Renowned world musician Waldemar Bastos‘ sixth studio album, Classics of My Soul, was released in the U.S. on Sept. 11. The record, which was produced by Derek Nakamato and features players such as percussionist Luis Conte, guitarist Mitchell Long and pianist Keiko Matsui among others in support of Bastos’ acoustic guitar and singing, was released in his native Angola in 2010. Recorded in Los Angeles and London, Classics of My Soul now returns to the shores where it was crafted.
“The new album has a different sound,” says Bastos in a news release. “I believe that we are in a moment of Peace in Angola, the first steps of democracy, and this of course fulfills your spirit with joy. It also reflects itself in the music and the music is the reflection of my state of mind. All these ingredients made the album more profound and cheerful.”
Nakamato, who Bastos met while working on the U2 Tribute album, In the Name of Love – Africa Celebrates U2, said, “After many conversations with Waldemar, we decided the foundation of this record would be his voice and unique acoustic guitar playing. After we recorded all of the basic tracks and lead vocals, my role as producer was simply to listen to what the music needed. It was important to Waldemar that this project would take place without a record company or any person that would have influence on the music or its direction. My commitment to him was that this was to be ‘his record.’ With his distinguished career and numerous recordings, I clearly sensed that there was something more he wished to achieve with this project.
Waldemar remarked to me that these songs presented on Classics of My Soul are very special and close to his heart, even more important treasures to the people of Angola. This album was to celebrate their spirit and not his ego. I remember an instance where he sang a vocal that astounded us in the room and upon listening to it on playback, Waldemar looked at me and said, ‘No, the performance is too much about me and the song IS NOT about me. Let me do it again.’ With a very subtle shift the emotion of the song reflected the lyric and not the dramatic performances of ‘singer.’ His intent always was very clear.”
Among the host of musicians chosen to take part in the album, Bastos and Nakamato also went to London where, with the help of conductor Nick Ingman, they recorded the London Symphony Orchestra for four of the album’s tracks. Bastos says, “my music is defined by my own life experiences, praise for Angolan identity, and a call for universal brotherhood. It is gratifying for me to hear 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.”
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. He started singing at a very early age. Bastos describes his musical childhood as such, “When I was a child, my mother 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.” From there, Bastos would dedicate himself wholeheartedly to music, traveling around Angola and playing everything from pop and rock to waltzes and tangos.
In the meantime, Angola won its independence and followed the long socialist road. Feeling burdened by the repressing role of the government in the arts, Bastos defected to Portugal in 1982 and later to Berlin and from thereto Brazil, where he became acquainted with some well-known musicians, such as Chico Buarque, João do Vale, Elba Ramalho, Djavan and Clara Nunes who had been in Angola in the late ’70s. Bastos’ career bloomed during his time away from his homeland. His debut, Estamos Juntos, was released by EMI-Odeon while the musician lived and worked in Brazil, with the acclaimed sophomore release, Angola Minha Namorada, following in 1990 when Bastos had returned to Portugal.
All the while the musician continued to be in the Angolan spotlight. In 1990, he gave a memorable concert to an audience of 200,000 in Luanda’s Kinaxixe Square and returned two years later on the heels of his third album, Pitanga Madura. Bastos says, “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.”
While travelling 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. Soon after that, Bastos would be featured on the album Afropea – Telling Stories to the Sea, an anthology of Lusophone artists issued by Luaka Bop. Afterwards there was Pretaluz/Blacklight, recorded in New York City, produced by Arto Lindsay, and issued by Luaka Bop. The New York Times described it as “one of the best World music records of the decade” and was included in Tom Moon’s book 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. In the aftermath of Pretaluz/Blacklight, Bastos won the “Award for the Emerging Artist of the Year (1999)”.
In 1998, Bastos was discovered by the European audience and media after his successful tours in Europe 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. Ruichi Sakamoto to take part in the Zero Landmine project in cooperation with international artists like Arto Lindsay, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Jacques Morelenbaum. Other accomplishments include three of his compositions being featured in the Hollywood movie, The Sweepers. He has also received several invitations by Monacan royalty Prince Ernst August von Hanover and Princess Caroline von Hanover in the course of which he also gave a private concert for Rainier III. In 2003 the Angolan war ended after 30 years and Bastos was invited to celebrate this very special day in a remarkable performance in the national stadium in Luanda.
“The message of the new album is the congregation of beauty, love, fraternity and to unite the people through music,” says Bastos. “For me the music has the function of breaking barriers and helping to create a better world, that is what I believe.”