I know I’ve been holding my Gilberto Gil shot for a while. If, anyone has some cursory knowledge of Brazilian music they’re bound to at least know or have heard of Gilberto. He was one of the original Tropicalismo artists, and creator of one of its most influential tracks like “Domingo no Parque” (which Os Mutantes would later cover) and one of its most proficient lyricists who would write for Gal Costa, Joao Gilberto, and countless others. What was missing though was that one signpost album anyone could point to as his unique statement. 1977’s “Refavela” album was it.
Before Refavela, Gilberto had released a few albums while in exile in England. These albums Cerebro Electronico, Nêga, and Expresso 2222, although filled with tons of great Anglo-rock influenced Brazilian songs were also filled with tons of failed experiments and meandering tracks. You could tell that Gilberto was desperately in search of a vision. Finally, when he came back to Brazil he saw fit to release a live album Gilberto: Ao Vivo that felt much more relaxed and personal than before. This much more Brazilian-sounding album had great tracks like “Joao Sabino” and “Lugar Comun” which were deeply emotional and forward thinking songs. Not encumbered to out-effect Jimi Hendrix, or stuff arrangements to the gills, Gilberto was finally attaining a degree of taste that he had hid before.
His next thought turned to recapturing and reshaping the sound of the music he listened to in Salvador, Bahia as a child. “Re” would be his new sound. 1975’s “Refazenda” tackled first the sound of rural Bahia, with elements of funk, Dominguinhos’ accordion dance sound, and samba soul kneaded with more tasteful experimentation, producing such brilliant songs like the title track, “Tenho Sede”, “Jeca Total”, and “E, Povo, E” songs that are still Brazilian standards.
1977’s “Refavela” would tackle the sound of the favelas and Black Brazilian-ness. At the end of 1976, in the peak of his resurgence, Gilberto was invited to a pan-national Black Arts conference, FESTAC, that was being held in Nigeria. He assembled a band that performed for this event. While spending time there, he was turned on to the juju music of King Sunny Ade and Lagos’ own Kuti-influenced Afro-funk. As he arrived back to Brazil, the rise of the Black Rio movement and Jorge Ben’s Africa Brasil
, with its renewed affirmation of Afro-Brazilian empowerment something in all of this spurred him into create his masterwork.
Check out the opening title track “Refavela” with its kora-like delivery, a beauty of a sound, more than harking to the feel Toumani Diabate was exploring. The dreamy “Aqui e Agora” a congolese rumba ballad, with a magnificent languid sway. “Baba Alapala” linked to via Youtube here, is transformed into a Lagos’ funk influenced samba dance. My favorite tracks are “Sandra” and “Era Nova” which sound so heavenly, but are glorious Lusophonic sound amalgamations with bits of Lusotopic mystical overtones. Every great Portuguese African sound that could be touched on, was touched on succinctly in those tracks in such a meditative way. Definitely, check out those tracks first and then see if the rest interest you. This by far, is my favorite Gilberto album and one that shouldn’t be slept on.
– 1968: Gilberto Gil
– 1969: Gilberto Gil (Cérebro Eletrônico)
– 1971: Gilberto Gil (Nêga)
– 1974: Gilberto Gil Ao Vivo
– 1975: Refazenda
– 1977: Refavela
– 1978: Refestança (with Rita Lee)
– 1979: Realce