The Musical Culture of Cape Verde

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I have never seen so much music come from so small a country. There are ten small islands in this West African archipelago, but there is an enormous amount of music that comes from them. I am in Praia, capital city of Santiago, the biggest commercial capital of the islands. The other islands are Brava, Santa Luzia, Sal, Boa Vista, Maio, Fogo, Sao Nicolau, Sao Vicente (Mindelo was the capital of this island and Cesaria Evora lived there) and Santo Antao.

The most well-known style of Cape Verdean music is called, “morna”, the slow, bluesy music made famous by the late Cesaria Evora. A faster, lighter form is called, “coladeira”, a joyous music that Cesaria would leaven her unforgettable concerts with. It helped balance the sodade that morna is dripping with (also spelled “sodad, sodade”; the Brazilians spell and say saudade).

And older style is called, “funana”, which is also fast and sounds a little like merengue from the Dominican Republic. It is a sexy dance and the colonial authorities tried to suppress it. Good luck. This dance is all about the booty.

One of the oldest forms of Cape Verdean music, devised when the Portuguese took drums away from the slaves, is called, “batuque”. In it one woman in the center plays a large djembe style drum (this came later) but the rhythmic heart comes from seated women beating on bags of cloths on their laps. The polyrhythms are strong and fast in this most African of all Cape Verdean music styles.

Each island has its own rhythmic style and signature, and you hear all of them in a good show. I have yet to find out about other musical styles, but will soon.