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Brazil's Gilberto Gil, minister of cool

Brazilian Culture Minister Gilberto Gil
Brazilian Culture Minister Gilberto Gil

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Gilberto Gil

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) -- Not many government ministers wear their hair in dreadlocks but not many are also world-renowned music stars like Brazil's Gilberto Gil, who will be lauded at the Latin Grammy awards show on Wednesday.

Gil, culture minister in the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, says he sees both roles as part of a single project.

"There is no double-shift in my life," he told Reuters in an interview.

The 61-year-old artist, who hails from the state of Bahia, will be honored as Man of the Year at the Latin Grammy ceremony in Miami.

He is also in the running for his third Grammy for his 41st album "Kaya N'Gan Daya - Ao Vivo," a collection of songs written by late reggae king Bob Marley.

The Man of the Year award pays tribute to Gil's contribution to culture and music, which he has made a mission in this developing country full of social contrasts.

"Popular music represents the strength of the spirit and the expression of a nation. It has become an important institution to the people of Brazil," Gil said.

In his eight months in the Cabinet, he has traveled to many cities in Brazil's interior trying to bring their own music and art to a wider audience.

Gil was already one of the best-known cultural figures in this nation of 170 million people and has a substantial international following.

He started his career as a businessman, becoming a manager at the consumer products giant Gessy Lever in Sao Paulo. But the music played louder in his heart.

Considered a radical

By 1968, he had helped found Tropicalia, the musical movement that followed Bossa Nova, with singers Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and others. Wearing psychedelic clothes and mixing Brazilian rhythms with Anglo-American sounds, he and Veloso were considered radicals.

The two were imprisoned by the military government and then sent into exile in London in 1969.

Returning to Brazil and his beloved Bahia in 1972, he devoted his career to music and environmental activism.

His only political affiliation has been with the Green Party and he also founded ONG Onda Azul, a nongovernmental organization that fights for the preservation of water resources.

When Gil became minister, many critics said he would be unable to deal with the complexities of the job. Others said his intention to keep performing on weekends was not fitting for a political figure.

He saw no contradiction between the two jobs, he said, describing a recent encounter.

"The other day I was walking with the guitar at my back and a man came and said 'look at your pen,' pointing to the guitar," he said.

The man said the guitar was "the pen" with which Gil wrote his most important documents.

As minister, Gil wants to increase Brazil's film output to 100 from 30 movies a year.

He also wants to reform laws for financing cultural activities, promoting creation of a lottery similar to Britain's. Proceeds of the British lottery are pumped back into the nation's cultural life.

"Brazil was, is, and will be in fashion," he said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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