ONCE AN OUTSPOKEN leader of Brazil's counterculture and a spokesman for its black consciousness movement, Gilberto Gil now finds himself kicking back in Rio, contemplating the millennium with a surprising optimism. And why shouldn't he? Three decades separate the 57-year-old multi-instrumentalist from the heyday of Tropicália, the revolutionary musical movement he founded with Caetano Veloso in 1967. Over the phone, Gil says democracy is now well-established in his country, having shed the dictatorial regime that jailed him and Veloso in the late Sixties and bullied them both into exile until 1972.
Gil even took a brief hiatus from his musical career at the start of this decade to enter politics himself, serving a brief stint on Salvador's city council. But while he has never really lost Brazilian ears, critics claim that his musical style--an offshoot of bossa nova integrating psychedelia, reggae, and African rhythms--has suffered from his placid outlook. Gil seems comfortable with the peace that he has found with age--comfortable too in using the royal we when speaking of himself, implicitly including kindred artists.
CITY PAGES: Your music was considered more radical 20 years ago. Do you feel it still contains a strong political element?
GILBERTO GIL: Maybe not so explicit, no. We are supposed to be reflecting an impression we have of the world that surrounds us. And sometimes we talk about the difficult feelings that we have about reality. In that sense, it's always political. But I'm not really using music as a weapon.
CP: Did you ever feel you were using music as a weapon?
GIL: Maybe during the times when we were involved in revolving the earth, revolving the ground for new crops and new seeds. Then we had to face the opposition coming from parts of society. At those times, we really had to fight back against the establishment. And then we had to fight back to establish ourselves [as artists] and our position. But not now.
CP: You've kept in touch with Caetano Veloso. Was there ever a rivalry between you?
GIL: Never. Well, yes, in an Olympic sense.
CP: How so? Like you were two gods going at it?
GIL: No [laughs], Olympic in the sense that competition is natural. It's necessary. Whatever the other does gives you the impulse to match it. It's motivating. It's stimulating.
CP: Are you happy with the direction your music is going?
GIL: I have a mixed feeling. By being so used to changes and challenges and dissatisfaction from before, I'm still sort of touched by the sense of lacking something. But at the same time, as I grow older, I have a sense of limits. We can't go on developing forever. There comes a moment where life just says, Okay, be comfortable. Surrender. Sometimes you feel peaceful. Sometimes it's a little sad. But we have the compensation of surrendering.
CP: Is it more difficult to find inspiration from surrendering?
GIL: It's more difficult in the sense that we don't go so thirsty and hungry. Before, we had a little more desire, a hunger. Not being hungry does not make you bold, and that brings a difficulty to the process. The best part is to perform. Then you forget everything. When we are onstage, we are living life. There is no virtuality, no subjectivity. It's life as an object and we are just the medium.
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