In “I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Nash rejoices in the rain ending, the clouds parting. In “Asa Branca,” Gilberto Gil brings the boogie down party to a song that prays for the rain to return. Written in 1947 by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, this oft-covered Brazilian chestnut — and Gonzaga’s own versions are pretty uniformly great — is about two lovers separated by the economic conditions of the drought-ravaged region of Sertão, forcing the narrator to leave his beloved Rosinha to find work in the city, with a promise to return.
I love Gil’s work. Along with Tom Zé and Caetano Veloso, Gil was at the cutting edge of Brazilian music in the late 1960s and paid the political price, as did Zé and Veloso. The music he continues to create and perform is remarkable, and when I saw him live several years ago, even at age 70 he played two hours, electric guitar over his shoulder and wicked band behind him, to a rapt crowd he kept dancing in the aisles. He’s an ambassador without a badge, a teacher without a blackboard, and when he plays, he’s on fire. Along with Caetano’s first four or five records and the albums by Os Mutantes, Gil carved a path for singular Brazilian expression. By 2003 he had become such a hero that he was named Brazil’s Minister of Culture. Sure, “Minister of Culture” sounds Orwellian to me too, but if you’re going to have one, by all means make it Gil. Two hours. 70 years old.
Gil covered “Asa Branca” on his 2001 live album São João vivo, and it’s been a live staple for him ever since. This version is from the live tour supporting his album Fé na festa, the same tour we saw, and while some record company minion got the upload video quality wrong, the audio is fine and the performance jaw-dropping. So great.
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