Click on the pictures for a better view.
Pictures by John Yuen, courtesy of Pepper Communications.

The Esplanade
March 4, 2004

When the veritable king (along with Caetano Veloso) of tropicália shows up in Asia for a historic first performance, the response has to be appropriately celebratory and the March 4 performance at the Concert Hall, Esplanade was just that (besides which, the Brazilians know how to create a carnival atmosphere).

Gilberto Gil and his entourage of percussionists, backing vocalists (one of whom was his daughter) and multi-instrumentalists graced the audience with a seamless 90-minute set that swept through reggae, samba and baiao. Gil, bopping and dancing with the easy grace of the veteran that he is, never forgot historical context, paying homage along the way to Bob Marley as well as Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Gonzaga.

Opening the night with Andar Com Fe (To Walk With Faith), Gil pretty effortlessly wove his way into reggae with his popular rendition of Nao Chore Mais (No Woman No Cry) and Kaya N'gan Daya — both from his 2002 tribute to Marley.

The set list was otherwise an even spread from his immense output of the last 30-over years, with beautiful full-band renditions of A Novidade, A Paz and Drao, which were all given a much more intimate, acoustic interpretation in 1994's critically acclaimed Acoustic album.

If Gil and Veloso have been immensely influential in the creation of tropicália, much of their movement in the '60s was energised by the desire to introduce baiao to Brazil's younger audiences, so the tradition wouldn't be swallowed up by pop culture monotony.

So Gonzaga — the father of the north-eastern musical form baiao — was the spirit behind some of the most idiosyncratically Brazilian songs of the night and Gil, chatting between songs, mused out aloud that samba and baiao were pretty much neck-and-neck in the degree of importance they hold for Brazilian music and history.

Drawing from the film Eu Tu Eles (Me You Them) for which Gil had re-worked many of Gonzaga's songs, some of his backing band formed into the traditional tripartite with the triangle-accordion-marching drum to pull together the danceable songs Esperando Na Janela and Asa Branca.

The ceremoniously deafening roar for an encore had Gil and company back on stage weaving Aquele Abraco with the social critique of Nos Barracos Da Cidade (Barracos) (from the 1985 20-year anniversary album Dia Dorim Noite Neon) and wrapping up with two more songs.

But it wasn't merely a night of music and Gil quite obviously delighted in his audience's effortless enthusiasm.

The night was filled with anecdotes, from stories detailing the history of the different forms of music and his obvious love for experimenting and melding styles to create wondrous results.

That Gil's performance was on the same night as David Bowie's lent for a humorous moment: a story detailing how the Singapore Airlines air hostess had asked him if he was flying in to perform with Bowie.

The audience's unabashed participation in call-and-response choruses led to genuine promises that with such a reception for his debut performance in $ingapore, he would inevitably return. He will definitely have a keen audience looking for a second opportunity to watch him bring on the magic.

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