Before a nation can become real, it must first be imagined. It is fitting that Super Mama Djombo, the orchestra that has been the cultural stamp of Guinea-Bissau’s national identity since independence, was born in the fertile imagination of children. Four young friends started the band at boy scout camp in the mid-60s. Searching for a home-grown name, they chose Mamadjombo, a sovereign and revered female spirit that revolutionaries appealed to for protection.
Orchestra Super Mama Djombo led an effervescent period of cultural revolution in the independence era. The band sang a new national identity: neither Portuguese nor divided by indigenous roots. They reinvented Kriol (the synthesis of Portuguese and African languages spoken in the cities) into the language of national unity. Their success was almost immediate. They toured Lusophone Africa, Cuba, and Portugal and traveled regularly with first President Luís Cabral, representing the new nation to ecstatic crowds.
In 1980 the band went for its first recording sessions in Lisbon, and blazed through 6 hours of tape. Their releases on LP extended the band‘s reach and opened new opportunities—particularly the track "Pamparida." Adapted from a children's play song, this infectious track made the band a West African sensation. It was probably "Pamparida" that filled a stadium in Senegal to capacity, where a then-unknown Youssou N'Dour opened for the Orchestra. When the music started, the crowds outside literally broke down the doors to hear Mama Djombo play. Later that year Luís Cabral was deposed, and opportunities at home began to dry up.
The founding members of the band spread to the corners of the world—building new lives, developing solo careers—but the band continued to resurge and reflect the people back to themselves: the sound track of the Bissau-Guinean film “Blue Eyes of Yonta” (awarded “Un Certain Regard“ at Cannes Film Festival), some limited releases in Portugal, and the album “Ar Puro,” produced and released in Iceland in 2008. Bissau-Guineans of all generations know these songs by heart.
“Guinea-Bissau is the source“ says lead composer Atchutchi, “no matter where you go.“