VA - Pour Me A Grog: The Funána Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde (2019)

VA - Pour Me A Grog: The Funána Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde (2019)

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World, Funána, Cumbia | Label: Ostinato Records

The Cabo Verdean popular music genre of funaná is one that, up until a few years ago, had little representation in the wider global marketplace, and it’s easy to understand why. Outlawed by the Portuguese colonial government in the 1950s as too proud an expression of identity, it emerged into the local mainstream only in the 1990s, where it served as a sonic symbol of political activism during Cabo Verde’s shift to a multi-party government. In more recent years, popular sounds of the island nation have featured in several new releases – Analog Africa’s Space Echo and Legend of Funaná, Ostinato’s Synthesize the Soul – with funaná occasionally the focus.

Where Legend of Funaná gave us sounds of a single artist, though, Pour Me a Grog: The Funaná Revolt in the 1990s introduces us to a whole new array of artists performing the revolutionary music. Here, the tracks are revved up for the 1990s, driven by sharp and unceasing beats made as so many of the time were: with the intent of countering the rapidly accelerating globalization of pop sounds and giving voice to groups of people long disenfranchised.

Funaná as a form of revolution is an interesting one; driven by the gaita (the type of accordion used here), it is thus materially linked to colonial influences even as it necessarily revolts against them. Driving gaita ostinati lead each melody on Pour Me a Grog, accompanied by passionate vocals and plentiful drums and synths; the tunes, repetitive and catchy, are undoubtedly ones made for large-scale movement. The speed on each instrument is remarkable, the ability of each song to stay in your head undeniable, regardless of its audience’s preference, which suits a style of song meant to transmit history in such a way that it sticks.

To be sure, funaná is a well-marked genre; you’ll likely find that you either love it or can’t handle so many intense layers of accordion and polyrhythmic percussion. As mentioned earlier, it’s also one not originally designed with the acoustic context of a recording studio in mind. While the sound quality is crystal clear, there’s no question that it’s an undertaking to try and comprehend each instrumental element with minimal dynamic differences between them. Nevertheless, there’s an exhilarating skill to behold here, nimble and energetic hands and voices throughout.

Differences in tone are, for the non-Portuguese singer, subtle, but present. Peps Love’s “Pom Um Grogu” has an upbeat, rallying quality to it. Orlando Pantera contributes dramatic “Rabidanti” and, with Avelino, “Nha Lutcha”, a track that opens unconventionally, with a solo bass line. Musical pioneer Ferro Gaita’s opener “Rei Di Tabanka” and Etalvinho Preta’s “Mulato Ferrera” both include softer, though no less resolute, lead vocals heading bold choruses. Fefé di Calbicera’s closing track “Tra Tchapéu”, with its straightforward and relatively sparse arrangement, nevertheless makes for a strong ending. His collaboration with the renowned Bitori, “Mô Na Máma”, is one of fire and fury. Certainly, not least is Tchota Suari and Chando Gracio’s urgent “Nha Boi” – a song with a transcendent earworm of a chorus.

The Cabo Verdean collections bursting forth over the past few years have shed light on scenes that are, in terms of the larger musicscape, fairly niche to most people. They are specific to a single setting determined both by time and place, and when that setting is one not a focus of stakeholders in the global music industry. Pour Me a Grog, in particular, is commendable for its contextualization of funaná in its packaging and its range of artists. It’s a celebration of recent Cabo Verdean history and those who have signaled it through music, and another chance for Ostinato to show its affinity for the previously uncirculated – well worth a listen if only to make the acquaintance of a wholly unique musical style.

In the 1950s, a few young men, known as Badius, embarked on a nearly 2,500-mile (4000 km) journey from the northern rural interior of Cabo Verde’s Santiago Island to the island of São Tomé off the Atlantic coast of central Africa. Incredibly, they made the arduous journey not to earn a better living or send money back home — but to simply buy an accordion, locally known as a gaita. They would work years in harsh conditions to earn enough to buy the instrument and a few more years to buy a ticket back to Santiago.

Returning home, they slowly formed an elite class of self-taught gaita players who achieved a status similar to the griots of West Africa: venerated: wise elderly men archiving Badiu history in their diatonic button accordions. The gaita became the maximum expression of Badiu identity, one defined over centuries by a persistent culture of revolt and rebellion against domination and injustice. In a land lacking electricity, the acoustic instrument is king.

The gaita masters marriage to a hard-won instrument gave birth to raw Funaná music, undoubtedly a trans-Atlantic sibling of Colombian Cumbia. Hypnotic notes on aged accordions, tuned and flavored in ways found nowhere but Santiago, became infused with inviting baselines, raucous rhythms, blade-on-iron percussion and the bubbling lyricism and lament of the island’s finest ambassadors, their lyrics spoke of the trials of daily scarcity and playfully crafted whole metaphors within songs.

Their music was outlawed under colonial rule, with strict curfews monitored by the ever watchful eye of Portugal’s secret police to prevent gatherings since Funaná was dance music meant for large crowds, centered on one of the many star gaiteiros. Yet, naturally defiant, Badiu Funaná continued unfazed at the risk of arrest, detention, or worse.

Funaná remained an isolated style, largely an affair for Badiu ears only. But in 1991, Cabo Verde had its first democratic election. Elections are tricky business anywhere, let alone a state divided into several islands, each needing a tailored approach. Political parties found a novel solution, perhaps even a model, to successfully get their campaign messages out to large audiences with ears wide open: music festivals. Until today, Cabo Verde plays host to dozens of festivals a year, some sponsored by the government.

The music of the proud African interior became the soundtrack of choice at campaign rallies and music festivals. It drew large crowds, engaged the youth, kept people content, and undoubtedly won votes, setting the stage for traditional Funaná’s entry into the mainstream. But professional production and recording remained elusive.

Younger artists empowered by the politically-backed proliferation of Funaná in the early ‘90s began traveling inland to learn the trade secrets from the gaita griots, taking up the once maligned artform to counter what they saw as global pop sounds diluting Cabo Verdean output and preventing genuine local music from competing on the airwaves.

Another revolt was afoot, and in 1997, an “earthquake shook the country,” a Cabo Verdean newspaper wrote, when a group of youths, calling themselves Ferro Gaita, “dared to make a disc based on the gaita, ferrinho and bass guitar.” That best-selling first album – 40,000 copies in a country of just 400,000 – changed the entire trajectory of the country’s music.

Ferro Gaita’s success caught the attention of affluent producers based in Cabo Verde’s large European diaspora, namely Rotterdam. Widespread sentiment was to honor the old gaita masters from the small villages of Santiago by commercially publishing their work for the very first time, giving what was once hidden the bigger stage it deserved.

This compilation curates eight tracks from a short period in the late ‘90s when cherished pioneers, who risked everything to give their proud culture a sound, were finally put in recording studios; an album in itself a revolt in favor of the music of the most marginalized and once deliberately silenced.

Pour yourself a grog, the Cabo Verdean moonshine distilled from sugarcane crushed by bulls, imbibe responsibly, listen carefully, and dance recklessly.

01. Ferro Gaita - Rei Di Tabanka
02. Etalvino Preta - Mulato Ferrera
03. Tchota Suari & Chando Gracioso - Nha boi
04. Avelino & Orlando Pantera - Nha lutcha
05. Peps Love - Pom Um Grogu
06. Bitori & Fefe di Calbicera - Mô na máma
07. Orlando Pantera - Rabidanti O Pantera
08. Fefe di Calbicera - Tra Tchapéu

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