The music of Guinea-Bissau is usually associated with the polyrhythmic gumbe genre, the country's primary musical export. However, civil unrest and a small size have combined over the years to keep gumbe, and other genres, out of mainstream audiences, even in generally syncretist African countries.
The calabash is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau, and is used in extremely swift and rhythmically complex dance music. Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies, especially AIDS.
The word gumbe is sometimes used generically, to refer to any music of the country, though it most specifically refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country's folk music traditions. Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while extent folk traditions include ceremonial music used in funerals, initiations and other rituals, as well as Balanta brosca and kussundé, Mandinga djambadon and the kundere sound of the Bijagos islands.
Independence from Portugal came in 1974, after long years of struggle. In contrast to other Portuguese colonies like Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde, the fado song tradition did not penetrate Guinea-Bissau to any significant degree. Gumbe was the first popular song tradition to arise in the country, and began in 1973 with the recording of Ernesto Dabó's "M'Ba Bolama" in Lisbon. Dabó's record producer was Zé Carlos, who had formed the most popular band in Guinea-Bissau's history, Cobiana Djazz, in 1972. The next popular band to form was Super Mama Djombo, whose 1980 debut, Cambança, was tremendously popular across the country.
These early bands, and others like Africa Livre, Chifre Preto and Kapa Negra, had a stormy relationship with Guinea-Bissau's dictatorial government. Zé Carlos criticized the administration, and died in a plane crash in Havana under suspicious circumstances that many of his fans believed to indicate a government role in his murder. Later, Super Mama Djambo both supported the PAIGC and mocked its perceived nepotism and corruption.
In the 1980s, genres like kussundé began to become popular across the country, led by Kaba Mané, whose Chefo Mae Mae used an electric guitar and Balanta lyrics. Some performers were banned by the government, including Zé Manel after he began singing "Tustumunhus di aonti" (Yesterday's Testimony) in 1983, using lyrics written by Huco Monteiro, a poet. Justino Delgado, another popular singer, was arrested for criticizing President João Bernardo Vieira.
Angolan pop music is called Kizomba who supports a fairly large number of artistes singing in both English and Portuguese.
- de Klein, Guus. "The Backyard Beat of Gumbe". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 499-504. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
- BBC Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Manecas Costa and the gumbe rhythm. Accessed November 25, 2010.
- BBC Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Balanta men. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Discography of Guinea Bissauan recordings - Radio Africa, Graeme Counsel
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