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Gilberto Gil: Oakland, CA, October 25, 2012

Harry S. Pariser By

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Gilberto Gil
San Francisco Jazz Festival
Paramount Theater
Oakland, CA

October 25, 2012

It is a rare opportunity to see an international icon perform, so singer Gilberto Gil's recent appearance in Oakland, CA's gorgeous Paramount Theater—part of the San Francisco International Jazz Festival—was quite the event.

Before hitting on his unique genius for blending diverse musical styles to become a Brazilian international superstar, Gil made a living selling bananas in a shopping mall and composing television jingles. He's come a long way since then, although Gil's rise to international superstardom has, at times, been rocky. After founding what became known as "tropicália" and "Música Tropical Brasileira" in the 1960s, Gil—along with equally famous and longtime collaborator, singer Caetano Veloso—was arrested by the military government in 1969. Why? According to Gil, the government felt threatened by "something new, something that can't be quite understood...That is dangerous." After nine months of imprisonment, he was exiled to Great Britain, where he remained until 1972.

Gil's travels in Brazil and elsewhere enabled him to meld rock and folk with samba, salsa and bossa nova, forging a totally new, vibrant sound—one which has made him into something of a one-man oeuvre. In many ways, however, his music epitomizes the syncretic aspects of his nation's musical tradition—namely the way Brazil has always assimilated cultural influences, whether they be Indian flute melodies or African polyrhythms. Uncharacteristically for a musician, he also served in government as Brazil's Minister of Culture from 2003—2008.

For this particular tour, Gil once more featured forró, the get-on-your-feet-and-dance music from Northeastern Brazil. Dating from the 19th century, it is the product of a hardscrabble environment that embraces celebration. But this evening's concert featured more than just forró. Reggae—a sound Gil first discovered while living in London—was also highlighted, with a bilingual version of Bob Marley's classic "Three Little Birds," as well as the Rastafarian's perennially popular "No Woman No Cry." Gil's own "Vamos Fugir," also performed that evening, also reflected that influence.

Gil's six-person band, which included accordion, electric banjo and violin, wowed the audience. Playing a blue electric guitar, the personable and charismatic Gil sashayed across the stage, turning his back to the audience at times while shaking his butt. Through the evening he performed a total of 21 songs, most of them catchy pop songs which melded their instruments in a lovely wall of sound. One of his two drummers, whose extensive kits were set on opposite sides of the stage, largely neglected his kit in favor of his hand drum.

Gil opened with the lively title track to Fé na Festa (Universal, 2010), an album of forró music. Next up was the lively "Dança da Moda," with accordion and fiddle supplementing the melody. All of the tunes—from the exuberant "Oi Eu Aqui De Novo" to the rollicking, anthemic title track to the singer's Expresso 2222 (Philips, 1972) were expertly performed.

Audience participation was strong throughout, as fans responded to the tunes with sing-a-longs, hand clapping and dancing in the aisles, consternating the diligent and tireless security staff, which had the thankless job of policing the aisles while trying to coax concertgoers back into their seats. Gil paid his fans plenty of attention as he expertly danced and pranced from one side of the stage to the other. After nearly two hours, the crowd brought him back for the encores of "Bis," "Esperando na Janela," and, finally, "Barranco." After it was all over, one young woman enthusiastically declared to her boyfriend, "that was so awesome!"

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