29 Nov 2005, by Susan Hurley-Glowa - Ethnomusicologist
Norberto Tavares is a songwriter, popular performing artist, social activist, and bandleader from Santiago, Cape Verde who has made a career in the United States as well as in his home country. Before he settled in Southern New England, Tavares first moved from Cape Verde to Portugal, recording several innovative albums there containing an updated form of funana (a traditional form of Cape Verdean music featuring button accordion and scraper).
Tavares went on to make a significant contribution to the Cape Verdean diaspora funana movement of the 1970s and 80s. Since then, he has remained one of the most popular and influential songwriter/performers from Santiago in contemporary Cape Verdean music. Tavares is particularly admired for his distinctive style of funana, for the messages in his songs, and for his superb musicianship.
Born on June 6, 1956 in Assomada, Santiago, Norberto Tavares is the son of a well-known local musician, Aristides Tavares, who played violin and other string instruments. After his father's untimely death when Norberto was nine, Norberto learned how to play guitar, keyboards, and accordion on his own. He was encouraged by a local priest to play the organ as a boy and practiced on the instrument in the Catholic church in Assomada. Norberto began making a name for himself as a songwriter in his early teens.
He left Cape Verde for Portugal in 1973. Accompanying himself on guitar, Norberto composed his own funana and batuko songs, styles he knew well from his upbringing in a musical Badiu family from Santa Caterina. He formed a band called Black Power in Lisbon with other musicians from Cape Verde. Norberto released his first album of 'electric funana and batuko' in 1975, slightly before Katchás made his version of funana widely popular with Bulimundo. Norberto produced several more recordings in Portugal and toured widely with his band, before immigrating to the United States in 1979.
Norberto Tavares now lives in New Bedford, Massachusetts where he makes his living as a musician. Norberto has continued to produce high quality recordings in his studio in America. Although he has lived in the United States for many years now, his songs still reflect the concerns and interests of the people of Santiago: his people remain close to his heart. Tavares often uses his music to express his dissatisfaction with social conditions in Cape Verde. Because of this, he has developed a reputation as a political activist, although he considers himself a critic of unjust social conditions rather than a supporter of a specific political party. Tavares has performed in Cape Verdean communities in America and Europe with his band, Tropical Power.
He returned to Cape Verde with Tropical Power in 1990 for the first time in 17 years and performed for large, enthusiastic crowds in Santiago, influencing the first multiparty general election in the process by encouraging people to vote. Several of his solo albums, 'Jornada di un Badiu' (1989) and 'Hino di Unificaçon' (1993) are distributed in compact disc format by Mélodie in France.
While never turning away from the music's roots in Santiago, Tavares' songs have had themes expressing hopes for an improved Cape Verde society: one which transcends its racial, economic, and ethnic differences and works together in building a better nation; ideals very much relevant to Cape Verdeans after independence. This type of theme is clearly expressed in one of Norberto Tavares's most popular songs, 'Nôs Cabo Verde di Sperança' (1976), which has become an unofficial Cape Verdean national anthem.
Tavares's songs also provide illustrations of typical themes in both popular and acoustic funana using pastoral imagery. His poetic vignettes of life in rural Santiago are often his public's favorites, perhaps because they remind listeners of the joys of a simpler existence. Indeed, some of his songs including 'Mariazinha,' from the album, 'Volta pa Fonti' (1979, 'Return to the Source'), have become part of the folk repertoire in Santiago. Other songs deal with his concerns about the fair treatment of elderly people, women, and children.
Tavares returned to Cape Verde in 2005 to perform at the Festival de Gamboa in Santiago to celebrate 30 years of independence in Cape Verde, as well as his 30 year career as a recording artist. Throughout his long career, Tavares has challenged the people of Cape Verde to make democracy work, and to acknowledge social problems. His contributions to independent Cape Verde are only starting to be fully appreciated by his people, and written into the history of the nation.
Positions listed are those which are held currently or have been held in the past. Dates are given wherever possible. Where there are no dates, positions are ordered alphabetically.
Bandleader - Tropical Power
Where there are no dates, works are ordered alphabetically
Best of Norberto Tavares [CD, 2005]
Dirigentes Inconscientes [CD, 2001]
Maria [CD, Zé Orlando, 1998]
Hino di Unificaçon [CD, Lusafrica, 1993]
Jornada di un Badiu [CD, Lusafrica, 1989]
Tropical Power - A Musical Connection 
Mundo Sta di Boita 
Volta Pa Fonti 
Black Power is Back 
Nôs Cabo Verde di Sperança 
Black Power, Volume 1