Angola is a Lusophone country in Africa. That means they speak Portuguese there, which isn’t really important other than that it’s a great vocabulary word. What makes it important is that Angolan music is heavily influenced by Portuguese and Brazilian music, as well as by local forms like afropop and township jive.
This, of course, makes Waldemar Bastos’ new album the most listenable music of the year. It’s like the whole “two great tastes that taste great together” thing, except written large and played impeccably. There is true real beauty in the way the chiming King Sunny Adé-style guitars intersect, when they do, with samba-style percussion figures. O this dappled world! O the intersections and crossroads and trading posts of our information age!
Oh, and if you have any sense of modern history at all, you will also know that Angola was also gripped for many years by a horrible civil war that only ended in 2003. Bastos had been in exile for many years before returning with hope in his heart and joy in his soul… but also with all his sad memories intact. This is a semi-concept album about that return, and about the renaissance of the human heart that is going on in Angola right now.
Which is not to say that Bastos takes himself and his endeavors too seriously. In fact, these songs don’t sound like any kind of grand synthetical experiment or huge musical statement; they just sound like lovely songs. Bastos has the hook-gift like very few other composers these days and an unusually dramatic voice that he can employ in a bunch of different moods: elegiac, overjoyed, smoothed-out, horny, wistful, devastated, grateful, you name it.
Some of the songs here, like the lazy opener “Outro Tempo Novo” and the more afropop-sounding “Dongo”, sound like African songs with Portuguese singing; others sound more like Brazilian songs with African influence (“Paz, Pao E Amor”—which means “Peace, Bread, and Love”—and “Renascence”). But it is when Bastos successfully synthesizes the two styles that things really get to jumping off. “Esperanca” (“Hope”) is a two-part song, with one foot in each continent, and “Sabores da Terra” brings raï strings and intertwining Bembeya-style guitar lines together with samba vocal arrangements and Bahian-sounding percussion.
And then there are pieces that avoid easy categorization altogether, like the weird reggae jam “Pitanga Madurinho”, which shows up again at the end in a semi-reggaeton remix, complete with an unembarrassing Chaka Demus cameo. And “Twende Vossi” is just gentle soft music that starts out like ambient pop from heaven before morphing into South African township jive with a distinctly northern Brazilian flair. O the hybrid vigor of the 21st century!