Gilberto Gil

Robin Denselow

It's summer, and time for British ministers to forget about the pains of politics and set out for hideaways in Tuscany. Brazil's minister of culture is taking a different approach: he's spending his month off sleeping on a tour bus, shuttling between a string of European concerts strategically planned so he can watch the progress of his national team in the World Cup. Affairs of state have restricted Gilberto Gil's musical output over the past four years, but - as he explained backstage - music is now "a lot more fun because it's a rarity".

He bounded onto stage dressed in white, a lithe, energetic figure with his dreadlocks tied back, and a six-piece band behind him spurred on by his rhythm guitar work. He started with a bombastic burst of guitar rock and funk before edging into good-time samba and carnival songs, then slowing down for a more delicate bossa nova section that included a distinctive treatment of Lennon's Imagine and Brazilian mandolin backing for that charming classic, Formosa.

Gil has always specialised in variety, and a scat workout on his 1970s song Samba de Los Angeles was followed by a sturdy reggae set that matched his own Vamos Fugir against Bob Marley's Could You Be Loved. By now, the packed-out Barbican crowd were on their feet as Gil switched to guitar-backed samba and dance styles for a batch of old favourites, from Palco to Toda Menina Baiana. It had been a classic show, even by Gil's own standards, but it was only during the encore that he revealed why this night was so special. It was, he explained, his 64th birthday, and he celebrated with an emotional, reggae-tinged version of the Beatles' When I'm 64, before ending with an exhausting dance workout to Chuna Toda, a cheerful, sexually explicit carnival song. The minister was magnificent.

in The Guardian, 28.06.2006
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