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Gil’s ‘Heat’ Ignites Dancing in the Aisles

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

World Festival ’99 could not have made a better choice than Gilberto Gil to close out the debut season of world music at the Hollywood Bowl. On Sunday, in a program titled “Tropical Heat,” the incomparable Brazilian singer-songwriter transformed the giant venue into a swarming den of wildly enthusiastic dancers. Dashing past security to rush down the aisles, crowds of young fans, their feet and bodies moving in rhythm, did their variations on the samba, cheering wildly at the close of the climactic final number.

And with good reason. Gil’s set was superb, the product of a master artist-entertainer in action. Working with a world-class eight-piece band, Gil--as he likes to do--offered a program unrestricted by time or place. He mixed the Beatles’ “Something” and Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” with such far-ranging tunes of his own as “Vamos Fugir,” “Raca Humana” and “Flora.” He featured his musicians in showcase numbers--notably bassist Arthur Maia in a solo that called up memories of Jaco Pastorius; and he dominated the stage with the ease of a musical wizard, often calling on the crowd to join him on the choruses. Like Caetano Veloso’s performance at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in July, it was the work of an already legendary artist still at the peak of his power.

The all-Portuguese-language show also presented Angola’s Waldemar Bastos, who lives in Portugal. Still little known in this country, he clearly deserves wider recognition. His set was a remarkable blending of styles, his burry, rich-toned voice floating over a rhythmic base that mixed elements of African, Brazilian and jazz rhythms.

Fantcha, the Cape Verdean singer who opened the show, is reportedly the protege of Cesaria Evora. But both her sound and her style were markedly different, even though she sang several pieces in the nostalgic morna style associated with Evora and Cape Verde. Although she performed stylishly, Fantcha still sounded like a singer in search of a unique musical identity.

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