José Carlos Schwarz & Le Cobiana Djazz - Lua Ki Di Nos (Hot Mule, 2021)
Updated: Apr 9
The latest record from Hot Mule sees their attentions turned to one of the most important political and musical figures in Guinea-Bissau's history, with an album that helped to form a universal consciousness and togetherness in the fight for independence.
Throughout history, that have been a number of key movements and figures who have paired their musical talents with significant commentary over socio-political climates, societal inequalities and injustices. Art in general has always found a way to reflect life itself, either via the medium of putting paint to canvas as a means to literally represent mood and emotion, or via other forms such as cinema, dance, poetry and of course, music. As one of the most popular forms of artistic consumption, people have found that engaging with musicians who interweave their instrumentals with profound messages of defiance, hope and solutions, it provides them with a two fold experience that conveys moods not just through the melodies but through the messages in the lyrics. During the 20th century, many genres have been borne out of the suffering of marginalised peoples, such as African American genres like Blues, Soul, Funk and early Hip Hop, which all spun tales of community strife and inequality in the inner city, with the music behind both captivating and the lyrics at the front moving and heavy hitting. The music in turn became of exceptional significance, defining in it's wake a series of generations who became liberated in their minds as to the worlds that existed around them, with the razor sharp lyricism helping them to become informed about what was going on around them. There have been plenty of musicians from the African continent who have also also merged political commentary within the many forms of musical representation that exist there, from the societally charged sounds of South African Boogie and Soweto, through to the Afro-Beat rhythms that flowed from Nigeria. Due to colonisation and it's devastating short and long term impacts, there was much to speak of and highlight when it came to injustices, with many pioneering artists at the time using this angle to explore where society and the medium could co-exist in order to inspire minds and highlight what was going on around them. Music is very much a tool for social engagement, it's very nature something that we all strive to be a part of in some way, and that investment can be turned into something which makes a difference. Live performances, radio play, buying records, it's a form of artistic expression that can be consumed on a daily basis, either as a passive background element to all we do or soundtracking our emotional mood, but in some cases you craft a bond with the messages found within. When the words are so profound, relatable and somewhat personal in a way, you simply stop and take notice, you connect with the music and it's narrative in ways perhaps you never felt before. It's art reflecting life, poetry even that sheds light on the things we perceive around us but perhaps couldn't have said so elegantly, perceptions that provide differing sides to what is going on and thoughts that help to give a fuller picture of events that transpire. To this day, even when these kinds of records have been around for a significant period of time, they transport you back to the context in which they were made, powerfully retelling their tale to us through inspired lyricism and instrumentals that haven't lost any of their dual influence. Making music with meaning and passion will never go out of fashion, and when it serves as a infuser of society and culture, it becomes even more grander in meaning and scale, and it only echos through time with as much resolve as it did before. With all great pieces of art that challenged the norms and structures that be, we are reminded of the people who stood behind it all, their willingness and their drive to make things happen through their selected medium, and that is why we remember them with reverence and respect.
There's so many ways in which Jose Carlos Schwarz embodies many of the points we raised in the first paragraph, with his music a deeply moving blend of traditional West African sounds and powerful lyricism that reflected his impassioned stance on pro-independence, and it was a sound that endeared him very deeply to the Bissau-Guinean people. In his early life, Schwarz discovered a passion for literature, which when paired with his natural affinity for music saw him participate in a number of bands, with Schwarz during this period more influenced by American and Brazilian music. At the time, Schwarz's home nation of Guinea-Bissau was still under Portuguese occupation, which led to the young man being drawn towards the pro-indy group PAIGC, and with his new found political alignment his musical outputs focused towards more traditional sounds rather than international genres. In the early 1970s he formed the band Cobiana Djazz with musicians Aliu Bari and Mamadu Bá e Samakê, with the group quickly finding a wide ranging audience within the country, due to their portrayal of traditional genres like Gumbé along with politically driven lyrics that lamented colonial rule. The group's sound and narratives were deeply inspirational to Bissau-Guineans, who interpreted their sound as one of passive resistance - many traditional genres had been pushed underground by the Portuguese authorities - and one of providing the Bissau-Guinean people with a sense of pride in their country's culture and traditions. During the meteoric rise of Cobiana Djazz, Schwarz involved himself in numerous guerrilla activities with the PAIGC, which resulted in his subsequent imprisonment in 1972, with his incarceration lasting for 2 years. In the year of his release, Portugal would be thrown into a revolution, which would topple the regime in the nation, with the independence of Guinea-Bissau eventually achieved through the efforts of freedom fighters. With the country now free of colonial rule, Schwarz was handed a role in government as the Director for Arts & Culture. However, disputes with the ruling elite saw him sent off to Cuba in a diplomatic role, and as artistic differences began to appear within Cobiana Djazz, Schwarz would leave and start a new band, Kumpô, which too lasted a short while due to Schwarz's political commitments. In 1977, Schwarz was tragically killed aged just 27 in a plane crash in Cuba, with his funeral attended by a significant crowd in his home nation which went a long way to show just how much the man, his music and his political passions had inspired so many.
Schwarz's reverence from the Bissau-Guinean people stems not just from the political activism that he held dear, but also the music in which he conveyed to the public during the 1970s. His band, Cobiana Djazz, only released three records together but the magnitude of the music found within cannot be understated, in terms of how much it inspired a generation of Bissau-Guineans to be engaged with the struggles for independence and how the music showcased the excellence of traditional West African genres. To this day, Schwarz is widely considered to be amongst the most influential musicians from the country, with his broad appeal based within a deep rooted affinity for musicality that combined so effortlessly with meaningful lyrics that resonated so brightly with many people. Now for the first time, we see a collection of his and Cobiana Djazz's tracks bought together for a hotly anticipated reissue via one of our favourite labels, Hot Mule. The album, entitled 'Lua Ki Di Nos', showcases the absolute extents of the groups work, with solemn and deeply emotive cuts placed alongside short but incredibly sweet high octane numbers that encourage all to get up, get down and perhaps most importantly, to listen. As a musical experience it's incredible engaging, with the tones that flow forth utterly sublime at times as we shift through the sands and realms of human experience, the vocals shining forth as truly beautiful with the instrumentals texturally so on point. It's certainly one of the reissues of the year, so without further delay lets dive right into this exceptional collection of music.....
The record opens up with 'Indicativo', that sets the stage for the brilliance which is going to flow our way. The loose driving intro quickly gives way for the fantastically up tempo instrumental section, with driving sharp horns setting the boundaries for Schwarz's voice to deliver itself in like terms, with the two elements winding up higher and higher in a wonderful call back kind of way. The guitar underneath acts as a beautiful contrast to the gorgeous interplay up top, with the saxophone that aligns itself within the track giving way for some of the purest guitar you will ever hear, the solo finding all the nooks within the chordal progression to create a succulent textured feel, and like that we move back into the main sequence with the vocals and horns arriving back into view, and it's all just so triumphant. A gorgeous start, indeed. Up next comes 'Estin', and this one begins in a more sultry smooth manner. The guitar longingly hangs in the air as the drums lightly shift from left to right, with additional percussive elements adding depth and feel to the groove, and before long we are joined by the vocals, pitch perfect in terms of tone, as we close our eyes to capture the essence of all that is going on. The chorus sees a backing vocal line craft further depth to the cut, with delightful flourishes of instrumentalism seeing themselves into the mix, as the bass line continues to inspire with it's driving line through the core of the track. The shifts between the verses and choruses are pulled off impeccably well, and as we move into the final minute or so we are greeted with a profoundly moving guitar solo, with our minds following the fingers of the player as it cuts across the horizon line to arrive right in the palms of our hands, a beautiful audial gift that could last a lifetime and never loose it's purity and meaning. Mesmerising stuff. 'Po Ka Ta Bida Lagartu' arrives next, and this one begins off in similar tempo territories to the previous tune. The drums are laid back and full of rhythmic expressionism, the guitar simmering and poignant, the horns swelling and expanding with each passing minute, and as the vocals rise and rise some more the track goes the extra mile to drawn us in and release us back into the core groove. The shifts between these energised excursions and the sultry verse sections is a joy to listen to, the vocal work on display here particularly impressive, and as we move into the half way mark of the track we see a shift into a instrumental heavy segment, with plenty of stunning movements occurring across the board as we sway and move with the groove. The swells return once more to bring us right back into the heart of proceedings, shifting through the tones with an effectiveness that only the finest application can achieve. Beautiful stuff, really. 'Dispus Ke E Lebal' arrives next, and this one is a keeper, for sure. The bass line flickers into life as the track then opens up with the rolling drums propping up the beautiful guitar interplay, as the vocals arrive not too soon after to complete the picture, moving between the lead and backing line with an infectious sense of energy. The movements into the instrumental segments is gorgeous, keeping our hearts and minds firmly involved with everything that is on offer, as the guitar really shines once more with it's delicate placements. The vocals return soon after to keep us firmly engaged, our focus shifting across the spectrum to lap up all that is on offer, and it certainly is a lot indeed. Beautiful!
'Tiu Bernal' arrives next, and this one starts off with the horns getting us going. Their placement is suitably expansive, encompassing all parts of the pan as their feel gets underpinned by the guitar, which signals in turn to the drums to come right into view, and what a glorious liftoff it is. The drums roll along with a superb intensity, crafting a compelling foundation for all the other instruments and vocals to find their own place within the track, the overall vibe an intoxicating one to get involved deep within. The guitar once again takes centre stage in providing further textural explorations for us to enjoy, and with one final vocal and horn laden salvo we see the track float off into the night. Up next comes 'Na Kolonia', a song written about the fight for independence in Guinea-Bissau. The track opens up with the guitar leading the way, shifting through fluttering picked notes and chordal licks, with their placement setting the stage for the drums and horns to align themselves deep within the track, as the vocals quickly gather steam up top. The horns provide the boundaries of tone and emotion, propping up the longingly sung words as a means to emphasise the message being conveyed, with the tone of the vocals moving from softly spoken to rising soaring defiance, and with that we move into the instrumental segment. The guitar continues onwards with it's weaving hypnotic feel, as a horn solo speaks to us on the left hand side of the composition, it's fluctuating presence providing an enormous level of character to proceedings, with the sax that follows it equally at home with providing a deep set of feelings that cannot be denied. The guitar then chimes in with it's contribution, again applying itself utterly to the role with a display of heartfeltness that melts the soul with it's mood, we swear you won't hear a sweeter tone ever again. The track then picks itself up once again as we slowly meander through the sea of infectiousness, keeping tabs on all the layers that make up this utterly phenomenal composition. Marvellous stuff! Up next comes 'Mindjeris De Panu Pretu', and this one begins in similar territories to the previous cut. The drums lightly introduce us to the composition as the guitar follows from the heart yet again, with the underneath loop propping up the solo of all solos, with the ensemble setting the stage for the vocals to come into view. The ensuing blend is heartfelt and purposeful, the contrast between the refined lead vocal line and the expansive soaring backing vocals creating a dynamic that makes the song feel ten feet tall, with the instrumental segment helping to bind us further into the world being painted for us here. The guitar glides across the top section, tonally impeccable as always as we see the dots begin to connect right in front of our eyes, with the vocals arriving for one final salvo before the end credits roll, and we are in heaven right now.
'Pintcha Kamion' arrives next, and this one kicks the energy up a notch. The percussion is up tempo and full of vitality, with the instrumentals that arrive soon after full of hope and passion, as we shift through the gears with a surprising intensity, the vocals delivered with a real punch as we can't help but get up and dance. The shifts between high octane lines and rhythmically intense passages help to keep the fire burning, the energy pulsating through our veins as we simply cannot get enough of it. The guitar solo, well need we praise the guitar work on this record any further! wonderful. 'Pena Di Galiña' arrives next, and the energy takes a dip down on this one just a bit. The drums swing from left to right as the horns and brass set the feels in a melodic sense, their presence filling every single corner of the top ends with purpose and presence, with the vocals that arrive soon after only furthering the immersiveness. The shifts between the horns and the vocals craft continual engagement as time passes by, keeping our sights firmly set on the prize as we sway and sway some more with the passing winds, emotionally and physically satisfied with the experience we are being presented with. Gorgeous stuff. 'Amigus Ka Bali' arrives next, which wraps up the track listing for the vinyl release, and this one starts with energy and purpose. The guitar gets us going as the horns and drums emerge underneath to help craft the onward progression, with the vocals arriving soon after to complete the picture, with the onwards trajectory one of continual searching and exploring, effortlessly breezing through the bars and stanzas with such majesty and ease. The way in which the various elements synergise with one another is truly wonderful, with our hearts and minds totally enamoured with all that flows through the tracks core. The instrumental break then leads back into the vocal laden verse, with the vocals working alongside the intricate guitar playing to maximum effect, as we slowly nod our head to the undulating vibes that spew forth from within. Beautiful stuff.
Now we enter into the final part of the record, which features three digital only songs that were originally released on the 1978 LP 'Djiu Di Galinha', and we kick things off with 'Apili'. The track differentiates itself from the previous sound not in terms of structure or application, but in terms of the instruments used, with the electric guitar replaced gorgeous acoustic leads and a expressive piano lead line featuring prominently within the mix. The vocals are on point as always, matching the deeply intricate melodic structure that persists underneath with a equally compelling narrative that soars, flutters and speaks in equal measure, keeping us firmly locked in as time passes by. 'Flema Di Korcon' arrives next, and this one turns to a differing feel once again. The congas lead the way in crafting a percussive feel, with keyboards and a more rock style lead guitar coming into the picture to craft a very compelling groove indeed, with the vocals moving in and out of view in order to add further to the movement of the track. All the elements work in unison on this one, with every feature finding space within the groove in which to express itself to the fullest extent, with the dip in energy leaving us waiting with baited breath for what might transpire, and sure enough we lead the way back into the groove, and it's absolutely glorious. To wrap things up, we have 'Djiu Di Galinha', which was written by Schwarz about his experiences in prison. The track begins with the looping guitar lines unravelling over some light drumming patterns and key lines, with the composition picking up steam as the vocals slide into view, their longing presence softly speaking over a bed of meaning and rhythm, with the hats moving into view soon after to provide momentum of the highest order. The track moves along at a very sauntered pace indeed, shifting through the gears with impeccable timing and all the grace in the world, as the vocals groove within the rhythms to an expert degree. It's a final statement on a record that has simply left us jaw dropped, from the incredible compositions to the genius like instrumentation, to the tone and the feel of it all. There's so much to marvel at here.
Sometimes the sound of a record leaps out and sits right next to you, pointing out the feels contained within in a hope of allowing you to access what is trying to be conveyed. On many occasions when listening to this record, you get completely drawn into the world being vividly painted before your eyes, the sweetest of tones washing over you and encircling your mind with a delightfulness reserved only for the very finest of musicians. Schwarz and Cobiana Djazz could certainly play, thats for sure, but it's how they used their musical abilities to great effect that remains the real winner on this front, with the guitar and drums outlined to perfection whilst the vocals, well you know what they are already about already. All of the instruments work to portray a mood, and whilst we weren't around to experience the atmosphere leading up to the country's independence, you can feel what that notion meant to the band and indeed the people who listened to their music at the time. It's emotional, meaningful and impactful, with those notions combining to create a sound that is hopeful yet yearning at the same time, and the results couldn't be more spectacular. A truly iconic release, and as reissues go this year, this might just be the very best of the lot.
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