Just before Luiz Inacio da Silva was elected president, Brazilian music star Gilberto Gil strutted onto a Copacabana beach concert stage dressed in the red and white colors of the Worker's Party. "I'v

Just before Luiz Inacio da Silva was elected president, Brazilian music star Gilberto Gil strutted onto a Copacabana beach concert stage dressed in the red and white colors of the Worker's Party. "I've been surfing on Lula's wave for a long time," Gil said, using the populist candidate's nickname, "and this time, we're going to surf until the shore."

Gil, the quintessential symbol of Brazilian pop music, will surf even further, becoming Brazil's cultural minister today (Jan. 2) after Silva's inauguration as president. Brazilians hope the singer and songwriter won't forget the lyrics of one his most popular songs, "Novidade," or "Novelty" in English.

"Oh, the world is so unequal," Gil sings in the 1986 song. "On the one side all this Carnival, on the other, total hunger."

Gil's appointment is seen as demonstration of Silva's closeness to Brazilian cultural roots and its large, poor black population. Before Gil, the only black appointed as a cabinet minister was soccer star Pele, by outgoing president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Some aren't convinced Gil is still in touch with the ideals of equality and social justice he espoused after bursting upon the Brazilian pop scene in the late 1960s. At the time, he helped create the rebellious "Tropicalismo" movement that advocated individual liberties, sex, and a permissive attitude toward drugs.

"Nothing against Gil, but everything is against this type of arrangement, where culture is treated as an ornament," Brazilian filmmaker Joao Batista de Andrade told the Rio newspaper O Globo.

Gil's mix of traditional Bossa Nova with rock'n'roll and reggae was a revolution for Brazilian music, and he has sold millions of records in his career. He has been criticized in the Brazilian media for grumbling that it could be difficult to support his lifestyle on the cultural minister's $2,500 monthly salary. But Gil has Silva's blessing to do concerts when he's not performing his ministerial duties. "I can work from Monday through Friday at the ministry and do shows on Saturday and Sunday," he told reporters.

Gil wants to increase tax breaks for companies who invest in cultural projects, boosting the relief from 4% to 6%. He has also said he may donate money from future performances to the cultural ministry because its budget is scheduled to shrink 25 percent in 2003.

The 60-year-old musician is no stranger to politics. After helping found Tropicalismo with other musicians resisting the dictatorship that ruled Brazil until 1985, Gil was jailed for several months in 1968 after he and his friend Caetano Veloso angered the right-wing regime with their music.

Gil went into exile in London in 1969, and stayed there until 1972. He became culture secretary in his hometown of Salvador in northeastern Brazil from 1987 to 1988, and was a city councilor from 1989 to 1992. He is also a prominent member of the Green Party that gained five seats in Brazil's Lower House elections in October and is allied to Silva's party.

In the 1990's, Gil also chaired the "Blue Wave" environmental education group that promotes the preservation of Brazil's rivers. Like Silva, Gil seems to have softened his radical views in recent years, trading them for ideas more reminiscent of European-style social democracy. He also took up yoga, intensely studied Zen Buddhism, and stopped drinking, smoking, and eating meat.

Some of his contemporary music draws heavily from traditional composers from the backlands of his home state Bahia, the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. Just last week, Gil showed up for a meeting of Silva's future Cabinet wearing the white T-shirt and white trousers favored by Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion he admires. Gil is scheduled to sing live in Brasilia after the inauguration, but he'll attend the ceremony in a suit.


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