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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Waldemar Bastos, "Pretaluz"

Waldemar Bastos
Luaka Bop (1997)

1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

Afropop is a genre almost as ambiguous as the "world music" label it sits within. Already, we've seen it represented in the Ethiopian R&B of Mahmoud Ahmed, the Nigerian Juju style of King Sunny Adé, and the funky rhythms of Fela Kuti. All you can really take from Afropop is that it borrows elements of traditional African music and incorporates modern touches, such as electric instruments. At first listen, it may be tough to find the "African-ness" in "Pretaluz," by Angolan musician Waldemar Bastos.

The other artists I mentioned are more easily distinguished as African. Ahmed sings in Amharic, the official language of his home nation. Adé features the Nigerian "singing drums" in his music, and Kuti was a proponent of West African chant in his lyrics. Upon first listen, it's easy to assume that Bastos has borrowed every aspect of his music from cultures outside of Africa, which reflects a misunderstanding of musical history. The congas and bongos featured in most tracks are specifically Cuban. However, their invention and usage was developed by Africans who ended up in the "New World." The polyrhythms and percussion popular in Cuban music is an African invention, and its presence in "Pretaluz" is entirely African. In a sense, the rhythm that travelled across the Atlantic has come home in this recording.

That being said, Bastos did draw some inspiration from outside his native Angola when he fled to Portugal during a brutal civil war. The genre of Fado, the Portuguese equivalent of the blues, plays a key role in Bastos' songwriting style. His lyrics, in Fado tradition, are typically on mournful topics: The war ravaging his homeland on "Sofrimento" ("Suffering") and "Quentide Angola" (Beloved Angola), or a deceased heroine on "Rainha Ginga" (Queen Ginga).

Bastos' guitar strumming is more in the style of the classical guitar playing typical of Fado, as opposed to the American blues style, which would develop into rock 'n' roll. One thing that American and Portuguese blues have in common is their dependence on rhythm, and therefore both styles can be great for dancing, no matter how severe their inspiration. Bastos takes this to heart on "Kuribota" ("Evil Tongue"), and after two minutes of solemn guitar, the percussion jumps in and makes the next five worth stomping your foot to.

The blues is certainly a worldwide phenomenon. People from American, Portugal and Angola all get it. The key is to make it yours, as Bastos has done here.

INTERESTING FACT: The song "Muxima" refers to Our Lady of Muxima, a shrine in the Angolan town of the same name. According to legend, if you go to the shrine to pray with bad intentions for others, you'll drown in the river on the way. So maybe think twice before praying that Lebron James breaks his ankle.

Kuribota by Waldemar Bastos on Grooveshark

1 comment:

  1. This was the first time I had heard "Fado" music, and I loved this album. Also, I don't need James to break his ankle, but no rings, at least for a couple more years.