In 1998, Victor Tavares, known as Bitori, released an album of what is considered to be the very best Funana music to date, Bitori Nha Bibinha. Funana is a form of Cape Verdian music which was stigmatised as inferior by colonial society, despite being borne from it. Bitori spent an entire life playing and invigorating his beloved funana against the odds, with a gaita diatonic accordion; he recorded Bitori Nha Bibinha at 59. Analog Africa has re-released Bitori’s chef d’oeuvre as Legend of Funana, allowing old and new listeners to engage with Bitori’s grand moment of musical and postcolonial cultural triumph, once again.
Though this album was recorded in Rotterdam, its compositions take on the shape of mid/late 20th century Cape Verde. In every instrument we hear the spirit of women in headscarves at marketplaces, working to raise their families; open air conversations on rocky dirt roads amongst battered houses, and lookouts to a new horizon and ways out for a society during and after colonialism.
Bitori’s accordion playing is raw, humorous, lengthy, and aims to be magnificent. It has the sound of a passionate, romantic, existence. “Legend of Funana” is incredibly rhythmic and never once does its rhythmic section, comprised of drumming and bass, allow our attention to wander. The album’s first song is “Bitori Nha Bibinha,” the title of the song of this album’s first incarnation, Bitori Nha Bibinha. It is a song that asks its listener to dance. Every instrument aims to make a strong impression, though Bitori’s accordion is loudest.
It is an album of eight songs in total. The song “Natalia” mirrors the personality of a young woman, perhaps named Natalia. Language here is a barrier, but the song’s rhythm and raw accordion playing sounds surprisingly familiar, as if a portrait and landscape of the life of a young woman in a country where it is sunny, but there hasn’t been enough capitalist development to preoccupy a soul with professionalism and middle class rectitude. “Natalia’s” hand clapping is superb. “O Julinha” is a second song with a woman’s name, and this time the song seems to express the personality of a much quieter woman, to a ‘O, Julinha,’ that can only be a lament in any language. It’s a superb listen and a serenade that will warm the heart with its musical edge and rhythm anywhere in this world.
This album’s vocalist is Chando Graciosa. His voice is strong, memorable, and sounds like that of a leader at a country fair or carnival: of large, communal activity. His singing style wows as much as the timbre of his voice; it sounds like that of a society passionately attempting to organise itself in the best way through communal culture. Miroca Paris, this album’s background vocals, is also phenomenal.
According to Britannica.com, a legend is a “traditional story or group of stories told by about a particular person or place.” Folktales, on the other hand, are not specifically about a particular person or a place that has existed or is still in existence. Like music, they allow our minds to run wild about the world around us by engaging our senses. A legend put to music should be doubly exciting then, if composed and performed to both legend and music. Tavares did not initially intend for his album to be a legend, but the fact that he is such a figure in Cape Verde’s music does make it so that the second title is appropriate – it is an album that engages as both a legend (that of a courageous and talented man who stood propelled indigenous culture) and as brilliant music.