Not widely known outside of Africa (or apparently even outside of Guinea-Bissau, from the sound of it), French record label Hot Mule has released Lua Ki Di Nos (The Moon is Ours), a collection of lost gems from Guinea-Bissau artist José Carlos Schwarz, on vinyl for the first time.
I purchased a copy of this one on the strength of the music, but it also has a powerful story to tell. Musically, it’s a fusion of popular and traditional styles, blending rock, afrobeat and jazz with Guinean folk genres. It’s a dynamic sound, at times raucous and danceable and at times beautiful and subdued. The lyrics are sung in Guinean Kriol and despite not being able to understand what’s being said, you can’t help but feel the sense of raw emotional weight behind every word.
Diving into the history imbues the music’s intensity in a new light. Born out of the process of decolonization leading up to and in the wake of the Portuguese revolution of 1974, Schwarz’s poetry and activism shaped the music he created. Staunchly anti-colonial, Schwarz’s lyrics were fervently critical of the Portuguese and played a crucial role in shaping the political and social consciousness of his country at the time. He was also a dedicated activist, and became involved in urban guerilla activities, including several bombings in central Bissau. For this, he was imprisoned and tortured for the better part of two years from 1972-1974.
The Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974 led to the recognition of the sovereign nation of Guinea-Bissau. Now released from prison, Schwarz was treated to a hero’s welcome and became a key figure in the transition to democracy. But forever an activist, it wasn’t long before Schwarz became critical of the new government’s corruption and opportunism. For this, he was blacklisted and outcast to an assignment at the Cuban embassy. In a tragic turn of events, Schwarz met an untimely death at the age of 27 en route to his new post, when his plane crashed upon arrival at the Havana airport on May 27, 1977.
Schwarz’s life – rich with experience, optimism and struggle – is reflected in the music he created. Lua Ki Di Nos (The Moon is Ours) is a rich collection, a powerful listen that’s illustrative of the strength and cultural identity of bissau-Guineans. A crucial album for students of music and history.