Album review: Various – Léve Léve Sao Tomé & Principe Sounds 70s-80s [Les Disques Bongo Joe; January 2020]

Swiss-based label Les Disques Bongo Joe releases another superbly chosen compilation of African sounds. This time, thanks to the expertise and work of DJ Tom B, they take us to the islands of Sao Tomé and Principe, former Portuguese colonies located off the west coast of Africa. According to the label, this is the first compilation of music from these islands – known as ‘The Chocolate Islands’, on account of them being large cocoa producers.

Three of the album’s 16 tracks feature Africa Negra and the pulsating rhythms are hard to resist. Opening number “Mino Bô Bé Quacada” runs for just shy of 8 minutes and is followed by ‘Zimbabwe’, another of the band’s tunes, which has a sunny, sub-tropical feel to it. Throughout Léve Léve – Sao Tomé & Principe Sounds 70s-80sa range of styles of African and Latin music are explored: semba, merengue, kompass, soukouss and coladeira. This, it should be noted, is reissued music and not contemporary sounds. Thus, it retains an almost untouched quality that many will find quite refreshing to hear.

The title, ‘Léve Léve’ translates into English as ‘take it easy’ and this is very much the theme running through it. Sum Alvarinho takes the pace up a notch or two with “M’konvètá Dédo” .  Except the fun with this type of music is not in the listening, it is really music made to dance to and it more than passes that test. Listening might be a tad difficult if you are not from a Lusophone country, but dancing? No problem! And what a feast of pleasure it delivers too.

The rich tapestry of African musical styles is evident here with artists such as Os Úntúes, Conjunto Equador, Tiny das Neves and Conjunto Mindelo. It’s a hard task to sift out highlights from this fiesta of dancing pleasure. If I had to stick my neck out and mention a single track it would perhaps be Tiny das Neves’ “Clandênço Padé Cluço”, which has a fabulous beat to it.

But in truth, like a finely embroidered coat, it is hard to pick holes in this LP. Indeed, it only seems to get better with each succeeding track and the musicianship is beautiful. ‘Léve Léve…’ ought to go down as one of the best and certainly grooviest African music compilations released in 2020. Full of colour and vigour, it deserves to be played and danced to again and again.