ANGOLA: Pretaluz (Blacklight) - Waldemar Bastos
Updated: Feb 8
Another Luaka Bop classic, Bastos guides us through the sounds of his life and his country...
Before this wild descent of exploration into music cultures from across the world begun, David Byrne was a name I was familiar with, though I lacked a strong opinion on in terms of the man himself and the little of his music that I had previously been exposed to. Over the course of this journey I have discovered and been presented numerous albums on his Luaka Bop label, which I have always enjoyed, from the funkier likes of William Onyeabor and Los Amigos Invisibles, to the more traditional vocal talents such as Peruvian landó legend Susana Baca. It wasn’t however, until my first viewing of the concert film Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme, that my appreciation of David Byrne turned into pure obsession. Having listened to the live album easily upwards of 100 times in just a few months, I would go as far as to say that Byrne’s genius on the album has somehow meant it has usurped my most beloved albums of all time, even ones by my absolute favourites Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley, due to my unending adoration I have for it.
“His genuine breeziness perfectly undercuts the melancholy of his music because the lightness and warmth of his character do not perturb the authentic sadness and human frailty that exist in some of his songs.”
Though there is danger of this review veering off in completely the wrong direction as I find myself down a wormhole of admiration for Byrne, there is good reason behind mentioning my appreciation of the man. In a manner that only the truly gifted seem able, it appears to me that with every song Byrne touches he manages to connect the cerebral and intellectual fragments of musical delight with the most inexplicably fun and enjoyable parts of music that no-one’s vocabulary could really do justice to in explaining. As such, his production on Waldemar Bastos’ fourth album, helps the record reach incredible heights. In spite of the fact I could wax lyrical about Byrne’s helping hand on the album, it is Bastos’ raw talent that seems to have been simply nurtured by the label enabling him to shine even greater than he otherwise would.
What Bastos has on display that many performers seem to lack is personality and human complexity. Listening to his voice and his guitar one can get the sense that like many others he is an adept musician, who impresses further because he is unashamed at bringing together what seems like an incongruence to proceedings. His genuine breeziness perfectly undercuts the melancholy of his music because the lightness and warmth of his character do not perturb the authentic sadness and human frailty that exist in some of his songs. In my opinion this is best observed on my favourite song, the opener Sofrimento.
Of course, a common theme amongst various artists from lusophone states of Africa is the interplay between traditional African rhythms and the music of their former colonisers. It is why elements of fado can not only be heard in songs such as Muxima but also goes some way to explaining the lament in his voice, that though never as hauntingly beautiful as the likes of Cesaría Évora, the sound of the emotion of sodade is something that can be found across music and art in the lusophone world. Though the Western influence is often strong, from the sound of the Spanish guitar on Kuribota, to the soul and funk roots that are highly evident on the final track extravaganza Kanguru which peaks with the inclusion of the harmonica, it is the blending with sounds from other areas Bastos had been exposed to in his life that truly make the album special.
Growing up near the Congolese border, the influence of soukous is strong on the record. The uplifting plinky-plonky acoustic guitar is taken to the next level with elements of the genre on Rainha Ginga, whilst his love song to his home nation Querida Angola clearly had influences from his time spent in Brazil with varied percussive instrumentation featured making it a joy to listen to. One element that I imagine Byrne may have brought to the album is the changing of pace in one simple beat towards the end of several songs. Smooth sexy numbers like the aforementioned Kuribota and Morro de Kussava suddenly become dancefloor fillers with little time left to go, in what feels like a bold artistic move, whilst Minha Familia suddenly introduces electric guitar and heavy percussion towards the end. The album though characterised by Bastos’ gentleness and likeability, is compositionally of a very high standard and it is the memorability of the tunes themselves that really help them to stand out.