Gal Costa, legend of Brazilian music, dies

Leader of tropicalism in the 60s together with Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian singer Gal Costa has just died at the age of 77.

Singer Gal Costa, Brazilian music legend with a crystal clear voice and muse of tropicalism, died Wednesday at the age of 77, her press officer told AFP.

“Unfortunately we confirm this information,” said Gabriela Carvalhão, without specifying the causes of death.

Gal Costa had to cancel a concert at São Paulo’s Primavera Sound festival last weekend after undergoing surgery in September to remove a lump from her nasal cavity.

“One of the greatest singers in the world”

She was one of the leading figures of tropicalism in the late 1960s, along with other legendary singers such as Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.

“I am very moved and saddened by the disappearance of my sister Gal Costa,” tweeted Gilberto Gil, 80.

“Gal Costa was one of the greatest singers in the world, one of the leading artists who brought the name and sound of Brazil all over the world (…) Our country is losing one of its great voices”, he reacted the president elected Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Instagram.

Devastating smile

With his abundant brown hair and devastating smile, he has given a special charm to the songs of his friend Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento and many other composers, throughout his career.

Gal Costa has entered the legend of Brazilian folk music with her interpretations of “Baby”, “Chuva de prata” or “Divino maravilhoso”, and about thirty recorded records.

“Gal came from Bahia, like me, to try to become a professional singer. She never wanted to do anything else,” says Caetano Veloso in her book “Verdade Tropical” (Tropical Truth).

It was in duet with him that Gal Costa released his first record, “Domingo”, in 1967.

The following year he took part in the collective album that would revolutionize Brazilian music: Tropicalia or Panis and Circensisthe starting point of tropicalism, which supports the cultural openness and universality of music.

With Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé and the Os Mutantes group, he sang in several titles of this iconic counterculture record that mixed samba, bossa nova, jazz and psychedelic rock.

In 1969 Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil had to go into exile in London after being arrested by the military regime.

Intuitive and self-taught

Gal Costa assured that she was never interrogated during the dictatorship (1964-1985), even though the cover of her album “India” (1973), which portrays her topless, has been censored.

Born in Salvador on September 26, 1945, with the name of Maria da Graça Costa Penna Burgos, she would have seen her vocation for singing born while she was still in the womb …

Pregnant, Mariah Costa Penna, nicknamed “Dedé”, put a small transistor on her belly so that her daughter absorbed the music.

“My daughter, you will be a great singer,” said, according to Tom Zé, her neighbor during her childhood.

“When she came out of that womb, she came with that predestined voice,” he added.

Intuitive and self-taught, Gal Costa has never taken singing lessons. His biggest influence: Joao Gilberto, the father of Bossa Nova who passed away in 2019, also from Bahia.

One day, after an impromptu audition, he told her: “you are the greatest singer in Brazil”.

Muse of tropicalism

With her soft, high-pitched voice, she became the muse of tropicalism.

She has even been compared to Janis Joplin for her rebellious sensuality in the midst of a dictatorship.

Her presence on stage, her colorful and sometimes provocative outfits, her afro cut in the 70s, made her a sex symbol, far from the image of the shy teenager of her debut.

After tropicalism, Gal Costa did not hesitate to change register, from the interpretation of the classic carnival samba to rock, soul, disco, not to mention the titles of “telenovelas”.

During the coronavirus pandemic, he celebrated his 75th birthday with a concert broadcast live on Youtube.

Winner of a Latin Grammy in 2011, Gal Costa has always been committed, particularly to the feminist cause, although she has remained discreet about her political beliefs.

This hasn’t stopped her from strongly criticizing the cultural policy of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

She managed to keep her private life out of the spotlight, but surprised her fans in 2021 by posting a photo of her adopted son Gabriel on social media on his 16th birthday.

The singer then revealed that she could not be pregnant, but she decided to adopt in 2007, at the age of 60: “He gave me so much life, I am rejuvenated thanks to him”.

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