My father is from Cape Verde and has many funaná records, and when I started to play music I realized that this music had stayed in my veins. In 1997 I was asked if I wanted to play bass on a new album, which became Bitori Nha Bibinha, with a talented and well-known accordion player from Cape Verde named Victor Tavares, who’s the bandleader of the group Bitori. After the album, we all went on and did different things—until last year, when Samy [Ben Redjeb of the label Analog Africa] called me. He couldn’t understand why people hadn’t picked up on the LP and wanted to try to get us all together again to record Legend Of Funaná, Forbidden Music of Cape Verde.
Although funaná is considered one of the many Cape Verdean styles of music, it’s specifically from the island of Santiago. It comes from the times of slavery, when Portuguese colonizers ran everything and slaves only got to express themselves late at night. Funaná was a relief for the slaves, who could play all night to forget everything and release their pain, but it wasn’t allowed to be performed in public. There are several different styles of funaná; the normal standard is the fastest one, but there are also slower versions with different rhythms. It started with the [gaita, or diationic] accordion, which came from Portugal but has different tuning than other European standards because initial ones were allegedly broken when they got to the island. Then came the ferrinho, an iron instrument that makes the beat and rhythm. An overview of the genre’s different incarnations are below, which I compiled together with Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb.
Rabelados, “Sukuro” (Not On Label 1996)
Rabelados is my original band. We took the traditional sounds but made them electronic, and that was rebellious. In this album we talked about immigration and uniting the south and north of Cape Verde.
Norberto Tavares, “Maria”
Tavares was a revolutionary who was exiled from Cape Verde because he spoke out against the government. One day he had the freedom to come back and do a concert at some point in the ‘90s, and this was a moment that stayed in everyone’s memories. It was like he was the president. He was the only one who could relate to the people. Every song he did had a message.
This band had a guitar player who was inspired by European players and brought that influence back to Cape Verde, where they made five or six records. Back then, records were all about telling stories.
Bitori, “Bitori Nha Bibinha”
The first concert we played after Analog Africa got in touch with us last year was in Macau. After 20 years, it’s hard to really believe that the music you made could still be relevant. But after that show, we believed. This track, “Bitori Nha Bibinha”, is included on the compilation for Analog Africa, Legend Of Funaná (The Forbidden Music of The Cape Verde Islands).
Bulimundo, “Compasso Pilon” (Bulimundo 1984)
There are not so many funaná albums, and the ones that do exist are not “pure” funaná. Even Bulimundo, who almost single handedly put that genre on the musical map between 1981 and 1984, always had a few coladeira and morna tracks incorporated in between the funaná to balance the whole thing. My [Samy’s] favorite LP of the lot is Compasso Pilon.
Antonio Sanches, “Buli Povo” (Antonio Sanches)
Toy Vieira told me that Antonio had come to see them in Lisbon to see if they would record a funaná LP. The band agreed, despite the fact that they had never recorded funaná before. So they started listening to Bulimundo’s record to create they own way. Antonio arrived in the studio for recordings without any pre-written lyrics, as it was all going to be done spontaneously. Every time they had to retake a song, the lyrics would be different. That LP is 100 percent based on music from the island of Santiago: basically batuqzue and funaná.
Norberto Tavares, ‘Vôlta Pâ Fôntil’ (La Do Si Discos)
The very first artist to have recorded a modern rendition of music from Santiago—even before Bulimundo—was Norberto Tavares. He recorded his first LP, Volta Pa Fontil, in the late ‘70s. One can say that this LP paved the way for funaná and batuque in the modern era.
Legend Of Funaná, Forbidden Music of Cape Verde is available on Analog Africa’s Bandcamp page.
Published September 22, 2016. Words by Dan Cole.