Gil, Gilberto

Musician Gilberto’s exile in Europe brought Brazilian music to a wider audience that was beginning to discover what later became known as World Music.

Profession: Musician
Country of Origin: Brazil
Country of Asylum: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Date of birth: 26 June 1942

Gil was born in the city of Salvador in the northern state of Bahia. The son of a doctor and a schoolteacher, he grew up in the arid, poverty-stricken town of Ituau. Enchanted by the duets of guitarists (known as violeiros) and the accordion players he heard at the local market, as well as the popular bossa nova music on the radio, his interest in music started to grow. At high school, he enrolled in an accordion academy.

By the end of the 1950s, he had started playing with a group called Los Desafinados (The Out of Tune). When he heard singer and guitarist João Gilberto for the first time, he was so impressed him that he bought himself a guitar and learned the bossa nova style. In the early 1960s, when he started studying business administration at Bahia University, he was already composing, writing jingles for advertisements and performing occasionally on television.

Gilberto Gil performing in 2007. Wikipedia


In 1964, he appeared on the show, Nos Por Exemplo, together with Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Tom Ze. The following year, a famous singer, Elis Regina, recorded one of his songs, “Louvanao”, which was a major breakthrough for Gil’s career.

Gil became one of the leaders of Tropicalia, a cultural and musical movement mixing native Brazilian styles with rock and folk instruments that sparked a renaissance in all aspects of the arts in Brazil. The Tropicalia movement was seen as a threat by the military dictatorship, and in 1968 both Gil and Veloso were arrested, accused of having disrespected the national anthem and the Brazilian flag. They were released two months later, but were banned from appearing in public. They decided to leave Brazil and went into exile in London, but only after giving two farewell concerts in Salvador.

For Gil, his three years of exile turned out to be a positive experience. He improved his guitar technique and won a wider audience. He returned to his home country in 1972 as a star.