This year’s WOMAD, one of the biggest World Music Festivals, is packed with the very best. One big highlight is Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian musician with a long history of political activism. Gil is one of the main minds behind the Tropicalia musical movement, which was not just about art, but also a witty and effective form of resistance against the cultural imperialism of the time. His activism forced him to political asylum in London from 1969 to the early 70s. While in UK, he fully embedded himself in the counterculture movement and even managed to have a memorable presence during the second day of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.
But who would be better to describe Gilberto Gil’s performance in the Isle of Wight than Ray Foulk, one of the original organisers of the Festival? Ray has kindly released a passage from his soon to be published book on the Isle of Wight Festival, to be used by Berimbaudrum:
“Making a memorable splash on the afternoon of this second day [Thursday 27 August] was the Brazilian duo-pretty well unknown to most of the audience-Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. They began by chanting in Portuguese, accompanied by African drums and jazz flute, before taking up guitars and playing a crazy mixture of psychedelic rock and a touch of bossanova. Meanwhile, a troupe of thirteen dancers and drummers from Devastation Hill had somehow found their way into the press arena below and were joining in. They were bizarrely covered with a single red plastic wrap, as they helped beat out the rhythm on makeshift drums. By popular acclaim, and courtesy of the Brazilians, Rikki then invited them up to take part properly. What followed enchanted the crowd-as the dancers, one by one emerged naked from the wrap, coyly managing to avoid full frontal exposure, and moved to the side of stage, swaying to the music. That Gil and Veloso could attract this support from Devastation Hill was indicative of their impeccable underground credentials, having found a considerable following in the Chelsea and Notting Hill scene. They were hugely admired by Hawkwind’s Nick Turner and Thomas Crimble and were well known to the IT crowd.” (Ray Foulk)
Years after his return from political asylum, Gilberto Gil engaged in various social and environmental movements and developed a political career. From 2005 to 2008, he was the Minister of Culture in Brazil.
We are really looking forward to see him at the stage of WOMAD this Sunday night. And talking about Sunday, we thought that it would fit well to republished a feature we wrote a while ago about one of his hits “Sunday in the Park”. We are sure you will enjoy!
Doming no Parque / Sunday in the Park
The year is 1967. The militarship has been in power for 3 years after the coup of 1964. Gilberto Gil, who many years later would become Minister of Culture, had just returned from a trip to the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where he was inspired by the local’s political awareness in face of the dictatorship he loathed. He saw music as a form to propagate this awareness and create a movement of artistic resistance. At the same time, he was enchanted by the delicate arrangements and experimentation of the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever.
As Caetano Veloso describes in his book Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, Gil wanted to go beyond the ideological slogans of protest music or even narrow nationalism. When he got in touch with a rock band known as Os Mutantes, he saw the opportunity to create a hybrid sound using regional percussion, an orchestra and electric guitars…that’s the story of Doming no Parque.
The song starts with a carnival pastiche, followed by Gil emulating the abrupt cuts of the berimbau rhythm with his guitar. The Mutantes, who at the time were still in their teens, then joined in the chorus, with a strong Orchestra in the background. In the anarchic arrangement, there is an order and a plot mixing dialogue, love story, comedy and tragedy. The song transpires a creative process based on spontaneity. Excitement and joy are intercalated with more subdue and serene passages.
Tina Oiticica Harris in her blog “Anarchy Across the Universe” gives a good translation of the lyrics with details on how those sudden rhythmic changes fit in well with the story that Gil is telling. Domingo no Parque tells about a Capoeira match turning into a life-death fight between Jose and Joao, in a dispute over a girl called Juliana. For those who haven’t heard about Capoeira yet, it is a mixture of martial art and dance, developed by run away slaves in Brazil. You will still hear a lots about Capoeira and Berimbau in this blog, but let’s leave it for now, to avoid digressing from the main point. Domingo no Parque won 2nd place in the 1967 Festival of Musica Popular Brasileira, under the watchful eyes of the Military.