The strings and serenades of the Ano Nobo Quartet draw on repertoires far beyond the group’s native Cabo Verde. A soldier on the side of the island nation’s revolution for independence, lead guitarist Pascoal spent time in the Cold War traveling to Cuba, Crimea, and elsewhere in the Caribbean, meeting fellow musicians along the way whose sounds echo within his own. Guitarists Fany, Nono, and Afrikanu fill out the ensemble with a nimble touch. Together, the four musicians play a unique style based on the local dance genre koladera but incorporate ideas from their own experiences with practices and people from around the globe.
Emerging from this combination of skilled musicians are sounds on the edge of familiar. Each track on their debut album, The Strings of São Domingos, triggers an aural déjà vu through references to samba, salsa, and other acoustic genres from across what writer Paul Gilroy called the Black Atlantic. Ultimately, the Ano Nobo Quartet’s music is unique for its own combinations of texture and technique. Pascoal’s voice is impassioned and unpolished, at times wavering off-key but always full of raw melancholy and meandering so smoothly it still makes for an enjoyable listen.
However, far more important than his vocal delivery are the bright and tight-knit strings of the whole quartet. The instruments are interlocked together in a lively, constantly moving whole. Each musician is so nimble and seemingly playing with such ease that it becomes difficult to tell where one player ends and the next begins, a testament to their skill. It’s little surprise to learn that all but Pascoal are brothers, sons of famed composer and the group’s namesake Ano Nobo, who also mentored Pascoal.
At 40 minutes, The Strings of São Domingos feels short. Each rollicking tune moves by so quickly that it’s hard not to want more and easy to imagine the group launching into a night-long jam session off the back of any one of these tracks. Even calmer cuts like reggae-adjacent “Maria Cze Bu Tem” and “Lolinha”, laced with saudade and fado levels of melodrama, are refreshingly animated. The sprightly speed of tracks like dizzying “Tio Bernar” and bluesy “Mulatinha Vai” belies the complexity of each ostinato. Tying faster and slower pieces together are interludes filled with the sounds of sea and laughter, bringing together this entire album as a vivid and captivating image of island life.
Recorded amid the height of the pandemic with mobile equipment and in multiple spaces, The Strings of São Domingos nonetheless has such distinct character that imperfections and sudden stops only heighten the feel of listening to something live. Beauty unfolds in loops and whorls of the delicately strummed strings as though it were organic, making it even clearer how deliberate and painstaking such a work really is. The Ano Nobo Quartet engage heart and mind alike in this intricate debut, tapping into an acoustic folk vein bound to hit close to home for many listeners while introducing them to something entirely new.