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José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz - Lua Ki Di Nos (Album Review)

José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz

Lua Ki Di Nos

9 April 2021

Hot Mule

Album Rating 4.5 / 5

Favourite Songs Estin, Mindjeris De Panu Pretu, Na Kolonia

A new reissue is out from Parisian label Hot Mule celebrating the music of José Carlos Schwarz and his group Le Cobiana Djazz, with Lua Ki Di Nos presenting Schwarz's traditional musical form of Guinean creole and the songs that gave a political and cultural identity to Guinea-Bissau in the 1970s.

Having an influence in reviving traditional genres which were confined to underground events and had no popularity in the mainstream, Schwarz or 'Zé Carlos' was an integral figure in the Guinean people's history in restoring identity through this roots revival of music and his lyricism was key to motivating the Guinean youth to take part in the war for independence.

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. At the start of the 70s, the country was broken up into many ethnic groups and the local Portugese authorities tried to disseminate political propaganda favourable to the occupant regime.

Schwarz became in contact with the pro-independence PAIGC and through this his ideals prevailed that he would support the armed struggle for independent both in artistic and political action.

After creating bands inspired by eclectic American and Brazilian influences growing up, he started writing in Guinean creole in the 70s and with Aliu Bari, Mamadu Bá and Samakê he started Le Cobiana Djazz and the music was a weapon of affirmative resistance.

With the guitar used as the prominent instrument for melody and rhythm in this selection of songs, the whole album feels personal to Schwarz as the vocals ring out with real intensity, enthusiasm and pride. There's anthemic moments in 'Pena Di Galiña' as the horns ring out behind the group's shared singing, whilst 'Djiu Di Galinha' has a hypnotic lullaby tone to the instrumentation as the vocals softly sit on top. This contrasts to the song being a narrative of the time Schwarz spent imprisoned in the penal colony of Ilha das Galinhas.

Schwarz was involved in urban guerilla activities which resulted in several bombings in the centre of Bissau, leading to his imprisonment and torture in PIDE/DGS in Bissau. He was transferred to Ilha das Galinhas and imprisoned between 1972 and 1974. Profiting from his popularity as an artist, he played an important part in the transition to the democratic regime as he was appointed director of the Arts and Culture Department and become responsible for the new government’s youth policies.

Whilst leaving Le Cobiana Djazz to form Kumpô in 1975, the collective was short-lived due mostly to his time consuming agenda as a politician. However, the songs from the group still had significance to the people of Guinea-Bissau in their fight to independence.

The guitar monologue of 'Mindjeris De Panu Pretu' is sensational, the pain shakes through each note as this is a tribute to the mourning mothers of Guinean soldiers who fought and perished in the war for independence - it's become an unofficial hymn of Guinea-Bissau. 'Na Kolonia' directly addresses being a colony with the trumpet squeels echoing an exasperation for independence as the beautiful guitar is touching and moving.

The faster paced songs create an urgency to the message of some of the songs, with 'Amigus Ka Bali' and 'Pintcha Kamion' featuring wonderfully gliding guitar that weaves between the vocal hooks, with 'Tiu Bernal' adding horns to enhance this energy.

'Estin' is a personal favourite, with the melancholy atmosphere supplemented by a poignant guitar solo.

His interventions with new policies came to be increasingly thought of as inconvenient by the establishment as his critique of ideological treachery by ex-revolutionaries now in power became more noticeable in his art. He was sent away to Cuba under the pretence of setting up Guinea- Bissau’s diplomatic representation in that country as government officials wanted to separate the author from his supporters by assigning him to the embassy in Havana. Schwarz met a tragic and untimely death when his plane crashed on arrival at Cuba’s José Martí International Airport on 27 May 1977.

Hailed by african giants like Orchestra Baobab, Letta Mbulu or Miriam Makeba (with whom he recorded his first and only solo album), a significant portion of Schwarz’s musical and lyrical repertoire remains largely undisclosed, many of his poems still waiting to be shaped into songs.

Lua Ki Di Nos is a collection of songs that remain unjustifiably unknown outside the country and its diasporas. It's a wonderful selection that displays the power of music and art in shaping the social and political consciousness of a country deprived of independence. Artists like José Carlos Schwarz should always be remembered for their roles in such significant periods of history.


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