For the Brazilian musical idol Gilberto Gil, the cultural always is the political -- and vice versa.
It has been that way since the 1960s, when Gil and several artistic comrades were imprisoned and driven into London exile by Brazil's ruling military junta. Ostensibly, Gil and his colleagues, including Caetano Veloso , were guilty of stirring up the populace with a genre-shattering, socially alert, Afro-rock hybrid called tropicalismo.
It was indeed a radical act in a country that takes music (and soccer) at least as seriously as politics.
Gilberto Gil:The String Concert
Royce Hall UCLA,8pm Saturday
In the decades that followed, Gil returned home to a conquering hero's welcome and went on to combine a relentlessly daring and eclectic musical career with a highly visible activist's role in environmentalism and other causes. His talent for infusing political movements with a funky populist beat was recognized by Brazil's current president, Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, who appointed Gil culture minister in 2003.
The Grammy Award-winning artist used that bully pulpit to preach the gospel of developing-world empowerment through greater access to digital technology and other themes. Among his accomplishments was helping to launch hundreds of so-called hot spots across the vast nation, where targeted groups of disadvantaged Brazilians were supplied with free computers and other equipment and encouraged to pursue cultural projects reflecting their local traditions.
The idea, Gil explained by phone last week, was to help ordinary people film their own [stories], record their own songs and perform their own lives."
But now Gil is back to his primary vocation, embarked on a 10-city U.S. tour that will bring him to UCLA's Royce Hall to perform Saturday. He's pleased to be on the road once more, coaxing laid-back bossa nova rhythms as well as more uproarious samba and baio grooves from his guitar, mixed in with reggae, rock, witty wordplay and whatever else tickles his imagination.