Waldemar Bastos: The Voice of Angola

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Classics of My Soul.    While not a household name, Bastos has created a singular and impressive array of Lusophone (Portuguese language) music, and is to Angola and its troubled history what Cesaria Evora is to Cape Verde.  He did a spellbinding set during the first Hollywood Bowl World Music season way back in 1999, playing the huge amphitheater with just four musicians on stage.  Such is his power to communicate and transcend language barriers, that time with an audience hardly familiar with his music.

Bastos also participated in a beautiful 2008 U2 tribute album with a moving version of “Love is Blindness”.  The album is called In the Name of Love / Africa Celebrates U2.

The Portuguese colonies in Africa:  Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau went through hell before becoming independent in 1975, when Portugal finally cut them loose.  Portugal was the last European colonial power to grant independence to its African colonies.  When it left Africa, it took everything away—from typewriters to doorknobs.  What followed was an intractable sectarian war between two former libration movements, which was also a surrogate war, with the U.S. and Portugal pitted against Cuba and the Soviet Union.

I remember Charlie Haden telling me how he was arrested by the Salazar dictatorship for speaking out at a Lisbon concert against the war in Angola.  He was sent to prison.

The story of Angola forms the background for the deep heart and soul of Waldemar Bastos’ music.  He was forced into exile repeatedly, thrown in prison for just being too popular (music, like free speech, is never popular with dictatorships).  Add to this was the trauma of losing his son, who died in a Lisbon club.

As a child his parents recognized that their son had a wonderful voice and a musical sensitivity.  But he had to choose between music lessons and a bike.  In America we usually get both.  He didn’t have the same luxury:  thank god he chose music.

Like Congolese music, to cite an example, Bastos’ music shows that the sweetest and most lilting music can come from the most violent countries.  On his new album, Classics of My Soul, he warns a young man not to fly too low, where danger lurks, but to aim high and fly past it, also about the dangers of politics during national upheavals like the ones he experienced.  The album was recorded in a Mar Vista backyard studio by producer Derek Nakamoto, but nevertheless several tracks feature the London Symphony Orchestra, which was made possible due to fans in Lisbon who provided financial support.  The birds outside the small, makeshift studio never stopped singing while he played his guitar and sang.  They’d stop when he stopped.  Then start again when he resumed.  Bastos even has avian fans.

Please check out this album.  I hope you are moved as much as I am by this moving and deeply felt music.  It’s available on CD Baby now, and soon from Amazon.com

Here are three tracks from the new album.  Thanks to KCRW’s Interactive Producer Betsy Moyer for help in getting these up!

Humbi Humbi Yangue


Pôr do Sol


Velha Chica (featuring the London Symphony Orchestra)