“Samba and bossa nova are well-known outside of Brazil, but forró, no,” says Gilberto Gil, speaking by phone from his home in Rio. The legendary performer—and Brazil’s former minister of culture—is talking about the traditional Northeastern Brazilian style he’ll bring to Carnegie Hall this week. “It’s one of the most popular forms of music in Brazil,” he adds. Buoyed by virtuosic accordionist and songwriter Luiz Gonzaga (1912Ð1989), whose showmanship, celebrity and smooth baritone still earn him comparisons to Elvis Presley, forró rose to popularity during the 1940s and ’50s.
Gil will open Carnegie Hall’s citywide Voices from Latin America festival, which he helped curate, with Gonzaga standards like “Asa Branca” (“White Wing”), whose lyrics lament the hard luck of Northeasterners forced to leave their families in search of work in the booming construction industries of Rio and S‹o Paulo. Having grown up in the Northeastern state of Bahia, Gil cites the flamboyant Gonzaga as one of the earliest influences in his now-40-year career, inspiring his rise to fame as a founding force in the politically charged tropicalia movement of the ’60s.
In 1970, Gil and fellow tropicalista Caetano Veloso were exiled to London by Brazil’s authoritarian regime. There, Gil wrote what would become his celebrated album Expresso 2222, his first release after returning to Brazil in 1972. With its roots planted firmly in forró, the album’s punchy title track became a popular standard that, along with many others, will have the audience dancing in the aisles come Thursday.—Sarah Hucal
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