Gilberto Gil lived up to his words in his inauguration speech: "I want the ministry to be present in every corner of our country. I want this to be home to all those who are thinking about and building Brazil...

Tassia Camargo no debate, em encontro com artistas.Instituto Gilberto Gil

"... for it to really be the home of Brazilian culture. And what I understand as culture goes far beyond the restricted and restrictive scope of academic concepts or the rites and liturgy of a supposed 'artistic and intellectual class.'" 

Leci Brandão discursa para os artistas presentes no encontro.Instituto Gilberto Gil

On Being a Minister

The singer always made a point of insisting that he was "the culture minister," in reference to a former member of the administration saying that an artist was in office.

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil com o secretário-geral das Nações Unidas Kofi Annan na sede da ONU (2003-09-19)Instituto Gilberto Gil

However, no other minister ever did as much to promote Brazilian culture abroad. At the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, in 2003, Gil sang and played guitar alongside the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Ministro Gilberto Gil e empresário Abílio Diniz observam discurso do presidente do Brasil, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, no lançamento do projeto Viva Brasil (2005-03-28)Instituto Gilberto Gil

In 2005, Gil was such an effective poster boy for France's Year of Brazil, promoting culture, business, and tourism, that it even became known as the Year of BraGil (with a soft "g").

Ministro da Cultura Gilberto Gil e integrante do Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba Império Serrano (2004-12-13)Instituto Gilberto Gil

His Farewell

Gilberto Gil had been in office since 2003—the first year of Lula's administration—and had tried to leave the Ministry more than once. His last attempt had been in late 2007, when he was having problems with his voice, but the president and other artists ended up persuading him to stay.

Gilberto Gil tocando e cantando em evento no Rio de Janeiro em 2004 (2004-05)Instituto Gilberto Gil

He finally left office on July 30, 2008. He was replaced by a fellow Bahian Juca Ferreira, who was the Executive Secretary of the Ministry.

Gilberto Gil Ministro na saída do evento no qual foi homenageadoInstituto Gilberto Gil

When Gil told Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva he was leaving at the president's offices in the Planalto Palace (Palácio do Planalto), Gil admitted that the president had been sad to hear the news. He was replaced by a fellow Bahian Juca Ferreira. 

Presidente Lula, Gilberto Gil e Dilma Roussef participam da cerimônia de posse do novo ministro da Cultura, Juca Ferreira (2008-08-28)Instituto Gilberto Gil

On leaving office, Gil praised the president using the name of one of his songs, Refazenda, to define your administration: "Lula government means one extraordinary refazenda in the country".

Brasília's Cathedral, one of the symbols of Brazil's federal capital.

Credits: Story

Exhibit credits 

Research and text: Chris Fuscaldo (colaborou Carla Peixoto)
Editing and review: Carla Peixoto
Assembly: Chris Fuscaldo
Acknowledgments: Juca Ferreira, Luis Turiba, Maria de Nazaré Pedroza, Adair Rocha e Sérgio Xavier 

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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