With Lua Ki Di Nos (The Moon Is Ours) the ever excellent Hot Mule label has released the first ever compilation to focus on the music of José Carlos Schwarz, a legendary poet, musician and decolonisation hero in his homeland Guinea-Bissau. Together with Super Mama Djombo (perhaps the most popular band of Guinea-Bissau outside of its borders) they gave back a deep sense of cultural identity to bissau-guineans at a time (beginning of the 1970s) when the country was broken up into many ethnic groups and at the heart of a war for independence.
By reviving traditional musical genres as gumbé and singing in Guinean Creole, José Carlos Schwarz & his band Cobiana Djazz established an immediate affective bond with their audiences. Through its music and politically engaged spirit of the lyrics, the band played a significant role in shaping the social and political consciousness of the masses, inciting the youth to join the armed struggle.
During his exile in Lisbon, the poet sang about the independence revolution, as on 'Na Kolonia', reflecting the cry of an artist thinking about the fate of his friends back home. The poignant intensity of his singing reminded me of another revolutionary anthem from Cabo Verbe, the island country that lies off the coast of Guinea-Bissau and with whom there is a lot of shared struggles and history (and feel in the music!): ‘Gritul Pobo’ by Kolà, from their Guiné-Bissau album.
The opener ‘Indicativo’ is one of the most uplifting tracks of the compilation and a sure fire dance-floor winner, as well as the psychedelic groove of ‘Picha Kamion’. On ‘Mindjeris Di Panu Pretu, the group pays tribute to the women in the struggle, as well as to the mothers of Guinean soldiers who disappeared during the independence resistance, a song that remains very important in Guinea-Bissau. Schwarz was also directly involved in resistance activities against the colonial power, participating in urban guerrilla actions or sabotage operations. His song 'Ke Ki Mininu Na Tchora' has also stood the test of time: it tells of the fratricidal split between the independentists and their colonised brothers who supported the colonial authorities.
Schwarz’ activities soon led to his imprisonment and torture, and he remained in lockup for about 2 years, between 1972 and 1974. The song ‘Djiu Di Galinha’, named after the island where political prisoners were deported, was recorded with Miriam Makeba on his first and only solo album (which was released posthumously) and testifies to his two-year experience behind bars. The process of decolonisation, in the wake of the Portuguese revolution of 25 April 1974, led to the recognition, during the same year, of the sovereign nation of Guinea-Bissau. Schwarz played an important part in the transition to the democratic regime, profiting from his popularity as an artist. Soon though his criticism became too much for the political elite, and he was assigned to the embassy in Havana. Tragically his plane crashed on arrival at Cuba's José Martí International Airport, on May 27th 1977, and José Carlos Schwarz met an untimely death at the age of 27.
Hailed by African giants like Orchestra Baobab, Letta Mbulu or Miriam Makeba, “Zé Carlos” and his poetry won a lasting position in the annals of Guinea-Bissau. Much props to Hot Mule for presenting Schwarz’s music and story to the world. The sound quality on this compilation is extraordinary and gives full justice to the depth and strength of the music. An essential release, and a great companion to the Léve Léve compilation on Sao Tomé & Principle sounds from the 70s-80s.