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Music

Digital Culture and the Minister of Cool

Posted by Goran / February 18, 2008

Gilberto Gil.jpg
Photo from www.2space.net

Last week’s McGill Canadian Culture Conference came to an interesting climax as the Brazilian Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, delivered two sermons on digital media and culture. His speeches took place before packed houses: on Friday evening at the Hotel Omni Mont-Royal and Saturday morning at the Society for Arts and Technology.

His appearance and credentials give Gil a street cred unmatched by typical politicians. As a well-known Brazilian singer, songwriter and performer, he was an active member of a revolutionary movement called Tropicalismo. His activism forced him into exile long before providing him with his current status and the benefits of a cushy public office gig.

Many presumed that Gil was here to plug, and give a detailed breakdown of, his “Pontos de Cultura” (“Cultural Hot Spots”) project. This government initiative is providing poor and remote areas of Brazil with digital technologies, satellite Internet, and training that empowers the often overlooked, yet culturally potent, Brazilian communities with an outlet for sharing their vibrant culture with the world. Although Gil mentioned this progressive cultural policy, he was criticized by some for speaking in a highly political fashion so general that it bordered with vagueness and irrelevance.

Contrasting this criticism, the captivated audience showered him with the loudest and most heartfelt applause, reflecting a level of admiration unparalleled by most McGill guest speakers. Perhaps the public appreciated this refreshing minister who believes that the future of culture depends on empowering people to create and share, rather than heavily regulating cyberspace and over-protecting the intellectual property.

According to Gil, government policies should ensure access to information and knowledge while encouraging people to understand the concept of uploading before that of downloading; to understand the idea of copyleft before that of copyright. This new culture, platformed on Web 2.0 and digital media, will give us the chance to be creators of culture, and not merely its consumers. It sounds very romantic, but is it realistic?

Gil went as far as stating that music is a common good like air or language. However, in the same way that water is now a heavily regulated, bottled, and privately appropriated consumer good, music is often seen as an object of private, or intellectual, property. But is there a way of promoting the production of music and culture without copyright protection? Would people create in the absence of such laws?

Gil did not claim to have an answer to such complex problems. His aim was to bring a positive perspective on issues that currently cause many to worry. So he picked up his acoustic guitar and showed us just how cultured he is. His three song medley included a Brazilian bossa nova song in Portuguese, a witty and poppy song in French, and a night cap of Marley’s Three Little birds, reminding us not to, “worry about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright.”

Discussion

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