You know how it is when you know you don’t know something but what you really don’t know is how much you don’t know. Last week I had started out putting together the music for this follow-up on contemporary sounds from Cape Verde. On my hard drive and in my CD collection I had a variety of artists, some of whom I had not yet listened to closely. So I was pretty confident. I had a rough idea what I wanted to do. I pulled it together and then said, wait a minute. I had all female vocalists. I knew there had to be some males whose work would attract my ear. So even though I had already send Mtume the selections, I spent Friday night and most of Saturday tracking down more contemporary music from Cape Verde.Two days later, I had to tell Mtume I was changing some of the music and also that some time in the near future I needed to do more, much more. What gives? Cape Verde is a collection of ten volcanic islands 385 miles off the coast of Senegal, West Africa. The topography is mostly mountainous and the land is “scarred by erosion.” It is estimated that less than 15% of the land is arable. There’s an active volcano on Fogo located among the southern islands. The total land area of 1556 square miles is only slightly larger than Rhode Island. According to official government figures the population is estimated at 423,613 but slightly more than a half million Cape Verdeans live outside of Cape Verde—it really is a diasporan country. Much like parts of South Africa, there is a claim by Europeans that the islands were uninhabited when the invaders arrived. The population is mostly creoles (mainly African/Portuguese, 71%) with about a quarter of the population native African (28%) and an extremely small percentage 1%) of Portuguese and other Europeans. The main languages are Criuolo (creole) and Portuguese. The religion is Catholic (infused with indigenous beliefs) and some Protestant (mostly Church of the Nazarene). The Brazilian affinity is obvious, but there is also a correlation with Cuba that is both sociological and political. In 1956 the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was founded. Led by Amilcar Cabral, the PAIGC, along with the liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique, all of which had been colonized by Portugal, fought back against the Portuguese. In 1961. in an effort to thwart the independence movement, the Portuguese conferred full Portuguese citizenship on all of Cape Verde’s inhabitants. The movement intensified nonetheless. All of the resistance movements of the Cape Verdians were supported by Cuba. The successes of the independence struggles led to a coup in Portugal in 1974 and Cape Verde became independent in 1975. Historically, the islands had been a staging area and support stop for the slave trade. Today, with an unemployment rate of 21% and rising inflation, Cape Verde is a very, very poor archipelago, which is why more than half the people who were born in Cape Verde now live outside of Cape Verde. This is a snapshot of the geo-social background of Cape Verde and this is also the context out of which an amazing music originates. Rather than a survey of contemporary Cape Verde music what we present a handful of major artists who are all directly or indirectly associated with Cesaria Evora.
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cesaria evora 03.jpg Cesaria opens our survey with a live version of “Carnaval De Sao Vicente.” It’s a bit more uptempo than the majority of repertoire but it is truly representative of one celebratory style of Cape Verdean music. The band is cooking from the opening fanfare notes and the pace never falters. And yes, they had strings at the concert. For fans of Cesaria, Live in Paris is a necessary addition to your collection.
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lura 08.jpg
“There's a new generation, and I'm just a piece of a puzzle. We sing and play traditional music from Cape Verde with influences from all over the world - soul, reggae, blues, samba.” —Lura
Some critics have suggested that Lura is the potential successor to Cesaria. Born in Lisbon in 1975, the year of Cape Verde’s independence, Lura’s parents spoke Creole to each other and Portuguese to her. Lura learned her mother tongue from Cape Verdian friends at school. Lura did not actually go to Cape Verde until she was twenty-one. Lura started her career as an actress and dancer. Her debut album was a modernized R&B and zouk influenced affair. She even joined Cesaria as a back up singer. In 2004 Lura released Di Korpu Ku Alma (Of Body and Soul). That’s when the succession talk started. Lura’s current release, M’bem Di Fora (I’ve Come From Far Away) is a beautiful summation of her contemporary music that is built on the different rhythms and styles of the islands. “Pensa Dret,” “Ponciana,” “Choro” and “As-Agua” are all taken from M’Bem di Fora.
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teofilo 01.jpg Born in 1964, Teofilo Chantre is a brilliant composer, guitarist and vocalist. He emigrated to France when he was 13. In 1991 Cesaria recorded three of his songs on her album Miss Perfumado and recorded five of his songs on a subsequent recording Sao Vincente Di Longe. He is perhaps the most accomplished of the contemporary Cape Verde composers. His warm baritone and virtuoso-level guitar work are captivating. He has six recordings. “B & Viaja,” “Necessariamente,” “Toca Pilon” and “Segunda Geracao” are all from his newest release, Viaja.
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"It wasn't interesting for me to sing the way everyone else did. I'd lived in different countries with different music and rhythms, smells and colours, and all that influenced the way I imagined the music I wanted to make. And I really wanted to do something for the music of my country. “Cape Verdean culture is very important to me and young people like me. In our parents' generation, independence wasn't wanted by everyone. But I feel African and people my age are proud of their Africanness. These ideas are really changing in my generation." —Mayra Andrade
Mayra Andrade was born 1985 in Cuba of Cape Verdean parents but grew up traveling between Senegal, Angola, Germany and Cape Verde. Since 2003 she has been living in Paris. Similar to Lura, Mayra builds her modern sounds on a firm foundation of Cape Verdean musical traditions. There is something so strong in Cape Verdean culture that even its children who are born elsewhere feel umbilicaled to the ten stone islands dotting Africa’s West Coast. Mayra’s lyrics are literary gems (go to her website to read English translations). You will be surprised by the complexity of both style and content. “Lapidu Na Bo,” “Navega,” “Domicransa” and “Regasu” are from Mayra debut album, Navega.
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tcheka 02jpg.jpg Let me say without equivocation, Tcheka fascinates me. Just as James Brown way to make his whole band a rhythm machine, Tcheka has figured out a guitar style that transposes the various rhythms of Cape Verde to his six-stringed instrument, plus he’s gotten this African vocal thing going. One minute he is seductive and the next he is percussive, some times he sings low and soft, others loud and hard—sort of like ocean waves. His songs are also major cultural statements. Born Manuel Lopes Andrade on July 20, 1973 in Ribeira Barca, a port town on Santiago island, Cape Verde, Tcheka has three albums. The new album is just released. “Djan Bedja,” “Makriadu,” Talulu” and “Nu Monda” are all selections from his second album, 2005’s Nu Monda.
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sara tavares 26.jpg There is no need to introduce Sara Tavares to BoL regulars. You know she is absolutely a favorite with me. You can go here and here to read about her. “Poka Terra” is from a concert in Amsterdam and demonstrates Sara’s ability to jam. Notice that the song is not just a simple, repetitious jam but actually has sections employing different rhythms. And that, for now, wraps up our consideration of contemporary Cape Verdean music. —Kalamu ya Salaam            "African" music             Cool overview of Cape Verdian singers, Baba. Despite how much I like Cesaria, I don't know much about Cape Verdian music in general. The Sara Tavares was great, as usual. She always comes with substance, but she has such a light touch—both musically and in terms of her general manner—that she never comes across as preachy or pushy. I really like this tune. I think the lightness of her voice helps as well. There's a strange little contrast between the seriousness of her subjects and the almost girlish sound of her voice. I really like the Mayra Andrade songs. My favorite is the ballad, "Regasu." Someone commented last week that Cesaria sounds as much like a Portuguese singer as she sounds like an "African" singer. That comment is even more true of Mayra. If I'd heard her songs without having any background on the artist, I would've been willing to bet she was from Brazil. Her voice is fantastic. Just based on first impressions, Mayra is my favorite of these young Cape Verdian musicians. Lura has an original voice. There's an intriguing tartness mixed into her generally pleasant tone. She also seems to be singing at only around 60% of her lung capacity. I love that. When someone is strong enough vocally that they can pull back and take it easy, it creates an extra richness that all-out singing rarely has. Overall, all of these different Cape Verdian singers are surprising—not so much individually, but in their quantity and in their consistency. None of them—not even the ones I didn't care for as much (those being the males...sorry, Baba)—are bad or even average. Apparently, there's a lot of good thing happening on those little islands. Another thing that comes to mind is how varied the music of the African continent is. With the exception of Tcheka, none of these singers sound like what most would think of as "African music." The fact is, we tend to think of Africa as just sub-Saharan Africa. (And not just in terms of music. Politically too.) I think most people would think of countries like Libya or Morocco or Tunisia as 'Middle Eastern' or just 'Eastern.' And Egypt too, of course. But all of those are African countries with their own customs and cultural specifities, including, of course, music. —Mtume ya Salaam  
            How deep is the ocean?             
That's how deep  continental African music is. And when you kick in black music from the African diaspora, well let's just say it's the most diverse music on the planet. Now specifically this Cape Verde stuff has got me struggling to comprehend. It's not just variety, it's deep VARIETY and a blues hook-up and an appreciation of jazz and heaps of European influences all mixed up into something simultaneously sophisticated and yet traditional. I think it's partly political. A legacy of PAIGC influences pushing self-determination. One of Amilcar Cabral's major statements was: Return To The Source, meaning the everyday people. The laborers and local professionals, the farmers and peasants but also the doctors and professors. All the people. Go among them and learn what they know, on a serious tip.

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mayra 04.jpg Mtume, your selection of Mayra Andrade's "Regasu" gives me an opportunity to share more information. First, check out this interview excerpt:
The articles about your career contained on your site ( are full of praise for your voice and beauty. The correspondent of Ouest France compares you to the Cape Verdean diva Cesária Évora. What do you think of all this? I feel honored, because Cesária is a great woman and even today very few people have managed to do what she has for Cape Verde. Of course, I never forget Amílcar Cabral, who represented us very well throughout the world and fought for our independence. But I really feel proud to be compared to Cesária Évora, whom I love. You were born in Cuba, and you’ve lived in Cape Verde, Senegal, Angola and Germany. Now you live in Paris. Haven’t you ever felt the need to go out in search of your roots, to go back and live definitively in your country of origin? I’ve never interrupted the contact I have with Cape Verde ever since I went to live there, from six years of age until I finished high school. In the last years I’ve traveled a lot, but I always return to my country every year. But Cape Verde isn’t some far-off country where I go to look for my roots. I carry my roots with me everywhere I go and take them with my on all my travels. So could we conclude that you carry two cultures with you, one Cape Verdean and the other European? No, because Cape Verdean culture itself is a mixture of African and European culture. I don’t feel divided between Europe and Africa. I feel totally Cape Verdean, with everything that entails. But I’m also open to other cultures that were a part of my upbringing as well. This is why I perform Cape Verdean music with various different influences, with African rhythms but also with jazz, Brazilian music and other genres. Do you consider yourself a cultural ambassador of your country? What feelings do you have regarding your country of origin? With regards to your second question, I can affirm that the more time goes by, the more enamored I am with Cape Verde. I have the opportunity to go back to Cape Verde twice a year, and every time I return to the island of Santiago, the island where my mother was born, I try to understand people’s way of life and interpret what certain words mean. All this shows me the depth of this culture. The more we get to know Cape Verdean culture, the more in love we become with the country. As far as being a cultural ambassador is concerned, I think that all Cape Verdeans are the ambassadors of their country in one way or another. Every person is an ambassador through the activities that he or she develops. Ambassador is a word that has been applied to our diva Cesária Évora, but every individual should also transmit as faithfully as possible the soul of the Cape Verdena people. I think that this is my mission as well, and the title that goes along with it is not important. Cape Verde is a small country, but an extremely rich one in terms of culture. I try to show another facet of Cape Verdean music that is still relatively unknown in the world.
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 "Regasu" was written by Orlando Pantera. Here Mayra talks about his influence on her and why she included his song on her debut album.

"It wasn't interesting for me to sing the way everyone else did. I'd lived in different countries with different music and rhythms, smells and colours, and all that influenced the way I imagined the music I wanted to make. And I really wanted to do something for the music of my country. When I came back I started making little shows and asking people if I could sing at their place. And that's where I met Pantera." A cult figure and influential composer and performer on Cape Verde's music scene, Pantera died aged 33, just as his new-wave take on batuque, the African rhythm native to the farmlands of Santiago, the biggest island, was taking hold in the clubs and live music venues of Praia, the capital. Fused with his strong sense of melody and the rich, often witty Creole of his lyrics, Pantera's songbook spoke directly to a new generation of Cape Verdean artists. "I'd heard about him," says Andrade, "and then I saw him sing. My aunt knew him and gave me his number. I was very young – I was 15, he was 31 – but I called up and said that I wanted to talk to him about the music he did." They met up at a French cultural centre in Praia, she sang to him, and they soon started hanging out together, with Andrade performing with him at local gigs, and Pantera spreading the word about her. "I feel very lucky – many artists didn't have the chance to meet him and know him and see him singing his own compositions... When you see someone who is so free in his mind making music, you say, OK, that's what I want to do." Among the Pantera compositions she chose for the album is the closing "Regasu", a morna he'd written 10 years before he died. "He was just about to get known in Santiago. He died the day he was meant to take a plane to record his first album in Europe. He'd written 'Regasu' for his funeral, and that was the first time I heard it." —Interview with Mayra Andrade
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There is more... we will continue with our investigation of the music from Cape Verde and its diaspora. Plus, I've got a few surprises from the mainland Motherland, bka Africa. Stay tuned. —Kalamu ya Salaam      

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