ADVENTURES IN AFROPEA 3: TELLING STORIES TO THE SEA
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The folks who brought you Brazil, the Portuguese, were the Renaissance envelope pushers — extreme explorer / traders like the Polynesians and Phoenicians of earlier times. They were also hard-nosed colonists who didn’t limit themselves to South American real estate. Portugal’s African territories once hung like a pendant on a colonial necklace stretching from Rio to India. Today, the Afro-Portuguese music that remains tells a story as complex and faceted. It is a music born of colonization and of slavery, a simultaneous speech of homesick sighs and lusty exuberance for life.

The Portuguese were among the first to arrive and the last to yield to independence in Africa. A rare military coup in Europe (in 1974) ended the colonial regime and brought a belated liberation to the African territories. Music played a crucial role in the peoples’ struggles for self-determination and continues to serve as trans-cultural catharsis.

The first chapter in the tale of Afro-Portuguese music takes us to Cape Verde. These nine inhabited islands due west of Senegal are the cultural and shipping crossroads between the North and South Atlantic. Their name has been made a mockery by drought and wind. But music has thrived here, in an abundance that has spilled over to a “tenth island” of emigres to America, Europe and Africa and a truly trans-national music scene has emerged.

Cape Verde, initially settled by the Portuguese for re-supplying ships servicing their far-flung empire, also functioned as an off-shore base for the slave trade. On this arid way station, Portuguese and Africans created the world’s first creole society, a rich intermingling of languages, traditions, and music. The resulting musical forms include the coladeira; the morna (the national song form, minor-keyed and evocative of fado, tango and classic blues. The name is said to come from the American description “moaner”); and the funana (a double-time quick step, most common on Santiago Island, played originally on accordion and scraper). Electrified, funana was the soundtrack to the independence movement in the early 70’s. Each of these forms have evolved around African and European influences, creating a multi-cultural melange of sound and rhythm. As with diamonds, oil, coffee, and other “essentials” which have fueled the carnage, Angola has been a mother lode in the history of African musical/ceremonial diaspora—a major feeder into Cuba, Brazil and all the carnival scenes (New Orleans included). Whether it’s those chunky “Luanda merengue” dance tracks or the sublime, burbling kickback of Bonga, Angola’s sounds have a fascinating appeal. In a sense, this music is not only another link between Africa and Europe, but a connector in the crescent of sounds from the west, center and south of Afro-pop.

The Afro-Portuguese story would be incomplete without São Tomé and Principe. These islands of the coast of Central Africa were also way-stations in the slave trade, but, unlike Cape Verde, their lush interior has made them plantation islands devoted principally to cocoa. Two local acquaintances (a Portuguese/Angolan emigre and a Cape Verdean/American jazz musician) separately said the same thing, months apart, as they mused over some Afro-Porto tunes: “This music sounds funny sometimes; but it sure smells good.” Smells? Carlos explained, “Like Manchupa (AKA Cape Verdean succotash), mwamba (palm nut stew), parties down by the docks”… Marcos was more cryptic as he sucked on a Sagres beer. “Memories,” he grunted, “like radar down in my gut.” Daniel L. Kahn

Some notes on the artists:

Bonga

Bonga

Since the 70’s, the Angolan ambassador to the African music world has been Bonga (Barceló de Carvalho), who was born in Kipiri, a small town north of Luanda. “Mona Ki Ngi Xiça,” sung in Kimbundu, comes from Bonga’s first album, released in 1972. The record’s subversive lyrics earned a warrant for Bonga’s arrest, and he traveled back and forth continually between Belgium, Germany and France until Angola’s independence was declared in 1975. Although he lives and records in Portugal, his repertoire embraces all of Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Like other African pop, Angolan music continues to absorb and assimilate outside influences, especially French Caribbean zouk and rock. Vum Vum lives in Germany and is of the new generation of Angolan performers. “Salalé,” translated as “White Ant,” is based on Angolan folklore: an insect that comes out after a heavy rainfall, flies briefly, and then falls back to earth.

Césaria Évora

Césaria Évora

Fifty-four-year-old singer Césaria Évora’s popularity (her record is top ten in France!) has put Cape Verdean culture in the spotlight, and taken its music to the world stage. In Césaria’s hands, the morna has returned to its acoustic roots. Morna has been a vehicle for the island’s greatest poets and “Sodade” may be the most famous morna of all. Césaria’s other song, “Bia Lulucha” is a coladeira. Its name is said to come from cola — “glue” in Portuguese — because the couples dancing look like they’re stuck together.

André Mingas’ “N’Zambi” arrangement bears strong traces of Cuban salsa, especially in the opening trumpet solo. Since the 50’s, Cuban music has been a catalyst in the emergence of modern African dance music, especially in Zaire, Angola’s neighbor, where rumba was an important ingredient in soukous. Cuban influences in Angola didn’t come merely from imported records and touring bands. There were thousands of Cuban troops on the ground, called in by the Marxist MPLA movement to fight on their side. Jam sessions between Cuban troops on rumba drums and Angolans playing ngomas brought Afro-Cuban culture back home.

The best known guitar band from São Tomé is Africa Negra. Heavily influenced by nearby Congo music, “Bô Legá Caçô Modê Bô” is a juke-joint style tune that sounds like it could go on for hours. It is sung in forro, the creole language of São Tomé.

Waldemar Bastos is a rising star of Angolan music. Born in the northern Angolan city of M’Banza Congo, he was raised in the regions of Huambo, Cabinda and Luanda, all of which have served as sources for the rhythms and themes of his songs. In l986, Bastos recorded his first LP in Brazil, with guest singers Chico Buarque, Martinho da Vila and João do Vale. The song “N Gana” is the name of an old lady, a grandmotherly presence, who watches over Luanda’s Caputo neighborhood, on the boundary between city and suburb. As in many Angolan songs, the melody seems to float above the interlocking guitar parts and percussion. You might think that the merengue-flavored “Tulipa Negra,” by the Lisbon-based Cape Verdean band of the same name, arrived in Cape Verde from the Caribbean. But its pathway is more complicated than that. It came to the islands from Angola, where the merengue seems to have taken hold more strongly than anywhere else in Africa. Tulipa Negra’s style comes partly from Angolan guitar bands of the early 70’s when merengue influences were very strong. “Amor Divino,” with its trumpet shakes and Spanish lyrics, represents yet another thread in Cape Verdean music. The late 60’s and early 70’s saw the arrival of electric instruments and Latin American influences, including cumbias and other rhythms from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. “Amor Divino” also features two of the leading figures in Cape Verdean music, Bana and Paulino Vieira. Revered as a founder of Cape Verdean pop, Bana now lives in Lisbon. Paulino Vieira, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, has arranged and recorded with many Cape Verdean stars, and has produced some of Césaria’s biggest hits.

“Rosinha,” played by the Netherlands-based group Livity, is a modernized coladeira heavily influenced by French Caribbean zouk. It rules Cape Verdean dance floors from Rhode Island to Praia. The most topical of Cape Verde’s styles is funaná (the theme is often of local people and events), represented here on 2 cuts: “Luís di Kandinha”, by Pedro Ramos, and “Vizinha Ka Bale” by his girlfriend, Jacinta Sanches. Both singers sing in “deep” kriolu, the dialect farthest from standard Portuguese. The lyrics include proverbs drawn from the oral traditions of their island, Santiago. Dany Silva is a Lisbon-based singer, bassist and producer strongly influenced by blues and rock. His “Mamã África” has a contemporary musical setting, but the lyrical message is as old as Cape Verde itself.

1. Mona Ki Ngi Xiça (The Child I’m Leaving Behind) – Bonga

From the album angola ’72 written by Barceló de Carvalho “Bonga”

Attention! I’m in mortal danger And I’ve already
warned you She will stay here and I will go away ;
This child of mine Evil people are after her
This child of mine On a tide of misfortune ;
God gave me this offspring That I brought into the
world And she will stay here When I am gone

2. Salalé (White Ant) – Vum Vum

From the album Salalé written by Vum Vum

Oh Salalé my home My true bosom friend Only you really know The suffering in this life of mine Salalé, I beg you When I die one day Cry for my misfortune
beneath my roof Don’t take me to the church Salalé! Salalé! Salalé, oh my star!
You’re my mother who bore me My deep peace and my refuge, In a world that is still mine Salalé, I wish that life were a dream, And that my mother would give birth dreaming And would suffer no more Salalé, my wife, Twin child of Mother Nature say and night, every day With patience and pain we were raised Salalé, we thought that our land was ours But she became the daughter of strangers Salalé, oh my God, where are you hiding? When I was still a child We were always waiting for you Salalé, we keep on waiting Day after day Come back tomorrow We’re tired of waiting THIS IS ALL WE WANT

3. Sodade (Homesick) – Césaria Évora

from the album Miss Perfumado

Who leads you on
This long journey
Who led you on this long journey
This road leads
To São Tome

If you write me
then I’ll write you
If you forget me
Then I’ll forget you

Homesick, homesick,
Homesick
For my home island, São Nicolau
until the day you return

4. N’Zambi (God) – André Mingas

From the album Coisas Da Vida Written by Liceu Vieira Dias

N’Zambi
God
My God draw nearer to me
Oh! My God
The day that you arrive
You shall praise me
My God
Oh God of truth!
The truth of the world
The truth of hunger
The truth of misery
and of the nakedness of slavery
Oh! My God
You shall praise me
You shall praise me

5. Bô Legá Caçô Modê Bô (You Let the Dog Bite You) – África Negra

From the album Conjunto África Negra do São Tomí

You let yourself be bitten by the dog
And it’s only now that you’re learning
Oh, Mama oh Mama
We had warned you not to go into the ocean
without first observing the waves
You let the dog bite you
And only afterwards did you tie it up
Oh Mama, oh Mama
Although we taught you
That it is essential to know
The ground on which you walk

6. N Gana (Regal Presence) – Waldemar Bastos

from the album Angola Minha Namorada

I can still remember
you sitting there in the early morning
In the Caputo district*
Behind the Ngola movie theater
In your printed fabric dress
lost in your thoughts, your burdens
Oh, your hair turned white
From those roads you travelled
My lady, N Gana N Gana My Lady
When you click your tongue there is innocence
in your eyes there’s tenderness
your pampering, like a child’s
An Angolan Pastry,
our chocolate
N Gana, My Lady

For those who go to work in the morning
She offers a smile and some comfort
Out comes a cup of Quitoto**
And a bit of kola and ginger
N Gana, My Lady
That’s why I sing to you
in my songs, my poems, my paintings
I’ve sculpted your essence on my body,
My essence, My Lady

To turn weakness into strength
and sadness into joy
That’s the purity of your magic
My lady N Ganga, N Gana, My Lady
Strength, Strength

*an area between city and suburb in Luanda
** a traditional drink

7. Bia Lulucha (Lulucha’s Daughter) – Césaria Évora

From the album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus

Giri, Lulucha’s daughter

Wake up and see

Your sweetheart departing

He’s leaving, leaving, leaving,

For Fogo and Brava Passing by Mindelo*

And he keeps on crying “Bia, you are my spirit

You are my loss

You are my sweetheart.”

He’s leaving, leaving, leaving…

*on the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde

8. Tulipa Negra (Black Tulip) – Tulipa Negra

Instrumental, From the album Joaninha Namorada Written by Sérgio Borbosa

9. Amor Divino (Divine Love) – Bana and Paulino Vieira

From the album Mascrinha 

Voz de Cabo Verde Divine love,

come look for me I’m lost,

and you’re sweet as honey Divine love,

why must it be that my heart is weeping?

Divine love, why must I be lost in solitude?

10. Luís di Kandinha (Luís, Kandinha’s son) – Pedro Ramos

from the album Jacinta é Mamã

Lé, lé, lé, lé
Luís, Kandinha’s son
From Bom (Tchon Bon) di Kongi*
at Kolomatu**
In Tarrafal***
Ió, Kandinha’s son
Give Luís some good advice
Bronhu, Kandinha’s son
Give Luís some good advice
Luís, Kandinha’s son
Better have that girl alone
Luís, that girl’s not a virgin
Bedrinhu, Ana’s son
is the one who
deflowered that girl
lé lé lé
Padrinhu, Ana’s son
is in jail
because of his big mouth
A fish will die
because of its big mouth
Two years in prison in Beizidiu
In Txon Bon di Kangi
In Tarrafal
Luís, Kandinha’s son
Txon Bon di Kangi
in Tarrafal
at Kaolonatu
Bronhu, Kandinha’s son
give Luís some good advice
He’s in jail
because of his big mouth
A fish will die
because of its mouth
Two years in prison
In Tarrafal
in Prizidiu
Olé lé lé lé….

Luís, Kandinha’s son
Olé lé lé..
Branhu, kandinha’s son
Olé lé lé
To, Kandinha’s son
Olé, olé.. He’s someone’s child
Olé, olé
Luís, Kandinha’s son

*Location of the Prizidiu Prison
** A neighborhood in Tarrafal
*** A town on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde

11. Vizinha Ka Bale (My Neighbor’s No Good) – Jacinta Sanches

From the album Jacinta é Mamã

I used to live in Buraca*
next to a neighbor who’s not worthy
my neighbor was no good
She knows who she is
I fought with her
She invoked evil
upon my daughter
She donkey’s curse wouldn’t take
On the contrary
It will fall back on her
She says that she’ll go
to Guinea-Bissau
That she’ll do witchcraft to kill me.
And even if she doesn’t kill me
she will make my life miserable (forever)
Neighbor, you, you are not worthy
O! O! O! Neighbor
You, you are not worthy
Buraca’s neighbor
You, you’re not worthy
You, you’re no good
O!O!O! neighbor
You, You’re no good

12. Mamã África (Mother Africa) – Dany Silva

From the album Sodadi Funaná

Your blood has been spilled
Across five continents
And your children were shipwrecked
In foreign lands, among foreign peoples
From the depths your cries
Tell stories to the sea
Of old wounds, scars
With the sound of drums calling.

Mother Africa, Mother Africa,
come hold me in your arms
Come tell me who I am

Your tears are rivers
That flow from your body
And the future is a challenge
I bet you will overcome
It is with this song that I will find
My way back
It’s the voice of my greeting
To the brothers I don’t yet know

Videos


 


Mona Ki Ngi Xica, by Bonga


Bia Lulucha, by Césaria Évora


Sodade, by Césaria Évora

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