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.