The Upshot: A joyous onslaught of accordion, metallic rhythms and call and response singing.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
“Bitori Nha Bibina” is a joyous onslaught of accordion, metallic rhythms and call and response singing, led at the time of its 1997 recording by a 59-year-old man who had struggled awfully hard to be there. Bitori, in real life Victor Tavares, had made the 2300 plus mile trip from his native Cabo Verde to Sao Tome and Principe some 40 years before, seeking to earn enough money to buy the accordion he plays with such glee. Two years to buy the instrument, two more months to bring it home, Bitori accepted it all in order to learn the rural traditional style known as Funaná. At first he worked in the underground since the music was banned by colonial government, later, after independence in 1975, as celebration of Cabo Verde’s heritage, a blend of Portuguese and African influences.
his collection of songs, which features Bitori on accordion, the singer Chando Gracioso, Grace Evora on drums and Danilio Tavares on bass, catches him in exuberant form, layering short, repetitive riffs over swaying syncopations of drum, kit, cowbell and scratched and shaken percussion. The music is clearly meant for celebration, and you can hardly resist its call to sway and shimmy, yet there’s something melancholy, too, in the hoarse, emotive vocals and the slippery thrum of accordion. It’s an escape hatch, maybe, from the kind of world where two years hard labor might be seen as a fair trade for the axe that feeds your art, and where, famous many years later, you tour the world in your 70s, playing the scrappy songs of youth to people who have never been to your island nor will.
DOWNLOAD: “Bitori Nha Bibina