New Audio: Ostinato Records and The Ano Nobo Quartet delve Deeper into Cape Verde’s Musical History

Over the past 25 years or so, Cape Verde (Cabo Verde in Portuguese), the tiny island nation comprised of an archipelago of 11 different volcanic islands, located some 400 miles off the Africa’s Northwestern coast has been hailed as one of the continent’s most stable democracies. But its history is fascinating and complicated.

The Portuguese colonized the then-uninhabited island nation in the 15th century. Because of its prime location, the island nation was established as the first European settlement in the tropics — and as a major commercial center and stopover point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade during the 16th and 17th centuries.

With the decline and gradual abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century, the now-former Portuguese colony suffered through a crippling economic crisis. But because of Cape Verde’s location in the middle of several major shipping lanes, the island nation quickly because an important commercial center and port.

The decline and gradual abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century resulted in a crippling economic crisis for the Portuguese colony; however, because of the Cape Verde’s location in the middle of major shipping lanes, it quickly became an important commercial center and port.

With few natural resources and inadequate sustainable investment from the Portuguese, who had controlled the island nation for the better part of 300 years, Cape Verde’s citizens had become increasingly frustrated with colonial rule.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, a series of independence and nationalist movements across colonized Africa began sprouting up across Africa –including Cape Verde. In 1951, Portugal changed the island nation’s status from a colony to overseas province in an attempt to blunt Cape Verdeans growing nationalism; however, by 1956 Amilcar Cabral led a group of Cape Verdeans and Guineans, who formed the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). The group demanded improvement in economic, social and political conditions in Cape Verde and Portuguese Guinea — and interestingly enough, formed the basis of both nations’ independence movement.

After moving its headquarters to Conakry, Guinea in 1960, the PAIGC began an armed rebellion the following year, which resulted in a bloody and complicated civil war that had Soviet Bloc-supported PAIGC fighting Portuguese and African troops.

Portuguese Guinea declared independence in 1973 and was granted de jure independence the following year as Guinea-Bissau. Amilcar Cabral led Cape Verde’s burgeoning independence movement until his assassination that same year. Cabral’s half-brother Luis Cabral, led the tiny archipelago nation to independence in 1975.

Much like their counterparts across the continent and elsewhere, Cape Verde has suffered through the ills of a society born by and influenced by colonialism, slavery, corruption, brutality and greed while struggling to integrate into a rapidly globalizing world — and often, not quite knowing how exactly to do so.

Over the past handful of years, Ostinato Records had delved deep into the music and sounds of the tiny African nation. Critically acclaimed compilations like Synthesize the Soul, Leite Quente Funaná and Pour Me A Grog featured three distinct chapters of Cabo Verde’s musical story: 1980s synthesizer-driven dance music, the 1990s Cape Verdean Diasporic sound in Europe and the accordion-driven fuaná sound. All of those sounds came from the island of Santiago.

Ostinato Records fourth album of their Cabo Verde series, The Ano Nobo Quartet’s The Strings of São Domingos can essentially trace its origins back to roughly 1989. Back then, a burly solider from Cabo Verde, named Pascoal saw the Berlin Wall fall from the East German side. Nicknamed “El Bruto” or
“The Brute” because of his “brutally” amazing guitar prowess, the Cape Verdean guitarist saw history while in full uniform, the ever dutiful solider. As a member of the FARP, the armed wing of Cabo Verde’s independence struggle, which was backed by the Soviet Union, Pascoal was dispatched the world over—from Cuba to Crimea to East Berlin.

Being stationed in Cuba gave Pascoal access to a world of guitar music. His stints in the Caribbean and the Crimean Peninsula were alongside soldiers from elsewhere in Lusophone Africa and the former colonized world. Unsurprisingly, these military postings became cultural gatherings and jam sessions, where sounds and techniques were exchanged amongst its members.

Along with fellow guitar maestros Fany, Nono and Afrikanu, Pasocal currently leads The Ano Nobo Quartet, named after Cape Vervde’s legendary and beloved composer, Ano Nobo, Pasocoal’s mentor and the father to the rest of the group. Nobo is so beloved that you’ll frequently see his face gracing murals across the archipelago.

Understandably, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a departure in Ostinato’s fourth Cabo Verde chapter. A different story needed telling. Pascoal is a soldier, able to weather hardship, adapt, and maintain a clear-eyed focus. It seemed fitting that he should lead a pandemic-era recording that demanded a shorter recording period to lessen the chances of transmission among the players and recording staff, along with abrupt restrictions and limitations on gatherings and recording locations.

The Strings of São Domingos is not only a tribute to Koladera or Coladeira, a guitar-drive, subtly rhythmic sound with a light spirit, but to Pasocoal’s Cold War shaped life and travels, as well as Ano Nobo’s legacy. But these tracks aren’t traditional Koladera, as first created on the island of Fogo and popularized by Cesaria Evora. 

The Ano Nobo Quartet’s Koladera is a global story with Cabo Verde at its center, a creole melting pot in the middle of the Atlantic attracting the best from four continents: hypnotic, haunting Koladera guitars inflected with twangs of Salsa Cubano, Spanish Flamenco, Brazilian Samba Canção, Jamaican Reggae, Argentine Tango, Mozambican Marrabenta, and even a dash of Black American Blues. Pascoal even picked up a few notes from a group of Chinese guitarists—a traditional instrument in China resembles the cavaquinho—who arrived on a socialist cultural exchange in Cabo Verde. Absent percussion, the quartet’s sound still drips with rhythm.

This album was recorded in three locations on Santiago Island: in Pascoal’s home in São Domingos, the small hometown of Ano Nobo that sits amid the cascading hills of the countryside; in a secluded, remote recording space in the north of the island; and near Santiago’s northern beach cove without any electricity. Each location used a mobile recording studio equipped with different mics placed near and far to capture both the Spanish and Chinese-made guitars and the natural environment that shapes the saudade, a melancholic longing, of Koladera. Each space has its own atmosphere heard in the interludes.

Ostinato Records released three singles from The Ano Nobo Quartet album:

  • The gently swaying samba-like “Sociedad di Mocindadi,” which features some gorgeous strummed guitar and a sonorous lead baritone vocals.
  • The breathtakingly beautiful flamenco-like composition “Tio Bernar”
  • “Canta Ku Alma Magoado,” a swaying mix of samba and tango that’s simultaneously wistful and hopeful.

Deeply informed by personal and world history, the three singles are centered around an elegant and seemingly effortless simplicity. But interestingly enough, the material seems to ask the listener to slow down and to take stock of ourselves and our world in the years ahead.