Culture for the Masses

Article excerpt

In the 1970s, Brazilian composer and musician Gilberto Gil helped invent tropicalismo, an irreverent style of pop music that drew on samba, bossa nova and American rock and roll. The Brazilian military thought it was subversive, and the left said it was too "Americanized"- -a sure sign that Gil and his fellow bards had hit on something big. Now Brazil's new leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has named Gil minister of Culture. The appointment drew criticism from the left and the cultural establishment. On the eve of his trip to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, Gil spoke to NEWSWEEK's Mac Margolis about politics, music and ectoplasm. Excerpts:

MARGOLIS: What will be your message for Davos?

GIL: It's an economic and social forum, but with many interfaces between the economy, culture, the environment and social organizations. We want to express the importance of culture--literature, music, cinema--in international relations. We also want to talk about the Brazilian spirit: the cordiality, the peaceful nature of Brazilian people.

What is the cultural significance of Lula's landslide election?

This is Brazilian political culture rising from the bottom to the top. Lula also personifies this national spirit of solidarity, a people committed to pluralism, a mixture of races and customs, with a pacifist outlook on the world. [Andre] Malraux said the 21st century will be the century of spirituality or else it will be nothing. This is what Brazil and Lula represent.

Was the Workers Party's move toward moderate politics a factor in your decision to join the government?

It was important, because I basically favor the middle way, of dialogue amid extremes, of sitting down at the table and keeping away from the more radical positions. What I think is important now is social radicalism, addressing the deeper question of how to reach those excluded from society's benefits. This is a kind of democratic socialism, without discrimination or totalitarianism.

How will you promote social radicalism, as minister of Culture?

By maintaining policies that benefit the less-privileged classes. The elites also have a role to play... but we must preferentially attend to the so-called popular segments of society, so that culture may flourish again from the bottom up.

But so much of Brazilian culture already flourishes from the poorest regions. …