Gilberto Gil @ Royal Festival Hall – 21st July

By 26 July, 2010

Gil knows how it is. He likes to go to a concert and hear all the hits, the songs he’s always admired, always had admiration for. But, as he says halfway though this concert, sometimes you have to do something different. That’s why tonight at the Royal Festival Hall he’s devoting himself to forró (you can read our guide to forró here), an effervescently joyous music found in the Northeast of Brazil. It’s home is the vast sertão, a red-earthed cowboy territory as seen in films such as Central Station and Movies, Aspirin and Vultures. In it’s usual form it would be played by violin, accordion and a triangle in local dances. Tonight, it has been transformed by Gil to include electric guitar (by Sergio Chiavazzoli), bass, two percussionists (occasionally wielding the triangle) as well as the violin and accordion. The band has all the cascading rhythms and percussive power of Gil’s great albums from the late 60s/early 70s, and it’s after “Expresso 2222”, one of the songs from this era that the audience get slightly restless. They start to bellow out names of some more of his famous songs, but it’s all in vain as Gil is here with the sole intention of playing forró.

Considering his latest album Fé Na Festa is built around this style of music it should really come as no surprise, plus the fact that they’ve not come to mess around. There is a definite camaraderie between the band members as you see them size each other up throughout each song, challenging each other to syncopate that beat or to throw in a few unexpected notes for a bar or two. It’s no exaggeration to say that the best song of the night is an instrumental piece occurring halfway through the set, where each band member gets the chance to show their chops without once there ever being a feeling of milking-it, it’s a song that builds and builds, and I wish I knew it’s title, but then I don’t think any recorded version would ever live up to seeing it live. If there was a comparison to be made for this song it would be with one of Warsaw Village Band’s finest. Unfortunately the band probably peaked too early as there is a lull about two-thirds of the way through the set, before the encore arrives, Gil throws in a few extra of his smooth linguini-esque dance moves and the whole thing ends on “Asa Branca”, a song originally performed by Luiz Gonzaga, one of the legends of forró music. I think even those who heckled halfway though would have struggled to have been converted by the end of concert, and at the very least they should now be aware of the sheer, infectiousness of forró as well as some of its greats; Luiz Gonzaga (mentioned above) and Dominguinhos, whose “Lamento Sertanejo” Gil performed. It actually felt refreshing for one of the Brazilian greats who have been performing in London all summer to actually offer something so different and fresh, and I have to say, personally, I loved every minute of it.

Gilberto Gil’s albums are available to buy at Amazon and iTunes

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