Cape Verdean musician Norberto Tavares (1956-2010) died December 26th in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Tavares suffered from complications from diabetes and kidney failure. He had a kidney transplant two years ago but never regained full health.
“He was a major figure in the Cape Verdean diaspora musical scene since the 1980s,” said ethnomusicologist Susan Hurley-Glowa. Norberto Tavares was born on June 6, 1956 in Assomada, Santiago (Cape Verde). He was the son of a well-known local musician, Aristides Tavares, who played violin and other string instruments. After his father’s death when Norberto was nine, Norberto learned how to play guitar, keyboards, and accordion on his own. He was encouraged by a local priest to play the organ as a boy and practiced on the instrument in the Catholic church in Assomada. Norberto began making a name for himself as a songwriter in his early teens.
He left Cape Verde for Portugal in 1973. Accompanying himself on guitar, Norberto composed his own funana and batuko songs, styles he knew well from his upbringing in a musical Badiu family from Santa Caterina. He formed a band called Black Power in Lisbon with other musicians from Cape Verde. Norberto released his first album of ‘electric funana and batuko’ in 1975, slightly before Katchás made his version of funana widely popular with Bulimundo. Norberto produced several more recordings in Portugal and toured widely with his band, before emigrating to the United States in 1979.
In his new country, Norberto Tavares founded a band called Tropical Power. It became one of the most famous of the Cape Verdean bands based in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. At that time Cape Verdean music was being heard throughout New England at various dancehalls. Some of the cities include Providence, Pawtucket, and East Providence in Rhode Island, Brockton, Boston, New Bedford in Massachusetts, and Waterbury and Bridgeport in Connecticut.
Tavares and Susan Hurley-Glowa worked on music research projects collaboratively since 1990. Susan Hurley-Glowa has just released a documentary film about Norberto and his role a social advocate through his music (2010). The film is distributed by Peter Davis at Villon Films.
The documentary explains and contextualizes the parallel journeys of Tavares and the Independent Republic of Cape Verde. It describes aspects of the musical lives of Cape Verdean-Americans, and in the process documents Tavares’s strong connections to the country he left behind.
The story begins with the final rehearsal before an annual music festival in Praia, Cape Verde, and then turns to the Cape Verdean-American communities of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Tavares struggled to make a living as a freelance musician.
The film traces Tavares’s musical career back to its source of inspiration: the traditional funana and batuku musicians living on the island of Santiago, Cape Verde. Tavares used his music to comment on problems in Cape Verde, and one of the sub-themes in the film explores tensions between women and men in Cape Verde today. The documentary ends with Tavares’s highly celebrated performance for some 40,000 fans at the Festa da Gamboa in Praia, Cape Verde on May 21, 2005. It was shot on location in Cape Verde and New England.
Tavares’ discography includes: Best of Norberto Tavares (2005), Dirigentes Inconscientes (2001), Maria (Zé Orlando, 1998), Hino di Unificaçon (Lusafrica, 1993), Jornada di un Badiu (Lusafrica, 1989), Tropical Power – A Musical Connection (1984), Mundo Sta di Boita (1982), Volta Pa Fonti (1979), Black Power is Back (1978), Nôs Cabo Verde di Sperança (1976) and Black Power, Volume 1 (1975).
Sections of Tavares’ biography were edited from an original biography by Susan Hurley-Glowa.