São Tomé soukous

Africa Negra

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For the past 40 years, Africa Negra have been indisputably the most important and genuine ambassadors of the music of São Tomé and Príncipe.

The band is extremely renowned in the Portuguese speaking African countries and its worldwide diaspora, be it Europe or North and South America, and are loved for their own inimitably style of heavenly mellowed São Tomé soukous, with blissful hints of highlife, that their fans came to affectionately call as ‘mama djumba’.

They originally got together in 1974 but their first recordings are from 1981, when they began successfully touring around Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and Portugal. The band went through many line-up changes throughout the 1990’s, after the pinnacle ensemble of almost a dozen (included a brass section and dancers) came to an abrupt end in 1989 in Cape Verde, due to a dramatic parting of the band in two, half of it returning to São Tomé and the other half staying in Cape Verde were their following was devilishly overwhelming.

The group has stabilized their cast since quite some years now, which allowed them to play more regularly on their native country and increasingly abroad since 2014. They are still using some of their old instruments (miraculously they still work ), and vintage guitar effects processors that assure the original sounds from the recordings back in the 80s still shine through their charismatic patine.

Since 2014 the band has come to Europe several times, playing key performances at such festivals as Wasser Musik in Berlin, FMM in Sines, Afrikafestival in Hertme and Le Guess Who? in Utrecht.

In 2019, they released a new album called Alia Cu Omali, their first in over 20 years, which comprises a series of old classics that were never properly recorded, just “materialized” in live concerts in the 80’s, and were now recorded in studio between Lisbon and São Tomé. In April 2022, a compilation called Antologia Vol. 1 was released by the Swiss label Bongo Joe Records that highlights twelve of the band’s key tracks. The second volume is to be released on 2 August 2024, also on Bongo Joe Records.

Unfortunately the singer, who was part of the band since the early start, ‘General’ João Seria, died in 2023 at age 74. So the five piece band has now found a new vocalist, leaving Leonidio Barros, the seminal guitar player who helped in defining the band’s sound, the only original band member since the 70s. But also with this new line up, the band still sounds as fresh and festive as 50 years ago.

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Francis de Souza



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