Gnonnan Sossou Pierre Kouassivi, better known as Gnonnas Pedro, was a singer-songwriter, salsero and musician born in Lokossa, Benin.
Gnonnas Pedro had always excelled in many styles of music but if one had to associate him with a particular genre it would be Agbadja. Agbadja is a rhythm hugely popular in Togo, Benin and Ghana, and is used mainly during burial ceremonies. It is based on three percussions, each one of them with a different tone.
Agbadja was born in and dominates a region called Le Mono in the center of Benin and also the birthplace of Gnonnas Pedro. Gnonnas adopted and modernized the rhythm in the mid-1960s calling it “Agbadja Moderne”. It became his trademark and he was soon dubbed “Le Roi du Rhythme Agbadja.” In addition to Agbadja, he also played highlife and juju.
Pedro led his own bands Pedro y sus Panchos, later reforming as Gnonnas Pedro and his Dadjes Band, before joining the long-lived Orchestre Poly-rythmo de Cotonou. He sang in many different languages, including Minad, Adja, Yoruba, French, English, and Spanish.
Gnonnas Pedro became well-known internationally as the lead singer of Africando between 1995 and 2004.
Gnonnas Pedro died August 12, 2004 in a hospital in Cotonu, Benin.
Dadjes: The Band Of Africa (1975)
Gnonnas Pedro (Disco Stock, 1979)
El Cochechivo (Ledoux, 1981) Gombo Salsa, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1071, 1996) Baloba, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1082, 1998) Agbadja (Syllart, 1999) Irma koi (Syllart, 1999) Mandali, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1092, 2000) Live!, with Africando (Sono CDS8907, double CD, 2001) Martina, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1096, 2003) The best of Gnonnas Pedro (2003) Ketukuba, with Africando (Stern’s Africa STCD1103, 2006)
Gangbe Brass Band promotes the originality of the music of Benin combining an original mixture of jazz and Beninese traditional music: voodoo rhythms (Sato, Zinti, Ogbon) and songs in local languages (Yoruba, Fon Goun).
The Gangbe Brass Band was created in 1994 when 8 musicians, all from Cotonou-Benin, came together. These young jazz musicians had been playing in different groups, before creating this unusual fusion of traditional styles.
Gangbe Brass Band’s aim is to promote the originality of the music of Benin. The result is definitely both modern and traditional, as it mixes jazz and traditional Benin.
They take traditional rhythms, and invigorate them with jazz harmonies. The fusion reveals as much as possible of the musical tradition, while giving a western tone, to link the past and future. They sing in vernacular language about life in general, political injustices and the tribulations of women.
Through the word Togbe, the band salutes the music on which they build their sound. The first meaning of the word is ‘ancestor’, the band’s way of paying homage to the range and quality of the rhythms they created. The second is a reference to age, highlighting the ancient roots of the music they play.
The Gangbe Brass Band’s musical approach is respectful of tradition, and in harmony with their ancestors and culture.
From 1994 to 1997, the Gangbe Brass Band worked mainly in Benin. A year later, in 1998, their association called ‘The Union of Wind Instrumentalist of Benin’ took part in the Atelier Nomade of Alougbine Dine, a very famous artistic director. They composed a piece called La Fuite.
This meeting was very important as it enabled them to draw up artistic and political guidelines, and think about the values they really wanted to defend, things they want to talk about and the projects they could put in place. During this year, they played many concerts such as the Jazz Ouaga festival, and again at Bamako’s Festival du Theatre des Realites where they met the French group Lo’Jo.
Thanks to Lo’Jo and to Yves De La Croix, they recorded their first album called Gangbe and began an international tour of 35 concerts with them in 1999, playing in Europe and Canada, and another tour in Nigeria. They received an award at Benin Golden Awards, and took part in the first Nomad’s meeting, in Cotonou, and the Pan African of Jazz in Accra (Ghana).
In 2000, still supported by Lo’Jo Triban, they played on international stages, such as the Womad Festival in London, Jazz in St Louis (Senegal) and Lille 2000.
At the same time, they developed cultural projects for increasing awareness about Beninese culture, their main concern.
The first one Voodoo’s rhythms box received the support of the Benin Ministry of Culture. It consists of a collection of all Beninese ceremonial rhythms for a CD, and later a CD ROM, to be distributed in European art schools, and cultural institutions. The second one, called Horizon 2001 concerns regional, continental and worldwide cultural exchanges. It’s a European-African network for the organization of concerts between the Gangbe Brass Band and other guest artists.
The Gangbe Brass Band began working with Contre Jour in Brussels in 2001, recording their second album called Togbe. During the Summer, they promoted it through a new tour of 45 concerts, including high-profile festivals such as Musiques du Sud in Lebanon, Couleur Cafe in Brussels, Sfinks in Antwerp, Pop Komm in Koln, and Musiques Metisses in Angouleme (France).
In 2002, they were on the road in Europe during the Spring and the Summer and in USA in the Fall for some festivals (Bloomington, Chicago, New York).
In 2003, during their European tour, they recorded a new album (released in June 2004). During this year, they were touring in Europe and participated in a project with French Jazz Musicians for a Tribute to Don Cherry (presented at the Festival in the Desert in Essakane)
In 2004, the band released a new album, Whendo, and toured Europe. Assiko! followed in 2008.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo not only composed and recorded hundreds of songs but they still found time to arrange and record for other artists, one of them being “Le premier ministre du Diable” – Antoine Dougbé.
Dougbé created his own style which he dubbed Afro Cavacha, a fantastic mixture of Congolese Rumba, Latin sounds and traditional frenetic Vodoun rhythms. Original Antoine Dougbé vinyl records that were released on his own label, Editions Dougbé Antoine, have become some of Africa’s most sought after collector’s items.
Malian musician Adama Yalomba was born in Bamako in 1970. He plays guitar, ngoni and dan. He became known to western audiences in 2003 thanks to the CD Buy Festival in the Desert 2003.
His album Kassa, the first one distributed outside Africa, was recorded in Bogolan Studio in Bamako in 2007. Bogolan is the most famous studio in western Africa where the late Ali Farka Toure, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Bjork as well as Tinariwen have recorded.
Yalomba’s reputation earned him the respect of well-known fellow musicians, several of whom appeared on the CD: Toumani Diabate, Cheick-Tidiane Seck, Rokia Traore and n’goni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate.
In 2016 he released The eleven songs on Waati Sera.
Yalomba (2004) Kassa (Metis, 2007)
Waati Sera (2016)
Waldemar Bastos is one of the best known artists from Angola. He’s been living in Portugal for the last years, working with musicians from various backgrounds. His style is characterized by warm laid back sounds, sung in Portuguese, combined with powerful Congolese-style guitars.
”My music arises out of paradox,” says Waldemar Bastos . ”I am a professional musician who barely studied music, an African performer whose first album was recorded in South America, an artist from a war-torn country whose principal themes are peace and optimism, a singer/songwriter who is considered to be the voice of Angola, although I presently live in Portugal.”
Waldemar Bastos was born in Angola, on the border with Congo, in 1954. ‘Five centuries of colonization meant that when I was growing up I heard songs from many different cultures,” he explains. In addition to the African sounds he absorbed, he heard Brazilian music and cites the Beatles, Nat King Cole, the Bee Gees and Carlos Santana as early influences.
Bastos grew up in a country wrecked by war. First, a war of liberation, which began in the early 1960’s and ended in 1974 with the overthrow of the Portuguese dictator Salazar, and then a civil war that lasted for many years. Although both sides in the civil war tried to claim his music as their own, he refused to be drawn into partisan politics, instead offering a message emphasizing the value of all life, the beauty of the world, and the need for hope.
Nevertheless, the political climate in the newly independent country was not supportive of artists. The communist government was even more repressive than the colonial government it had replaced, and Bastos came to feel that he was in potential danger. In 1982 he defected from a cultural delegation visiting Portugal. For a time he lived in Brazil and later in Paris, and he now makes his home in Portugal.
After Angola became independent, Bastos began to write his own songs, in which African guitar-pop is laced with Brazilian and Portuguese influences. He recorded his first album, Estamos Juntos (We’re Together), in Brazil and two more, Angola Minha Namorada (My Sweetheart Angola) and Pitanga Madura (Ripe Pitanga Berry), after his return to Portugal.
Pretaluz (Blacklight) was recorded in the United States and released by Luaka bop. Pretaluz features Angolan and Portuguese musicians.
In April of 2003, Bastos went back to Angola for the first time in many years to perform in the national stadium in Luanda, the capital, in celebration of the ending of years of civil war. Since then he returned half a dozen times more, ensuring that the spirit of his African roots remained a powerful influence on his music.
His 2012 album Classics of My Soul features Derek Nakamoto on keyboards, Mitchell Long on guitars and The London Symphony Orchestra.
The message that Bastos brings to his audiences merges the suffering of his people and a longing for home with optimism and the power of love.
Te Macedo is the first lyrical Angolan singer, a specialist in marimba and author of the first project of Angolan classical music.
Te Macedo was born in Luanda, in 1970, where she began her musical studies in the Music Academy. She has studied piano and classical dance with the teachers Ana Clara Marques and Yanina Raimondovna. She took classical guitar and clarinet lessons with the Manuel Chimbandongo and Juan Lorenzo.
Having acquired a scholarship from the Portuguese state, she entered the Lisbon Public School of Music to study piano with Ana Valente and later on with Dinorah Cruz, having finished the fifth year.
In 1989, along with the public school, she began taking bel canto lessons in the Portuguese Musical Youth, in Professor Maria de Repas Goncalves’ class, during which she had her first public audition.
In 1991, some singing teachers became aware of her impressive vocal potential and urged her to fully dedicate herself to the singing studies, which she would eventually finish in Professor Filomena Amaro’s class, obtaining 18 marks, after having studied with Manuela de Se, Cristina de Castro, Wagner Dinis.
She has been improving her vocals in the presence of outstanding singing-masters, such as: Ileana Cotrubas, Liliane Bisinek, Helmut Lips, Baibourina Zoukhra, Helena Dumitrescu, Galina Pisarenko, Elsa Saque, among others.
She has studied drama performance with Joao Paes as well as basic jazz in the Hot Club of Lisbon. Maestros, such as Joao Paulo Santos, Michael Corboz and Galina Pizarenko, have written compliment letters, expressing her remarkable talent and extraordinary vocal qualities.
Throughout her career she has already performed extremely important concerts. At present, she studies Law at Universidade Lusada, where she is an active founding member of African Students Corpus.
Lulendo was born in Maquela do Zombo, in the province of Uige in Angola. His musical initiation was twofold there: in Luanda, where he grew up, he used to sing in choirs, and in Maquela do Zombo, his grandfather taught to him the bakongo traditions and rituals as well as the practice of the likembe instrument.
In 1982, he moved to Paris where he became a studio and stage backing vocalist. In 1993, he started his own band and he recorded his debut album ‘A qui profite le crime?’ in 2000.
Gato Bedseyele was forced to flee Angola in 1986 and now lives in Belgium. A founding member of the Angolan group Afra Sound Stars, he left his war-torn country with just $50 USD in his pocket after deserting the army.
Gato had been forcibly recruited several times, the first time aged 12. Believing he was wasting his life, he headed to Brazil, Portugal and then Belgium.
He struggled in exile. “Music has allowed me to survive. I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
A songwriter and multi-faceted musician, Gato sings in Portuguese, French, Kikongo and several other languages. He has made several albums, and played with Brazilian star Gilberto Gil, and Angolans Bonga and Felipe Mukenga.
He had hoped to study, “to become somebody, maybe a journalist or a lawyer“. Now Gato wants to see refugee children complete their studies and ‘have dreams for the future“.
The hardships an immigrant faces in a new country include integration, long working hours, xenophobia. A new immigrant looks for work to earn money and send it back to the family he left behind.
He is now part of the Sairy Band, a group formed by African musicians from many different countries led by Malagasy musician Miary Lepiera.
Absaite, with Afra Sound Stars (Soproson DCD1022, 1993)
Helder Tavares, better known as Derito, was born in Angola, in the city of Benguela, and now lives in Portugal.
The author, composer, singer and guitar player, began performing in 1977, in Benguela (Angola), and in October of 1985 began a professional career in Lisbon.
Derito performed throughout Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, Namibia and various European countries.
In July of 1995 Derito’s first solo album, Saudade, came out. It was the consummation of his dream.
In October of 1996 Derito released his second solo CD, Alison. His band Tropicalyssimos changed to Kissange (typical musical instrument from Africa). The group consists of drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and two female singers and dancers.
Derito’s experience performing for TV outlets prompted him to compile a video tape, presented at EXPO-98 in Lisbon.
Recantos de Angola is a collection of the best compositions of his two CDs, incorporating images of the rare Angolan beauty. Derito is the Angolan artist with more videos in the market, and that contributed to the quality of the compilation. He won the video of the year awards with the composition “Intumba” from his second CD Alison.
Derito & Kissange is a innovative project in the Luso-African artistic medium, with a cultural proposal distinct, based on the preservation of the musical basis from Africa, looking for an approximation to the universals standards, without compromising the origin.
The recording of his third CD, was made in Portugal, South Africa, Brazil, France and USA, between August of 2001 and November of 2003.
Saudade (1995) Alison (1996)
Recantos de Angola (2004)
Bonga is one of Africa’s most inspirational musicians and part of the rare type of artists whose art derives its power from social and political upheaval. This Angolan legend recorded his first albums during his country’s struggle for freedom from Portuguese rule in the early 1970s. He has earned his place along side artists such as Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo and Miriam Makeba as an advocate of the independence of Africa.
Angola 74, Bonga’s second album, was recorded during his exile from Angolan and Portuguese authorities. Much like Angola 72, Bonga’s first record, Angola 74 was dedicated to those who fought for freedom in Angola. Bonga’s first two recordings breathed new life into traditional Afro-Portuguese musical expression and opened the door for ancient ideas from Angola’s past to become revitalized ideals for the future. For many years Angolan’s had ignored or suppressed their native music as the effects of a colonial mentality wore on traditional music it faded from popularity.
Bonga’s main music style, semba, has ancient roots and served as the foundation for samba when it was exported to Brazil via the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. A lilting and engaging form of music, semba blends drums, scrapers, rattles and other percussion with the melodies and strings of Portugal.
Angola 74 is elegantly sparse, using minimum instrumentation and achieving maximum results. In later years Bonga expanded his lineup incorporating more horns and electric instruments experimenting with new sounds and methods of creating music. Angola 74, like Angola 72, represents the invigorating purity and subtlety of expression in Bonga’s early work and serves as a clear affirmation that in many case’s less is undeniably more.
Bonga’s personal history is strewn with triumph and tragedy. Born 1943, he grew up in a working class community on the outskirts of Luanda, Angola’s capital. At birth he was given the Portuguese name Barcelo de Carvalho but changed it to his traditional Angolan name as he grew into a stronger political consciousness. Barcelo de Carvalho became a national hero. A gifted runner he was the 400-meter champion of the Portuguese national team, as well as a soccer star on Lisbon’s Benfica squad.
During this time however, Portuguese officials did not fail to notice that his fermenting political resistance had started to sweeten throughout his rise as a sports hero. Just before Bonga recorded his first album he was forced into exile settling first in The Netherlands and later moving between other European cities for a number of years. His music became a rallying cry for his people and a symbol of resistance. The lyric speaks of literal emancipation while the music symbolized the need for cultural pride.
Angolan independence was achieved in 1975 and Bonga finally returned to his homeland. The victory over Portugal turned out to be just the beginning of Angola’s problems, however, as internal power struggles created one of the longest running civil wars in African history.
Since the early years of these first two recordings, Bonga has gone on to produce a number of successful and critically acclaimed albums. He toured extensively. Practically a household name in Africa and Europe, Bonga has created a highly respected body of work that is marked by the unique power of his voice and his ability to cling to his convictions no matter how staggering the opposition.
Angola 72 (Morabeza, 1972. Reissued by Lusafrica 2621622) Angola 74 (Morabeza 6810442-24, 1974. Reissued by Lusafrica 262192 and Tinder 42846652, 1999)
Angola 76 (Morabeza 6810865, 1976)
Racines (Playasound PS 601, 1978)
Kandandu (Chant du Monde LDK74720, 1979)
Kualuka Kueta (Playasound PS 606, 1983)
Sentimento (Chant du Monde 474643, 1985)
Angola, compilation (Playasound PS 65013, 1988)
Reflexão (Discosette, 1988)
Malembe-Malembe (Discosette, 1989)
Diaka (Discosette, 1990) Paz Em Angola, compilation (Rounder CD5052, 1991)
Geraçôes (Discosette, 1992)
Katendu, compilation (Melodie 79567-2, 19993)
Fogo na Kanjica (Vidisco 11.80.2045, 1994)
Swinga Swinga the Voice of Angola 102% Live (Piranha PIR 1040, 1996)
Preto e Branco (Vidisco 11.81.1455, 1996)
Roça de Jindungo (Vidisco 11.80.7505, 1997)
Dendém de Açucar (Vidisco 11.80.7645, 1998)
Falar de Assim (Vidisco 11.80.7850, 1999) Mulemba Xangola (Lusafrica 362272, 2001) Kaxexe (Lusafrica, 2003)
Bonga Live (Lusafrica 462242, 2005)
Maiorais (Lusafrica 462252, 2006) Bairro (2009) Hora Kota (Lusafrica, 2011) Recados De Fora (Lusafrica, 2016)
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