I spent the better part of this morning (ever so briefly) listening to the music of Black Brazil. Hoping to find those gems which could somehow encompass the experiences of Afro-Brazilians. This was an impossible task to say the least, which was made far more difficult because of my own assumptions of what constituted Black Brazil. For me, to speak of Afro-Brazilian music was to celebrate the rhythms and lyrics of native born Brazilians of African descent.
However, Brazilians don’t quite make such a clear distinction between Afro-Brazilian music. Instead there is a strong sense of enjoying the Black diasporic music across the lusophone world. See the Portuguese colonized various places across the world, including Brazil, Western African, and even southern India. As a result, African music traveled along the trade routes of the vile trade, but its powerful resonances were able to transcend the confines of social death, and gave life to the African populations of Portugal’s colonies and the all those entrapped by African rooted music which couldn’t be denied.
What will follow are just 5 Afro-Portuguese artists with a brief bio and a song of theirs that caught my ear, and hopefully yours.
Gilberto Gil – Toda Menina Bahiana
Gilberto has long been a vital part of Brazil’s musical and cultural legacy. Born in Bahia, he would go on to become an integral part in Brazil’s Tropicália movement, which saw the fusion of music and political action during the turbulent ’60s. He has since made numerous critically renowned albums and was even appointed as Brazil’s cultural minister during Lula’s administration.
Naná Vasconcelos – Ondas
Naná is one of Brazilian’s most famous composers. First known for his work with Milton Nascimiento during the 60s-70s, he has since traveled the world playing in bands in NYC, Norway, Brazil, UK, and Italy. Though he spends most of his time these days in his hometown of Recife, there, he continues to compose uniquely African and diasporic soundscapes.
Manecas Costa – N’Miste Vivi
Though Manecas’ homeland of Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese colony in Western African, does not get the same musical recognition as it Cape Verdean neighbor, it has not stopped Costa from creating beautifully tragic pieces, infused with social responsible and aware lyrics. Coming out of his teens he was selected by UNICEF to be their Goodwill Ambassador and has now since made Lisbon, Portugal his new (musical) home.
Bonga – Mona Ki Ngi Xica
Growing up, Bonga was a track and field star in his native Angola after breaking the Portuguese recorder for the the 400 meter race. However, it is Bonga’s music that has been his most enduring legacy. This song in particular, which translates as ‘The Child I’m Leaving Behind,’ led to his exile from Angola shortly after its release in 1972. The lyrics (see below) were written in response to Angola’s colonial dictatorship prior to the country’s independence. In fact, Bonga used his freedom of movement garnered as a national sports hero and his musical prowess to spread messages of solidarity amongst the pro-independence movement prior to his exile.
[The Child I’m Leaving Behind]
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