Music review

Rhythm Foundation celebrates 25 years with masterful Gilberto Gil performance

The Rhythm Foundation celebrated a quarter century of bringing the world’s music to Miami with a really good party and great music from renowned Brazilian artist Gilberto Gil.

Music lovers, many wearing white in a nod to the Afro-Brazilian traditions of Gil’s native Bahia, filled the New World Symphony’s New World Center in Miami Beach Sunday night. The champagne and pristine surroundings were unusual for the Rhythm Foundation, but the happy sense of fellowship was typical for an organization that has thrived by bringing music from the Americas, Africa, Europe and beyond to Miami.

“They’ve created a venue where a lot of diverse people can come together and enjoy their common roots through music,” said Polita Glynn, who has been attending the group’s shows for more than 20 years. “It’s great to see an organization with a legacy like that for the city because not a lot of groups survive this long.”

Gil, whom the Rhythm Foundation has presented five times since 1988, was an ideal artist for the occasion. Utterly confident and invested in his music, the white-haired, 70-year-old singer and composer took the stage in a white hoodie, jeans and sneakers, flashing a youthful smile. “He has absolutely no hubris,” one woman marveled.

The clear, warm acoustics of New World’s main concert hall illuminated the subtle, intricate counterpoint and harmony of Gil’s acoustic guitar, his birdlike hoots, husky growls and other idiosyncratic vocalizing and the sweet melodies of a 16-song set that ranged through his 45-plus year career.

He went all the way back to 1967’s Domingo no Parque, a landmark composition for the Tropicalia movement Gil helped found, and to Baba Alapala, a salute to the Afro-Brazilian Candomble religion with a lovely, plaintive refrain and a liltingly syncopated rhythm.

The audience often sighed in recognition, singing happily along on the chorus (and sounding pretty good) on Gil’s and other Brazilian standards. They hooted and applauded for Chiclete Com Banana (Chewing Gum with Bananas), a deceptively light-hearted samba that lampoons arrogant U.S. attitudes toward Latin America. When Gil sang Bob Marley’s beloved Three Little Birds, the audience turned the classical concert hall into a Caribbean campfire sing-along.

Gil’s voice was low and husky, speaking as much as singing the lyrics at times. But the depth of his feeling and understanding for the music made him more powerful than a stage full of bellowing pop singers.

“Most love songs come from a cloud — they just download — romantic love, tragic love, dirty love,” he said as he introduced Flora. “But for some artists the love songs come from deep inside, like this one of mine.” He could have been talking about his feelings for a woman or for music.

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