Biography Waldemar Bastos
Part I: 1954/1982 – Childhood – Angola
Waldemar Bastos was born near the border with Zaire in N’Banza Congo, a little town which was the first capital city of the ancient kingdom of Angola.
Both his parents were nurses. He started singing at a very early age.
“When I was a child, my mother, who is still alive fortunately, soon realized I had a very special musical gift. I used to spend my days singing and whistling, and my mother noticed that as something out of the ordinary... and she gave me all her support”.
“One day, my father arrived home and found me playing his concertina. I felt bad for having been caught touching, without permission, an instrument which was almost sacred for him. But he was pleasantly surprised; I think he was even satisfied to hear me playing popular radio songs. In the following Christmas he gave an accordion as a gift...”
The dice were rolling. From then on, a young Waldemar dedicated his heart and soul to music. When he was eight, he heard a radio announcement about a teacher who gave musical lessons. Waldemar spoke with his parents about the lessons and they accepted the idea. Since money was scarce, the little kid chose the lessons over the possibility of getting a bicycle.
With Mr. Gomes, Waldemar easily learned many things about music, but since he had a very fine ear he soon lost interest in the notes, and started his adventure in the world of sounds. At that point he developed an almost exclusive trust in his intuition and fabulous ear. According to the in-lay text for the “Pretaluz/Blacklight“ album, this is a determinant episode for an understanding of Waldemar Bastos’ talent.
It seemed as if it was written in the stars. With his brother Lúcio, Fernanda, the teacher’s daughter, and a few other friends, he formed the band “Jovial”. This musical group traveled throughout the country and played at high school proms, reveillons, birthday parties and all sorts of occasions.
“For many years, since I was a kid, I was in various bands, and traveled throughout Angola playing all kinds of music: pop, rock, blues, tangos, waltzes, among other styles, plus what I had learned from my father and my people in the places I traveled through.
My music is defined by own life experiences, praise for Angolan identity, and a call for universal brotherhood. I have matured. Everything I have absorbed from other cultures, and various musical styles, – I have traveled quite a bit -, which has inspired beauty in me, is a part of what I’m doing now. So, it is gratifying for me to hear or read critics say, as it recently happened in the USA, that my music is universal. That it is not a regional music, but instead for people everywhere. This is my main and most sincere goal, my contribution for harmony among people! For me such is the first and ultimate function of Art”.
Pressure and exile
During colonial times, Waldemar Bastos was once imprisoned by the Portuguese Secret Police, PIDE. Political activity? Not at all. He was in high school, where he was an excellent student, and one day he was put into prison because of some flyers that started circulating there. While the secret police knew he had nothing to do with it, they still arrested him.
“They couldn’t arrest everybody, and because they knew that, even though I was not politically involved, I didn’t agree with the established regime and the police behavior, they just grabbed me and jailed me. As simple as that! While in prison I wrote a few songs that would later become known...’Coisas da Vida, coisas da Terra, coisas do Homem’ ( ). ”
In the meantime, Angola won its independence and followed the long and tortuous socialist road. It was a very difficult delivery and birth. A fratricidal war for political power was already happening.
“The problem is that I spent several years under great pressure. As a singer I traveled often to the eastern Bloc where I realized what the musicians there went through. As it was the case in Angola, the artists and the singers had to support the regime, and that was choking for me in terms of how I felt art in my life. So I decided to escape. I defected in 1982 during a visit to Portugal to participate at FITEI integrated in an official Angolan delegation. I stayed in Portugal and didn’t return.”
He did not stay in Portugal for very long. Lisbon has always been to “close” to Luanda, and since Waldemar feared reprisals, he went to Berlin, West Germany, where he had some friends. Waldemar remained in Germany for a few months. Then he left to Brazil, where he became acquainted with some well known musicians, such as Chico Buarque, João do Vale, Elba Ramalho, Djavan and Clara Nunes, among many others who had been in Angola in the late seventies, integrated in the Kalunga Project. This Project was the largest Brazilian artistic delegation to ever visit another country.
Part II: 1982/1985 – Brazil – The Internationalization
Things went well in Brazil, with some of the above-mentioned artists demonstrating, in practice, the real meaning of recognition and solidarity. Waldemar ends up finding a label interested in his work, EMI-Odeon, and records his first album. The well-known “Estamos Juntos”, a definitive landmark in Waldemar Bastos’ career, includes the theme “A Velha Chica” (“Xê, little boy, don’t talk politics”), and had, among others, Chico Buarque, João do Vale, Dorival Caimmy, Martinho da Villa and Novelli as special guests.
“I thank God for everything. For the Brazilian musicians’ recognition and solidarity. They showed their respect even before the recording of my first album. They are fantastic people and exceptional musicians”.
“I felt the next step in my musical future had to be in Europe. In 1985 I went to Portugal. I kept on paying dues for having left Angola as I did, –escape from an official delegation in a foreign country-, and for stubbornly maintaining an independent and non-partisan position”.
Part III 1986/1996 – Portugal – Maturity
Waldemar decided to stay in Lisbon in 1985, where he recorded his second album, the highly praised “Angola Minha Namorada”, five years later. The family, his wife and children who had remained in Luanda, came to Lisbon. Life was not easy, it was ”complex and difficult, but based on honesty and without allowing for any kind of humiliation”.
“That’s how it was, living like a camel in a long journey through the desert.”
In 1990, when his second album was released, Waldemar went to Angola, where he was still very popular. In Luanda, at the Kinaxixe Square, Waldemar presented a memorable concert for 200.000 people who applauded him effusively and emotionally, waving white handkerchiefs. Waldemar understood this surprising gesture as a clear message from a people who wanted peace. Waldemar had that exact same feeling, which is ever present in his work.
Two years later, in 1992, right after the release of his third album, “Pitanga Madura”, Waldemar returned to Luanda once again.
“Given the fact that an effervescent historical moment was taking place, if, on the one hand, these circumstances brought me joy, on the other hand, I felt great apprehension because of the way I was being claimed by both sides.
The situation became, again, dangerous for me, and I understood it was not the right moment to stay in Angola. I left, and as it became dramatically clear later on, such a decision was vital. If I had remained in Angola, as it happened with others, I probably wouldn’t be singing for you now.”
Waldemar continued to compose and having shows in various places in Portugal, including the Azores, where he went often. He emphasizes that the Azores have been for him “a source of ‘oxygen’ throughout this long exile”. He sang in Cape Verde several times, understanding and absorbing the indescribable beauty of “Morabeza”. He also played in Mozambique on behalf of children victims of famine.
I knew how far my music could go. I took a risk and didn’t record any album for six years. But finally, by chance, a door was opened...”
Part IV 1996/2002 – Worldwide recognition
While traveling through Lisbon, David Byrne, the mastermind of Luaka Bop record label, and ex-leader of the “Talking Heads”, bought, by chance, a record of the Angolan singer in a downtown Lisbon shop. Later on, very pleased with what he heard on the record, the famous musician made contact with the late Luís Mateus, who worked at the Lisbon TSF Radio. Soon after, Waldemar would be featured in the album “Afropea – Telling Stories to the Sea”, an anthology of Lusophone artists issued by Luaka Bop.
Afterwards there was “Pretaluz/Blacklight”, recorded in NYC, produced by Arto Lindsay, and issued by Luaka Bop. The album got great reviews from some of the most representative voices of the International press (New York Times, Village Voice, USA Today, Herald Tribune, El Pais, Libération, Los Angeles Times, El Mundoa, The Times a.o.). The New York Times described it as “one of the best World music records of the decade”. In the aftermath of “Pretaluz/Blacklight”, Waldemar won the “Award for the Emerging Artist of the Year (1999)”. A wave of recognition for his music seemed to sweep the four corners of the USA, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and through the Mississippi delta. And it didn’t end in the U.S. After his release in Europe in 1998, Waldemar was discovered by the European audience and media.
“This maturation process was developed, and forced upon me, in great part, by the suffering that me and my family have been submitted to. To the point that my oldest son Walter, a true peacemaker, was murdered. Hand in hand with the examples which come from others, I realized also, through my own experience, that the road of life is harsh. Especially when one fights with determination and honesty for the values of Humanity and Peace”.
After his successful tours in Europe in the past years, Waldemar Bastos called the attention of the authorities and was invited as the opening act at the UNESCO Festival „Don’t forget Africa“ in June 2000 in the Canary Islands. Later in the year he was invited by Mr. Ryhuichi Sakamoto to take part in the „Zero-Landmine“ project. The intention of this non-profit project, with the cooperation of several international artists like Arto Lindsay, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Jaques Morelenbaum, and with the special participation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to name a few, under the auspices of Tokyo Broadcasting Service, was to support the humanitarian work of “Halo Trust” in helping to clean the landmine infected countries.
Several doors were opened for Waldemar Bastos. One of them was the door of the principality of Monaco. His Highness Prince Ernst-August of Hanover and Her Highness Princess Caroline of Monaco invited him to play a private concert for the royal family. Their appreciation brought him several invitations a. o. for the “Bal de la Rose” in March 2003 in Monaco, which was a charity gala for the Grace Kelly foundation.
Waldemar felt very happy being recognized by such authorities as he says:
“They could have invited anyone, but it fills me with pride and happiness that they invited an “unknown” African artist instead of some superstar. It shows me that it was not the fact of being famous, but the recognition for an artist!”
Part V Reconciliation – Renewal 2003/2004
Times have changed for Waldemar Bastos in 2003, when the war in Angola came to an end after 42 years. He was invited to celebrate this very special day with a remarkable performance in the national stadium in Luanda in April 2003. In the end his struggle for unity and brotherhood was rewarded!
Waldemar realized that it was time to fulfill his dream of recording an “Afropean” - Guitar album for the 21st century. After taking this decision the events followed up quickly and he had the unique chance to record his new album “Renascence”. The events started in San Pedro de Alcántara, Spain, where Waldemar brought together some of the most outstanding musicians of Africa, from Congo to Angola and from Mozambique to Guinea. The journey into a new expression of contemporary African music began.
The story continued in Berlin, where while he was recording, he invited some young musicians from Portugal and Martinique to take part in this musical journey. When Waldemar decided to go to Istanbul, to record the strings which can be heard on “Renascence”, he showed once more that music is borderless and a key to unite people by using it as a bridge between cultures. Finally the musical path brought him to London where he finished together with his producer Paul “Groucho” Smykel the mixing of “Renascence”.
Press-Reviews and Discography
The following newspapers and other media covered and reviewed a great number of these shows: New York Times, The Guardian, The Voice of America, Village Voice, Afropop Worldwide, The Observer, Qradio – Quincy Jones, BBC World, Le Monde, Rádio France, Diogéne/Unesco, Libération, El Pais, El Mundo, The Beat, The Times, Público, Expresso and Visão
„Estamos Juntos“, 1982, EMI, Brazil
„Angola minha Namorada“, 1990, EMI-Valentim de Carvalho
„Pitanga Madura“, 1992, EMI-Valentim de Carvalho
„Pretaluz/Blacklight“, 1997, Luaka Bop, Warner Brothers
„Renascence“, 2004, World Connection
„Telling stories to the Sea - Adventures in Afropea 3“, Luaka Bop,
Warner Brothers, 1995
„Tierra Session 02“, S.G.A.E., 1998
„Greenpeace Brasil“, MCD World Music, 1999
„ World Music Season Sampler 1999/2000“, Ryko/World Music, 1999
„Scratch that Itch - Slow Jams“, Luaka Bop, Virgin, 2000
„Global Transmissions - a World Music Sampler“, Narada World 2000