Manecas Costa: Grin and share it

Guitarist, singer-songwriter and goodwill ambassador for the UN, Manecas Costa is a man on a mission, hears Michael Church

Every so often, another blazing talent emerges from Central Africa: the CD debut of a guitarist with a perpetual grin called Manecas Costa heralds another such arrival. But acoustic finger-picking is only one component of his spell: he writes and arranges his songs, and sings them with the sort of sunlit charm that goes down especially well in the bush hospitals where his duties as a United Nations goodwill ambassador have often taken him.

Performing recently at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, he even managed to shine in spite of the malaria that had sent his temperature into the stratosphere, and to which, with characteristic professionalism, he did not even allude.

He hails from Guinea-Bissau, where, despite the fact that this impoverished land between Guinea and Senegal has no studio, his album Paraiso di Gumbe has been recorded under Lucy Duran's direction for the fledgling Late Junction label. And the story of his emergence is suitably down-home. "When I was eight," he says, "my father bought toy helicopters for me and my older brother, but we said, take them back to the shop, we want a guitar that we will share. And he did - a Spanish guitar. Nobody taught us, but we listened constantly to the radio, to the Beatles, to Bembeya Jazz, to Cuban music - from them we picked up our sound. I became obsessed with the guitar. I played it all the time." By the time he was 10, he was performing professionally with a group called Africa Libre, which he'd formed with like-minded local teenagers.

Africa Libre: this was in the first heady days of freedom from Portugal's colonial yoke, when there were no nightclubs and just one radio station. Costa well remembers the feasts to welcome the guerrilla fighters as they streamed in to take power, and the excitement of being able to sing in Kriolu, which the Portuguese had banned as the language of resistance that had united the country's diverse ethnic groups.

This is the language in which Paraiso di Gumbe is recorded, and the instruments Costa now uses are the village ones he grew up listening to - the slit drum, the long guitar, and, above all, the tina water-drum, which consists of a giant calabash beaten upside-down in a washtub, where the splash of water is an integral part of the sound. Some of the tracks have a bucolic sweetness, others a driving aggression, and in them, that word gumbe is the key: it's the name of a Creole rhythm that was proscribed 150 years ago by colonists who were frightened of its elemental power.

Manecas Costa gets hot under the collar when mention is made of the Cape Verdean beat that has taken over both in Lisbon - where he now lives - and in his homeland. He demonstrates by drumming on our café table, a dull and monotonous beat, which in clubs is produced on a synthesiser. "Formulaic!" he snorts. "And it has become the standard style in Guinea-Bissau - it's the only way musicians can make money. Yet our country has such a wealth of styles. Why does it have to let itself get swamped? There's no need." So, how does gumbe go? More drumming on the table, but this time full of ingenious cross-rhythms. Anyone would want to get up and dance.

How do his songs emerge? In answer, he tells the story of one of his new tracks: "I was on the train outside Lisbon, and a melody got into my head which I sang non-stop till I could get home and find the chords to harmonise it. The words came afterwards, as they always do. Its title - "Djunda Djunda" - means a tug of war, which is how I see Guinea Bissau's problems, tearing itself apart, never moving forwards. The title is a metaphor for a country which is always depleting its own resources."

Civil war drove him out, but he longs to go back, to continue his work in the countryside. "Teaching about hygiene and eating properly. Persuading mothers of the importance of keeping a health card showing their babies' medical history. First I give a lecture, then I turn it into songs. Music for me has always been about more than just entertaining."

'Paraiso di Gumbe' is out now on Late Junction

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas