Artist Profiles: Ze Manel

Ze Manel
Ze Manel

Singer and multi-instrumentalist, Ze Manel is one of the most famous and influential contemporary musician to emerge from the West African country of Guinea Bissau. By the age of seven, Ze, playing drums and acoustic guitar, had become the main attraction of Super Mama Djombo band.

During the 1970’s, this seminal orchestra played a major role in the liberation struggle of this former Portuguese colony. In 1982, Ze released his first solo album Tustumunhos di Aonti, which sounded the alarm over the formation of a new repressive ruling class in Guinea Bissau. The album was a national event (people in Guinea Bissau today still sing the songs from this soulful, relevant album), but the political environment was heating up and Manel’s fans were concerned for his safety. Manel fled his homeland.

This self-exile took him to Portugal, France and, finally, the United States. His American debut album, Maron di mar (Cobiana Records) released in 2001, was an instant success. It received rave reviews from European and American media and was nominated for best album at the All African Kora Music Awards in South Africa, and best world music album at the Just Plain Folks Music Awards in the USA.

He returned with a new album African Citizen (M10). His message in the title track is more global. Ze calls for African unity, peace, and stability in all continents. He delivers his messages Jji the most beguiling of-tenor voices accompanied by his acoustic guitar and percussion. In this release, Ze’s uniquely innovative talent expands the boundaries of both traditional and contemporary Guinea Bissau dance music, creating a new musical genre that is urban yet profoundly steeped in the root. Sung in many languages (Kriol, Portuguese, English, and French), the lyrics are as declamatory and inflammatory as his rhythms are infectiously danceable. Ze sings of love for family and friends, respect for women, compassion for children, social justice, and he poignantly describes the ravages of poverty, prostitution, AIDS, and the dictatorships that repress the advancement of people.

Ze said he faced the challenge of blending cultures while preserving his own. “I am respecting our traditional music, but we want to make more progress towards meeting other cultures.”

The CD Povo Adormecido (My People Are Asleep) was released on August 1, 2006. Sung in Criolu (Creole), English, Portuguese and French, and set to a series of irresistible Afrobeat grooves, the songs speak to the universal longing to live in peace.

The title track pays tribute to the indomitable spirit of the African people, and raises a challenge to all of us to transcend our limitations when faced with the greatest challenges. Other songs (some with lyrics by Zé, some written in collaboration with schoolteacher/poet Uco Monteiro, journalist Tony Tcheka, and Senegalese computer engineer Pierre H Sagna) address the humanity (and inhumanity) of policemen, the homesickness of political exiles, and the inhumanity of selfish African dictators.

Discography:

Tustumunhos di Aonti (1982)
Maron di mar (Cobiana Records, 2001)
African Citizen (M10 Records, 2003)
Povo Adormecido (2006)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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