Gil regales with carnival spirit

Brazil came to Oman on Thursday night, transforming the auditorium of Royal Opera House Muscat into the spirit of a New Year Carnival from Rio de Janeiro. Legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist Gilberto Gil brought an eclectic panorama of sounds from the country which gave us Bossa Nova, Samba and so many more dance rhythms, with his 6-piece band of astounding musicians.
The 75-year-old maestro is perhaps best remembered for his collaboration with Caetano Veloso in the 60s, and the development of a movement known as ‘Tropicalia’. It was considered inflammatory by the dictatorship and led to 9 months in prison and exile to London for its founding performers. This explains the diverse influences upon Gil’s music and the spectrum of styles he brought to ROHM. To some, he is loved for his work with Joao Gilberto and his Bossa Nova jazz album of the 80s, ‘Brasil’, so expectations were high before curtain-up on Thursday.
The set opened ‘straight in’ with the full band in three traditional Sambas — the first, ‘Luxo So’, suggesting Tom Jobim’s iconic Bossa Novas of Brazilian jazz. The second, ‘Chiclete Com Banana’ featured the wordless scat of the Be-bop era, and the third took off with Gil’s personal stamp. A percussion intro by 23-year-old wiz-kid, Kaina (do Jeje) in ‘Andar Com Fe’ was followed by some fine guitar solos from Gilberto’s own son, Bem Gil, with whom he has been working for 10 years. But the signature sound of Gilberto’s singing is his incredibly high falsetto obligatos which pervade many of his recent numbers.
Gilberto was personable and delightful, explaining to the assembled fans the subtle variation in Latin rhythms, giving a neat segue to the obvious African roots of the call-and-echo form of ‘Maracatu’ over his own guitar riff — and of course the audience was invited to participate. Reggae seems to play a large part in Gil’s music, and next up were versions of Bob Marley’s “Is this Love” in his own inimitable style, followed by a beautiful, mellow version of “No Woman, No Cry” sung in Portuguese, giving such a sensuous interpretation of the more up-beat English sections.
It led nicely into his Brazilian Reggae, ‘A Novidade’, featuring an evocative accordion solo by Mestrinho (de Carira) — you know you are top-class when you can go by a single name! He comes from a line of accordionists and has been playing since he was five. The instrument lent a sense of authenticity throughout the whole programme, with its origin in Forro music. There was some more wordless scat acrobatics from Gil and fine percussion from Kaina — another musician preferring to use a single name. ‘Forro’ (pronounced Foho) is Brazilian reggae, and this number, ‘Esperando’, featured a very pretty accordion solo, complementing the dulcet sensuality of the Portuguese language.
The last two songs of the first part moved to Gilberto Gil’s more recent rock genre, with a Jobim-like Rock-Bossa over a very chromatic accordion line in ‘Tempo Rei’, and an even more progressive accordion solo in the Brazilian Rock, ‘Realce’. For some the first half was lively enough to dance to, for others not jazzy enough, and hopes were high for a more traditional second half.
Those hopes were allowed to mellow as the second part was delayed by a good 10 minutes. With baited breath punters waited until the curtain rose to reveal Gilberto Gil seated alone on stage with a classical guitar and multiple spotlights focused on him. Here was the legend we had come to hear and expect; he opened with three 1980s solos, ‘Prece’, ‘Flora’ — for his wife — and ‘Yamandu’, reminiscent of his collaboration with Caetano Veloso, sultry and intimate, using his seminal low vocal register which brought him fame in the ‘60s. We were home; this is what people wanted to experience and the gratification was palpable.
The fourth song was Gil’s lengthy 1972 Tropicalia ballad, ‘Oriente’, exploring the guitar technique he perfected in his youth by accompanying the deep vocal line with a descending chromatic bass riff. Out of the shadows his band re-joined in a more focused, serious set with younger son, Jose Gil on drums, and 27-year-old electric bass maestro, Magno Brito. ‘A Paz’ featured a mellow and pretty accordion solo, followed by the evocative ‘Drao’. Mestrinho moved to Rhodes keyboard in a Gil original, ‘Tocarte’ and then back to accordion-vamp in the Forro, “Palco”, featuring a fine guitar solo from Gil Junior to fans’ great delight.
Things got livelier in the last two numbers, the Rock “Barracos” involving some signature falsetto scat singing from Gilberto once again, and the even more contemporary style of the Finale samba-rock, “Toda Menina”. Gilberto Gil played a Brazilian ‘Rock and Roll’ for his encore, with Mestrinho back on Rhodes keyboard, based on 12-Bar-Blues. It was a fine ending to a rich and rewarding concert in which there really was something for everyone. A living legend became a reality for those lucky people present at ROHM that evening.

Georgina Benison

(Pictures by Khalid al Busaidi, ROHM)