President Jair Bolsonaro came under fire Sunday for a lukewarm response to the death of a Brazilian cultural icon, João Gilberto, one of the fathers of bossa nova music, which gained worldwide popularity in the 1960s.
Impassioned tributes to Gilberto rocketed around Brazilian media, social and conventional, following his death on Saturday. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, told reporters that Gilberto was “a known person. Condolences to the family, OK?”
Brazilian singer Leoni tweeted that Bolsonaro “doesn’t have a clue of the importance of sophistication of João Gilberto.”
Leftist lawmaker Marcelo Freixo tweeted, “Today we lost the true Brazilian legend,” a snippy allusion to the term Bolsonaro’s supporters use for the president.
Bolsonaro has had a rocky relationship with Brazil’s artistic community, and has said he plans to drastically reduce the budget for arts and culture grants, saying that public funding has been going “to the ‘famous’ people under the false argument that they’re incentivizing culture, but are just buying support.”
While Gilberto was a relatively un-political figure, a number of his colleagues in the bossa nova movement of the 1960s were openly hostile to the military dictatorship that took power in 1964 — a government that Bolsonaro has praised.
Elsewhere, the tone was largely of mourning and remembrance.
The front page of O Globo, one of the country’s leading dailies, read, “The last flicker of the old flame,” quoting lyrics from one of Gilberto’s songs. Fellow artist Caetano Veloso tweeted that “Gilberto was the greatest artist my soul ever encountered.”
Left-leaning former President Dilma Rousseff wrote in a statement on her website that Gilberto was, “an icon and symbol of a modern, loving, Brazil, full on swing and charm. He’s the face of the nation of bossa nova and samba, a symbol of the uniqueness of our people.”
With a dig at Bolsonaro, she added, “It’s a shame that this genius has left us the exact moment when Brazil is going through an institutional eclipse, dragging us all into an era of darkness shame in the eyes of the rest of the world.”
Gilberto’s lawyer, Gustavo Carvalho Miranda, told reporters that the artist died peacefully, with his wife by his side. He said Gilberto’s son, João Marcelo, will not be able to come to Brazil because he is renewing his visa in the United States and can’t leave the country. Gilberto’s daughter, Bebel, who is also a singer, was expected to arrive in Brazil on Sunday.
Gilberto’s funeral was scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Theater.