Music has the quality to bind people, to build bridges between different cultures and to form the basis of individual identity formation. Musician and former politician Gilberto Gil (he was minister of culture under President Lula’s rule) travels the world to provide proof of this. In the documentary “Viramundo” he is followed on a tour that takes him across the southern hemisphere. Among other things, Gil participates in ancient rituals of the indigenous people of Australia; Aboriginals, visits victims of the apartheid regime in South Africa and sings with cultural minorities in his home country of Brazil. Music plays the role of overarching communication in this.
The fact that Gil succeeds in bringing different cultures together is made strikingly clear. In his conversations with the people around him and in the group compositions with which he makes music, all ethnicities, ages and (economic) minorities are represented. His status as a musician (he has won several Grammys) comes in handy. Moreover, the unbridled enthusiasm with which he approaches the world is very contagious. This creates a convincing color palette that succeeds in passing on its message: we are all there for each other. Gil himself emphasizes that people should not think in terms of differences, but all the more in similarities. Besides binding through music, Gil has another cause he is committed to: computer and information technology, especially the reach of these for the youth. In this way the musician and politician in him come together and his connecting mission is clearest.
Not every scene is as strong as the other. There are times when there is a lot of distance from the music towards the general hassle of minorities that flatten the nuance and conviction of those scenes. The subtitle of “Viramundo” is “A musical journey with Gilberto Gil”, but because engagement sometimes predominates, space is freed up for false emotions that do the film no good. And that is of course a shame, especially since the documentary is at its strongest when music takes center stage. In addition, “Viramundo” very faithfully follows the pattern of the standard music documentary: Every now and then a piece of music is played, alternated with an interview and that is intertwined by colorful mood shots. The form has been given a useful place in the shadow of the content, but as a result the (film) clichés quickly turn around the corner.
Overall, however, the rhetorical nature of “Viramundo” is powerful. And because the 71-year-old Gilbero Gil knows how to profile himself as a shining centerpiece, the documentary nevertheless provides a positive resonance. Ultimately, the only conclusion remains: Gil is a great musician.