Remixers of the world, here’s a tip, go to culturalliure.org/musica_lliure.php and download Gilberto Gil’s Brazilian carnival hit “Oslodum.” Splice and dice pretty much to your hearts’ content – as long as you give due credit, don’t resell it or give anyone else permission to sell what you’ve turned it into. The explanation of why Gil is doing this requires a little background.
Gil is – and has been since the 1960s – one of Brazil’s leading musicians. To describe an American counterpart, you might conjure up some admixture of Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, and you still wouldn’t have quite it. While America was being unhinged by post-Beatles rock, Brazil was being shaken in a more fundamental way by the tropicalismo movement, in which Gil and his sometimes-collaborator Caetano Veloso were the most visible leaders. Rock threatened America far more culturally than politically (not to dismiss exceptions, such as the FBI’s obsession with John Lennon), but in the military dictatorship of Brazil, a youth movement with a beat (and slogans such as “It is prohibited to prohibit”) was a more serious threat. Gil and Veloso were ultimately arrested in 1969 and sent into exile – cooling their heels in England for a couple years until the climate cooled down enough for them to return.
Back in Brazil in 1972, Gil continued to push barriers with his music. He was part of the movement among Brazilians of African descent in re-examining both their roots and their political situation. He traveled to Africa, encountering such musicians as the Nigerian heavyweight Fela Kuti. He brought reggae to Brazil, collaborating with Jimmy Cliff on a version of the Bob Marley hit, “No Woman, No Cry.”
Not content merely making socially conscious music with political implications and overtones, Gil crossed the line to direct political engagement in the late 1980s, while continuing to make music. He was elected to the city council in Bahia, giving particular attention during his tenure to environmental issues. He was later named a goodwill ambassador for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
These posts prepared Gil for his most important political post. When the leftist Luiz Inacio da Silva became president in 2003, Gil was tapped to become the minister of culture. Which is getting us back to the download business.
Along with more predictable ways of championing Brazilian culture – increasing funding, for example – Gil has struck an alliance with the U.S.-based Creative Commons organization, which is working to revamp some of our fundamental ideas about copyright in the era of the World Wide Web (which allows the transmission of work worldwide) and computers (which allow for copying, editing, splicing, dicing and recombining).
The basic idea of a copyright stamp is “all rights reserved.” But what if we loosened up a little and said just some rights would be reserved to the owner? What would be possible? That’s what Stanford law prof Lawrence Lessig and his allies in Creative Commons want to explore.
Gil, in a speech a few years back said:
"When I learned what Lawrence Lessig and his gang, the Creative Commons team, were proposing to me, I understood it all, including what for many other musicians and artists (and particularly their managers and the companies for which they work), in their zeal to erect increasingly unsurpassable barriers of copyright around their creations, might look like a threat or like the worst sort of subversion – and I couldn’t help grinning when I said: 'They – Lessig and his crowd – are trying to use us as a laboratory for things they’re not able to do in the First World
In that same speech at New York University, Gil also said:
"A global movement has risen up in affirmation of digital culture. This movement bears the banners of free software and digital inclusion, as well as the banner of the endless expansion of the circulation of information and creation, and it is the perfect model for a Latin American developmentalist cultural policy (other developments are possible) of the most anti-xenophobic, anti-authoritarian, anti-bureaucratising, anti-centralising and for this very reason profoundly democratic and transformative sort."
Not surprisingly, Gil offered up one of his own pieces to the Creative Commons licensing, the aforementioned “Oslodum,” which he described as as a piece:
whose lyrics celebrate and encourage the appropriation of Brazilian culture by all the world’s peoples, praising the beauty of an Afro-Brazilian Bahia street-carnival group that parades every year in on the streets of Oslo, on Mardi Gras, even when it snows."
A great song that's a great fit with the Creative Commons ethos. And well worth giving a listen even if you have no interest in appropriating it in your own creative process. At the same site, you can find other (apparently Brazilian) songs being offered under various Creative Commons rights agreements.
Why write about this just now? It just so happens that Gil will be in Ann Arbor on Tuesday and Wednesday (June 17-18). Tuesday night, he appears in a free event at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library (343 S. Fifth Avenue) at 7 p.m. to discuss digital music and cultural development. Jessica Litman, a U-M law prof and copyright specialist, Butzel Long attorney Christopher Taylor, also an intellectual property expert, and U-M's Mark Clague, an assistant professor of musicology, are also part of a panel along with Gil.
Yours truly will be introducing the panel and helming the discussion afterward. I’ve got some questions about how this Brazilian experiment has worked so far – and where it might lead. Depending on how things work, we may be able to take some questions from the audience as well.
Wednesday, Gil and his Broad Band perform at the Power Center, reaching an audience in the old-fashioned unmediated manner.
Mr. Gil: In A2 tonight and tomorrow....
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