Legend Of Funana: The Forbidden Music Of The Cape Verde Islands
In 1997, an unassuming 59-year-old man named Victor Tavares -- better known since the late 1950s as Bitori -- walked into a studio for the very first time to record a work that many Cabo Verdeans consider to be the best funaná album ever made. Analog Africa's Legend Of Funaná marks the first time that these recordings, originally issued as Bitori Nha Bibinha & Chando Graciosa in 1998, have been available outside of Cape Verde, bringing Bitori's beloved accordion-based sound to the world. In 1954, Bitori embarked on a journey across the seas to the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe with the hopes of returning with an accordion. Following two years of hard labor, Bitori had saved enough money to acquire what was to become his most valued possession. The two-month journey back to Cape Verde provided time enough for him to master the instrument. Self-taught, Bitori developed his own style, an infectious blaze that quickly caught the attention of the older generation. Before long Bitori was asked to perform at local festivities around Praia, the capital of Cape Verde. But not everybody welcomed the rural accordion-based sound of the funaná. Perceived as a symbol of the struggle for Cabo Verdean independence and frowned upon as music of uneducated peasants, the funaná was prohibited by Portuguese colonial rulers. Performing it in public or in urban centers had serious consequences -- often jail time and torture. As a result, the funaná began to slowly disappear. In 1975, Cape Verde achieved independence from Portuguese colonial rule, and the ban on the funaná was lifted. Many artists embraced the funaná, translating and adapting its musical form in new ways. It was not until the mid-1990s, however, that the funaná in its traditional form was actually recorded. A young singer from the Cabo Verdean town of Tarrafal, Chando Graciosa, heard Bitori and immediately felt drawn to his playing style -- a raw, passionate sound accompanied by honest lyrics that reflected the harsh reality of the Cabo Verdean working class. He approached Bitori suggesting they join forces and travel overseas to take the funaná beyond its rural roots. After introducing a receptive European audience to the vibrant energy of the funaná, Bitori eventually returned to his beloved Cape Verde, while Graciosa settled in Rotterdam. Graciosa vowed, however, to bring Bitori to Holland to eventually record an album. In 1997, the time was ripe to immortalize the sound Bitori had shaped over four decades. Drummer Grace Evora and bassist Danilo Tavares helped record "Bitori Nha Bibinha," which catapulted Graciosa to stardom, establishing him Cape Verde's foremost interpreter of the funaná. Bitori's songs quickly became standards -- classics known and loved throughout the country.