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From the August 2001 issue of World Press Review, (VOL. 48, No. 8)

Nascimento and Gil: Faith in Music


Juan Arias, El País (liberal), Madrid, Spain, May 14, 2001

Gilberto Gil performs in Brazil (Photo: Livio Campos)
Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento is as happy as a child with the latest musical creature that, together with Gilberto Gil, he’s given birth to. The 15-song CD titled Gil & Milton—Milton & Gil has been described by critics as historic. These two national monuments in Brazilian culture have come together after 30 years during which the two singers admired each other from a distance.

It wasn’t easy to get to Milton Nascimento’s chalet, hidden in Rio de Janeiro’s modern Barra de Tijuca neighborhood, a place where ocean and forest meet. The brilliant Rio de Janeiro autumn sun is setting, offering a marvelous view from the living room. And at the entrance to the living room, you can’t help but notice the words of St. Augustine: “As for me, I confess that it seems quite natural to give myself completely to my friends when I’m tired of the world’s scandals.”

Both men are of African descent, but everyone knows that Nascimento (Rio de Janeiro, 1942) and Gil (Salvador, Bahia, 1942) are on the opposite ends of the spectrum in their personalities and cultural roots; Gil, sunny and exuberant, like Bahia. And Nascimento, reserved and shy, deep and subterranean, like his native Minas Gerais, a land rich in gold, diamonds, and the baroque.

Why did they decide to come together in this joint musical adventure? “I had already worked with thousands of artists from Brazil and elsewhere. So why not with Gil—someone I had always admired so?” Nascimento responds. “One day, we were both returning from Bahia to Rio and found ourselves on the same airplane. It was a meeting of souls.

“While we talked enthusiastically, we flew over a city magnificently lit up by the sunset: It was Belo Horizonte. And the magical triangle came together: Bahia, Minas, Rio. It was symbolic. I found out then that Gil had once composed a song in my honor without my knowing. He wasn’t even sure he still had it. Back in Rio, the phone rang and it was Gil, to tell me he had found the song. It was then that my idea to do something together was sparked.”

Gil asked him to come to Bahia. “I had my doubts,” Nascimento comments, laughing, “since Bahia is a place for resting, not for working.” But they worked together intensely for three weeks and created the new CD. You’d think it might have been difficult to agree on the selection of music they would both sign their names to. But Nascimento says that wasn’t the case: “We worked together in complete harmony, and the results emerged without a hitch.”

They began with Gil’s song “Bom Dia,” which had never been recorded, and then “Canção do Sal.” A mutual friend, Carlos Pitta, gave them the idea to trace a path between Minas and Bahia with the music. And that’s how “Ponta de Areia” and “Palco” came to be. Their friend reminded them that both had started out as children playing the accordion. And they created “Duas Sanfonas.” Then Gil composed a piece about a storm, and he asked Nascimento to compose the second part, and thus “Trovoada” was created. And that’s how the CD, including five songs never before recorded, took shape.

Is there a musical difference between Gil and Nascimento? “I discovered there isn’t. Just like there isn’t between us and Chico [Buarque] or [Caetano] Veloso. We may all seem different, but we’re not. What we all are is: Brazil.”

But the Brazil-ness of the great singers and composers of this country has not prevented their music from being completely universal. “I’m convinced,” Nascimento reflects, “that when music, or any work of art, is born from the most human roots of an artist, it ends up being understood and loved by everyone, because it responds to what everyone feels inside.”

As a good Brazilian, Nascimento does not hide his religious roots and says that all genuine music is sacred. “There came a time—I’d been educated in Catholicism and I realized it wasn’t enough—when I wanted a broader religiousness.” And he adds: “In Brazil we don’t have preconceptions of religion, or of anything else. I told Gil I wanted to do a song about St. Sebastian, my city’s patron saint, and the CD opens with that song.” Of the strongly religious and sensual accent of Brazilian music, Nascimento says: “The sacred element of music is fundamental....And the path of music is what leads me home.”

Will creative Brazilian music end with these musical giants, or are there new generations ready to take their place? “For the love of God,” says Nascimento, knocking on the wood of the sofa, “of course there are—and brilliant ones.” And he talks about directing a radio program in Minas, when young anonymous musicians sent him their compositions, surprising him with their richness and originality.

How can it be that great Brazilian singers also tend to be great poets who contradict the current trend that only pessimism is creative? Music is poetry, Nascimento says, just as true poetry is music. And as to whether only pessimism is capable of creating art, he replies emphatically: “If someday I lose my faith in humanity...I won’t be able to compose music anymore, I’ll disappear.”

This gentle, shy, and dearly loved Brazilian singer was once given the highest praise: “If God could sing, he would do it with the voice of Milton Nascimento.” I ask him what music God would choose to sing in this world of globalization and widespread social injustice.

“All music that translates feelings with sincerity is a daughter to God,” he says when the sun has disappeared and the dark night has fallen like a curtain over his house, protected at the entrance with a niche illuminated by the Virgin of Miracles. His mother said about him before she died: “You filled my days with beauty and with reasons to live.”


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