VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Cape Verde Mixtape”
Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . . —Amilcar CabralAh, Cape Verde, a cluster of small islands off the bulging coast of West Africa, colonized by the Portuguese and liberated by a sixties independence movement led by Amilcar Cabral. During the seventies, Cabral was my major political and theoretical inspiration—a fighter who emphasized that they were not militarist and that the gun should not supersede the book; a thinker who emphasized praxis—developing ideas from assessments of reality and putting those ideas into practice. One of Cabral’s foundational principles was that it was necessary to “return to the source.” The source was/is the people—not just an unthinking nationalism that emphasized false boundaries: after all there are no lines on the ground saying that on one side it is this country and on another side it is that country. Cabral’s party, the PAIGC, fought to liberate both the islands of Cape Verde and the small mainland nation of Guinea Bissau. In contradistinction to classic guerilla warfare theory that mandated a need for mountains or other remote locations where the fighters could hide, Cabral asserted that “our people are our mountains.” This all may seem like it has little to do with music but wise ones can look at a seed and see a tree. Cabral’s assertion about returning to the source is borne out today by new music from three leading Cape Verdian musicians, none of whom was actually born in Cape Verde. That all three of them identify themselves and their music as Cape Verdean is a testimony to how deeply the ideas of Cabral are reflected in its people, both at home and abroad. The music that Lura, Boy de Mendes and Sara Tavares have produced is fascinating in its subtle richness. This trio has produced recordings which are easily identified as Cape Verdian, as continuing a distinct musical tradition and yet at the same time their songs are forward looking amalgams that reflect a love for the local balanced by an incorporation of international influences. By walking on both legs, modernity and tradition are linked to produce a mature and satisfying whole. It may not sound like it at first listen but this is truly revolutionary music. It’s a revolution in the consciousness and goals of artists who are focusing on objectives other than commercial success. Moreover, the primary audience is those conscious of Cape Verdean culture, whether they be natives who speak Creole or fans worldwide who love and respect Cape Verde’s musical culture, an immensely rich culture whose diversity and depth is in inverse proportion to the size of the islands.
It’s important for me to identify with the compositions. When I sing a song from Cape Verde, there are certain themes that interest me, especially those that talk about situations and realities that aren’t a part of my daily experience, since I was born and have always lived in Portugal. And when I sing these compositions I kind of experience the personalities and situations of these composers from different generations, who are all very talented. —LuraLura’s parents are from different Cape Verdian islands. Her father hails from Santiago and her mother from Sao Nicolau, each island has it’s own tradition including rhythms and styles of music. As Lura matured as a musician she realized that these differences were important and began to consciously highlight the distinctive differences in her performances and recordings.
“Eclipse” is one of the classics of Cape Verdean music, and is also one of my parents’ favorite mornas. They always listened to this song as if it were one of their most beloved themes, and as the years went by it also became one of my favorite mornas. I recorded it because of this and also as a way of claiming the Windward Islands side of me. In my albums, I’ve recorded more batuko and funaná, because morna and coladeira are already more well-known internationally, but I’ve also got a Windward Islands side to me that I want to sing about. I gave the album the title Eclipse as a metaphor as well. The album is an encounter between my Leeward Islands and Windward Islands sides, between morna and funaná, between coladeira and tabanka… —LuraThe consumer focused emphasis on coming up with something new and different with each album encourages gimmicks and pandering to fashionable trends. Lura is successfully returning to her source for inspiration and authentication.
A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from the oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture. —Amilcar CabralIn other words one can and should use the entire body of human knowledge and experiences in constructing one’s own distinct culture. What is particularly important is the conditional consideration: “without complexes.” Very much like the majority of the African diaspora, this beautiful music produced by Mendes and others is a creole music, a music of mixture, a music that reflects contact (both forced and voluntary) with outside elements, yet—and how wonderful is this exception—yet, regardless of outside influences, the essence of the music, of the culture, is found in its own personality. I am impressed with a music that so resolutely mines its own tradition even as it demonstrates great sophistication and flexibility by drawing the world into its own sphere of cultural ingredients and influences. Moreover, Mendes' music is surprisingly gentle and graceful. It certainly is unlike what we stereotypically think of when one says African music. I think Boy de Mendes is a genius of gentle, he even shouts softly. I first consciously encountered Boy de Mendes via Sara Tavares, who invited him to record and tour with her. She asked him to be an integral part of her band and not simply to do one or two cameo numbers. After listening to three of Mendes’ records, I am confident that Tavares has benefited tremendously from working with Mendes.
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