Album Review: Bandua – Bandua [Frente Bolivarista; February 2022]

In this thoughtful and heartfelt offering, Portuguese duo Bandua rework local folklore for a modern audience. Deep grooves and downtempo electronica interweave with traditional instruments, songs and stories on timeless themes of revelation, transformation and human expression. It’s a self-proclaimed love letter to their home, and it’s easy to fall in love with. 

The rugged folk tradition of Portugal’s Beira Baixa region is updated here to incorporate heavy beats and ethereal layered vocals, in an entrancing tribute that breathes life into ancient storytelling.

The duo bring pedigree from the traditional and contemporary musical worlds to create a uniquely sensual sound: a sublime cross-pollination that celebrates old and new in equal measure. 

Producer/musician Tempura the Purple Boy (Bernardo Addario) fuses traditionally organic with mellow-paced club sounds, citing FourTet, Acid Pauli and GYRL as key influences. Vocalist Edgar Valente of Criatura, ‘the embodiment of the region’s spirit,’ is steeped in local tradition and skilled with the adufe, a 1400-year-old spiritual drum unique to the region. 

The album depicts the full gamut of human experience: rites of passage, seasonal change, love and loss, work and dreamtime. Valente’s dynamic vocal style is a voyage of discovery, in turns meek, melancholy, wistful, gritty and powerful; in bitter-sweet harmony or guttural moans of pain and heartbreak.

Tradition is honoured on introductory piece “Era Assim” (‘That’s How It Was Back Then’) featuring Addario’s grandfather in reminiscence, and with reinterpretations of classic Portuguese songs “Macelada” and “Ceifa”, popularised by local singer Catarina Chitas. Elsewhere, field sounds of farm labour, birdsong and a seething underbelly of insect chirps bring the region’s landscape to life. Finale “Borboleta Dourada”’s snippets of speech and echoing children’s laughter conjure ghosts from the past; folksy finger-picked guitar provides a comforting backdrop reminiscent of ripe, sun-bathed fields. It’s a gentle, reverential album post-script.

It’s unknown whether Bandua, of the region’s pre-Roman mythology, was God or Goddess. Valente and Addario intend to awaken the deity with these explorations of gender fluidity, sixth sense and the transformative powers of shamanism. The stirring of ancient energies can be felt in their artfully crafted sonic landscapes, which delve deep to unearth the mysteries of the past and let them fly free on the winds of time.