The U.S. and Brazil have a few things in common. Both are continent-spanning nations that began as European colonies. Both have a history of African slavery. And both developed iconic music with strong roots in their respective black communities.
In the U.S., that music was jazz. In Brazil, it was samba.
Gilberto Gil will lecture and perform at 5 p.m. April 1 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
At one time, samba was Brazil's "undisputed national music," according to Marc Hertzman, a U. of I. professor of Latin American history. Its influence continues today, most prominently in a form of it that powers Brazil's annual carnival celebrations.
"Samba was understood by many people as a unique combination of African and European, and as a symbol of Brazil's racial heritage," Hertzman said. The symbol was all the more powerful, he said, because Brazil over the last century has often been touted as a "racial paradise" - free, for instance, of the enforced segregation and restrictive racial categories once found in the United States.
Music and race are the central themes of Hertzman's 2013 book "Making Samba," which traces the history of Brazil's original samba, from an Afro-Brazilian Rio de Janeiro neighborhood early in the 20th century, through its golden age (roughly 1929-45) and into the 1970s.
In writing the book, Hertzman said he wanted to explore how Brazil went from a society that ended slavery in 1888 - the last country in the Western Hemisphere to do so - to a society that a few decades later was celebrating what was "ostensibly black music." He also wanted to explore "how the musicians themselves go from being property to owning property (namely in the rights to their music)."
He found that the black composers and performers of samba had many successes, but also faced a number of challenges - often at the height of success - in a "complex and oppressive racial system."
It's a story that runs counter to the narrative of Brazil as being radically different from the U.S. in its racial history, as a "racial paradise where everybody gets along," Hertzman said.
One example of that today, Hertzman believes, can be found in the life and career of Gilberto Gil, an Afro-Brazilian musician who also served as Brazil's minister of culture from 2003 to 2008 - and who will lecture and perform at the U. of I. on April 1.
Gil is "one of the most successful, popular and renowned musicians of the second half of the 20th century in Brazil, for sure," Hertzman said. And yet he faced severe attacks as the minister of culture, at one point being called the "barbarian minister," Hertzman said.
Gil held controversial views on sharing music and other intellectual property through the Creative Commons, and that was one reason for the "harsh blowback," Hertzman said, but he believes it went beyond that. The attacks also showed "what it means to be a prominent, public man of color (in Brazil) doing something a little bit daring."
Grammy-winning Brazilian musician featured April 1
Acclaimed musician Gilberto Gil, a winner of multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy awards, and a former Brazilian minister of culture, will lecture and perform at 5 p.m. April 1 in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
The event is free and open to the public.
Gil is a singer, guitarist and composer who has recorded more than 50 albums. His music ranges from the baião of northeastern Brazil to reggae, psychedelia, bossa nova, electronica, samba and rock. He was fundamental in the development and spread in the 1960s of tropicália, a movement to assimilate pop culture and national genres, and he continues to be a force in both politics and musical innovation. He also has served as a UNESCO Artist for Peace.
Gil will lecture on the topic of music and Brazilian culture, and then perform.
The event is sponsored by The Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies, with additional support from the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Krannert Center, the Center for Historical Interpretation and the department of history.
More about Gil can be found at his website.