Length & Time: Gilberto Gil

I will be writing a column on Length & Time in music, in each presenting an album and its strategies that pertain to addressing Length & Time. 

Perhaps Time & Length would be a clearer moniker to use in order to articulate the relationship between the time that we are living and not only the length of the songs that we listen to but the strategy used by musicians to make the most out of length to both express the times that are being lived or express themselves to those who are living specific times.

How does one communicate ‘I’m crazy about you,’ to an international audience, in one album, in 1987, as Gilberto Gil does with the album Soy Loco Por Ti America

The immediate times that hosted the album’s release was a time of radio and of euphoria and so all of the songs are less than 5 minutes; its the best way to invite everyone to the party. Gil, however, was a political artist and first and foremost intended to affect his listeners positively and politically through his songs. How does he pull off his gamble?

Gilberto Gil - Soy Loco Por Ti
Gilberto Gil – Soy Loco Por Ti

He is not playing religious music; he does not have the time to express some sort of complex epic that all will feel faith in. Never forgetting to achieve compositional beauty, he uses keywords and emotion, such as melancholy and the word ‘Marti’ (from Jose Marti) in the song “Soy Loco Por Ti America,” speaking in language that the world knows through mass media. In other words, he explores the world that is obvious and that we all know, despite, for example, the size of America in “Soy Loco Por Ti America.” It’s an album of 8 songs, and many of the titles make us blush: “Mamma,” “Vida,” which even a non-speaker of Portuguese can guess means mother and life.

Gil here is genius at conveying emotion and it is the genius of this album. It’s as if we are listening to what we are also “crazy about” as we listen to Soy Loco Por Ti. There is a certain amount of ambiguity heard that comes with interpreting sound – what the sound expresses is quite simply the instrument’s notes. Does one note specifically correspond to one emotion? Civilizations have their notions of what each note should correspond to, but as we know music grows like weeds and is pretty good at getting out of control. Not to mention that Brazil is a melting pot like no other wherein ethnic groups often retain the sounds of their pasts in their Brazilian presents. However, many of us are socialized pretty similarly, work, television, radio, and Gil succeeds at playing us language that we may all fall into such as lush and lyric repetition which can only really mean joy at this point in human time for “Aquele Abraco,” or playing us Reggae, letting his songs signify whatever Reggae may mean to our time (justice, freedom,) on most of the other songs.

Is he being honest? Even if he is being honest, he would have to adapt his honesty to the times through strategy.

Author: Adolf Alzuphar


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