A Composer for Every Country: Guinea-Bissau

Continuing along the coast, south of Senegal, is Guinea-Bissau. From Morocco down to Senegal, colonial French influence was very strong, but Guinea-Bissau was colonized by the Portuguese in the mid- to late-15th century in an attempt to control the gold trade, largely controlled by Morocco at the time. Before the Europeans arrived, Guinea-Bissau was part of the kingdom of Kaabu, part of the larger Mali Empire. 

 
I'm just now realizing this is the first time I've brought up pre-colonial geopolitics. The Mali empire lasted from about 1235-1670. Much of what we know about the empire comes from North African Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, Moroccan travelers Ibn Battuta and Leo Africanus, as well as from local griots passing the history down through oral traditions. At its height, the Mali empire stretched from the Atlantic coast in Mauritania, down to include Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau, inland into Mali (obviously), and out into parts of what is today Niger. 
 
If you, like me, are curious about the histories of places, you might be frustrated, like me, to find that Wikipedia articles tend to start discussion of the histories of West African countries at the time they were colonized, with a brief mention of pre-colonial times. Unfortunately, there aren't continuous written records of the area, and those accounts often conflict with what is told through oral traditions. I can't help but suspect this absence of historical account is exacerbated by unconscious bias creating a blind spot in what counts as "history," but that's a whole other blog I'm not qualified to write.
 
ANYWHOSOMES. Guinea-Bissau, ecologically, is a really intriguing place. Off the coast are the Bissagos Islands, and the coast itself is a mesh of waterways spilling out from the Geba River, creating a marshy area well suited to rice and cashew growing, as well as a number of mangrove swamps.
 
As for the people, Guinea-Bissau is very ethnically diverse, including Fula and Mandika speaking peoples, Balanta and Papel, Manjaca and Mancanha. I unfortunately hadn't the time to delve into all of them, but one thing seems to unite the country. Well. Two, maybe. First, Independence Day on September 10, 1974, the date the country separated from Portugal. And second: Carnival. Everyone knows of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival, of course, but Guinea-Bissau celebrates the festival as well.
 
That's a lot to pack into such a tiny country, but West Africa's history, particularly its recent (past 400 years or so) history, was one of much social upheaval with the arrival of European nations.
 
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My composer for today is Karyna Gomes (I can't for the life of me find her date of birth. Sometime in the late-60's/early-70's I would guess? Maybe?). Born in Guinea-Bissau, she grew up with music all around her. In an interview, she said that her family, her neighbors, her culture needed little reason to start a party or to start singing. At 21, she moved to São Paulo, Brazil, and began working with musicians there to create a fusion of the music she learned and loved growing up with Latin genres. Today, she tours globally, and has one album titled Mindjer, which won two Best Singer prizes in Guinea-Bissau.