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Gilberto Gil at his sold out show at Emirates Palace. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival
Gilberto Gil at his sold out show at Emirates Palace. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival

Gilberto Gil's sprightly schooling on Brazilian music

Gilberto Gil elicted mass sing-alongs in his Abu Dhabi Festival performance.

The Abu Dhabi Festival experienced its brightest musical moment on Saturday courtesy of Gilberto Gil.

The 70-year-old performed a crowd-pleasing set featuring a selection of hits and covers pulled from a five-decade career.

After nearly two weeks of lush orchestral sounds, it took a while for the audience to take in the skeletal arrangement of Gil’s three-piece, which included his son Bem Gil on the guitar and Gustavo di Dalva on percussions.

But the Brazilian’s sound, featuring a unique and complex blend of samba, African and reggae rhythms, kept the audience’s attention at all times.

The former government minister became a musical ambassador on stage with his nearly two-hour set list detailing the evolution of Brazilian music.

He introduced Chiclete com Banana as a form of “samba rock” before the band launched into the jaunty tune; the upbeat lyrics about the fruit were undercut by off-kilter rhythms and di Dalva’s vivid percussion.

Gil’s covers of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and John Lennon’s Imagine were warmly received. The latter, normally a minefield of trite covers for artists, was performed acoustically, with Gil’s raspy voice and history of political exile giving the performance a powerful resonance.

Ultimately, however, it was the fun experience of witnessing a loose set by a legendary performer that stuck with the crowd. This was encapsulated when Gil rolled into the bluesy Alapala. A musical fable about an African child discovering his family tree, the chant-like chorus elicited the first mass-singalong of the festival. It was a moment of joyous release.

After weeks of watching powerful performances by maestros in awed silence, Gil invited the audience to be involved with the magic on stage. A standing ovation proved everyone was grateful.



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