A New Generation of Cape Verdean Voices

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I love Cape Verdean music, with its beautiful blend of Brazilian, Portuguese (fado) and West African styles. The infectious rhythms are light and breezy. And, like other Lusophone (Portuguese language) music, it’s filled with both joy and saudade. The Portuguese word saudade describes a state of missing something or somebody, nostalgia, and sweet melancholy. There is no exact equivalent word in English. It’s also variously spelled as “sodad” or “sodade.” The late Cesária Évora, Cape Verde’s “barefoot diva,” scored a landslide hit with her song “Sodade” from the 1994 album Miss Perfumado.

When I first interviewed Cesária Évora, she told me that Cape Verde “was poor, but full of sun and fish.” My goodness, how I loved that woman and her music ever since I first heard her 1991 album Mar Azul, released before she became an international star. Her music provided the perfect soundtrack to enjoy the landscape and journey when I traveled around Praia on a visit in 2014. But there is so much more music to discover in Cape Verde.

I am amazed that this small archipelago off the coast of Senegal—discovered uninhabited by Portuguese navigators sailing down the west coast of Africa in 1460—could produce so many musicians and musical styles. First and foremost you’ll find morna, the sad bluesy style, and coladera, the upbeat danceable style. Then there are the batuque and funana dance music genres, the latter an African style that was banned as licentious by the Portuguese colonial rulers until independence finally came in 1975. What makes all Cape Verdean music unique is its spirit of morabeza, a Cape Verdean approach to life that I find akin to the Hawaiian concept of aloha.

A few months back I featured a bright new Cape Verdean singer named Elida Almeida. This time, I showcase two more rising stars who are making waves in Cape Verde, Lisbon, Paris, and here in the U.S.—Lucibela and Nancy Vieira.

Lucibela (photo by N’Krumah Lawson-Daku / Lusafrica) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Lucibela was born in 1986 on São Nicolau, one of the windward isles of the Cape Verdean archipelago. After her mother died, a teenage Lucibela began singing Cesária Évora covers in the bars and hotels around Mindelo, a port city on the island of São Vicente, to earn a living. Évora was a native of Mindelo, and the city is considered the cultural capital of Cape Verde.

The title of Lucibel’s new Lusafrica album called Laço Umbilical (umbilical cord) refers to her ties to the land and perhaps to the musical legacy left by Évora’s passing in 2011. She worked on the new album with Évora’s arranger, Toy Vieira, and you can detect the musical DNA connecting her to the late “barefoot diva.” Lucibela is perfectly poised to carry on Évora’s legacy with this debut album, but has declared, “Cesária is unique and there’ll never be another Cesária. My aim is to carry on the work Cesária began. I want to sing Cabo Verdean musical genres – such as morna and coladera – pretty much anywhere in the world, and I want to succeed because of my own talent.”

Nancy Vieira was born in the former Portuguese nation of Guinea-Bissau in 1975, the year of Cape Verdean independence. Her family moved to Praia, Cape Verde’s capital, shortly thereafter. Vieira’s father became Minister of Transport and Communication in the newly-independent island chain, but was also an amateur musician, playing guitar and violin. When Vieira was fourteen, her father was named Cape Verdean Ambassador to Portugal and moved the family to Lisbon.

Vieira’s career began by chance, when she accompanied a friend to a singing contest in Lisbon. Somebody heard her humming along to one of the songs and prodded her to enter the contest as well. She chose the song “Lua Nha Testemunha” by Cape Verdean composer B. Leza, one of his many songs made famous by Évora. (By the way, B. Leza is a great name since “beleza” means beauty in English.) Vieira won the contest and a chance to record her first album, Nôs Raça (Our People), in 1996. However, Vieira did not turn professional until the release of a third album called Lus in 2007.

Vieira recently released only her fifth album, Manhã Florida (Flowering Madness?), which like most music from Cape Verde, is on José da Silva’s Lusafrica label. It’s the same label that brought us Cesária Évora and so many other top Cape Verdean stars. Vieira’s repertoire combines Cape Verdean classics with works by French/Cape Verdean musician Teofilo Chantre as well as songwriters based in Lisbon and her own compositions.

Banner photo of Lucibela by N’Krumah Lawson-Daku / Lusafrica