In 1989, as the Berlin Wall collapsed in front of the world’s eyes, a burly soldier from Cabo Verde stood on the East German side. Nicknamed “El Bruto” or “The Brute” because of his “brutally” good prowess on the guitar, Pascoal watched the end of an era in full uniform, the ever dutiful soldier. As a member of the FARP, the armed wing of Cabo Verde’s independence struggle, which was backed by the Soviet Union, Pascoal was dispatched the world over—from Cuba to Crimea to East Berlin.
Being stationed in Cuba gave him access to a world of guitar music. His stints in the Caribbean and the Crimean Peninsula were alongside soldiers from elsewhere in Lusophone Africa and the former colonized world. Not required on the battlefield, these military postings became cultural gatherings and, quite simply, jam sessions, where sounds and techniques were exchanged.
Today, along with fellow guitar maestros, Fany, Nono, and Afrikanu, Pascoal leads The Ano Nobo Quartet, named after Cabo Verde’s most legendary composer, Ano Nobo, Pascoal’s mentor and father to the rest of the group. Till today, Ano Nobo’s face graces murals across the archipelago.
Ostinato Records has delved deep into the sound of this cluster of 11 islands floating 400 miles off the West African coast. Critically acclaimed compilations like Synthesize the Soul, Leite Quente Funaná, and Pour Me A Grog provided three chapters of Cabo Verde’s story: 1980s synthesizer dance music, the 1990s diasporan sound in Europe, and the accordion heavy Funaná sound, all born in the same island of Santiago.
But the Covid-19 pandemic called for a departure in the fourth chapter. A different story needed telling. Pascoal is a soldier, able to weather hardship, adapt, and maintain a clear-eyed focus. In short, the man to lead a pandemic-era recording that demanded a shorter recording period to lessen the chance of transmission along with abrupt restrictions and limitations on gatherings and recording locations.
The Strings of São Domingos is not only a tribute to Koladera, or Coladeira, a guitar-driven, subtly rhythmic sound of a lighter spirit, but to Pascoal’s rich life history shaped by the Cold War and the legacy of Ano Nobo. But these tracks aren’t your traditional Koladera, the original recipe first cooked up in the island of Fogo and popularized by Cesaria Evora.
The Ano Nobo Quartet’s Koladera is a global story with Cabo Verde at its center, a creole melting pot in the middle of the Atlantic attracting the best from four continents: hypnotic, haunting Koladera guitars inflected with twangs of Salsa Cubano, Spanish Flamenco, Brazilian Samba Canção, Jamaican Reggae, Argentine Tango, Mozambican Marrabenta, and finished with a dash of Black American Blues. It’s all here. Pascoal even picked up a few notes from a group of Chinese guitarists—a traditional instrument in China resembles the cavaquinho—who arrived on a socialist cultural exchange in Cabo Verde. Absent percussion, the quartet’s sound still drips with rhythm.
This album was recorded in three locations on Santiago Island: in Pascoal’s home in São Domingos, the small hometown of Ano Nobo that sits amid the cascading hills of the countryside; in a secluded, remote recording space in the north of the island; and near Santiago’s northern beach cove without any electricity. Each location used a mobile recording studio equipped with different mics placed near and far to capture both the Spanish and Chinese-made guitars and the natural environment that shapes the saudade, a melancholic longing, of Koladera. Each space has its own atmosphere heard in the interludes.
The maiden voyage of our new Ostinato Acoustics series, The Ano Nobo Quartet confirms humanity is at its finest when we break life down to its essential parts and fundamental simplicity. A sound and approach cast from the depths of personal and world history that obliges us to seek humbler ways in the years ahead and hold the delicate yet sharp, serene yet swaying strings of São Domingos as the soundtrack to exit a brutal time, guided by brutally good music from brutally good guitarists.