Cape Verde - Full Moon 44 - 05/18/00
Putumayo is a small, New York based indie
label. Its 43 title catalog consists of various world music collections, mostly from
Central America and Africa, but they also have a Celtic, Middle East, Mediterranean
and even an African-American compilation. Arguably, Cape Verde is one of the
more unique releases.
To understand the appeal of this music, one needs to know a little bit about the
10 islands off the coast of West Africa dubbed Cape Verde (Green Cape) by the Portuguese
colonists. Much of it is barren and dry and most of the 300,000 or so inhabitants are
Creoles or mestiços, descended from a mix of West African slaves and
Portuguese colonists. However more than one million Cape Verdeans live elsewhere -
mostly in Europe and in the States.
"Isolated from the rest of the world, from their compatriots overseas, and even
isolated by stretches of sea from their own countrymen on other islands, Cape Verdeans
have developed a sense of pensive longing that permeates their cultural expressions.
There is even a word that has come to describe this emotional state, one that has been
immortalized in literature and song and has come to define the Cape Verdean character:
"sodade" (so-DAHJ). A sentiment of nostalgia, yearning and missing of home and
beloved, "sodade" describes a bittersweet feeling that has no direct English translation
but one that all of us have felt at some time in our lives," explain the excellent
This mood is apparent in every song of this collection. The musical styles are a mix of
European, African and Brazilian sounds featuring various guitars and piano. (Drums are
de-emphasized, because for a long time their use was forbidden by the colonists.) This
doesn't mean however that the music is depressing - there are plenty of dances here. However
in most of them one can detect the sorrow of Portuguese fado mixing with African
styles such as Caribbean zouk, Brazilian samba, Jamaican reggae and
The CD opens with what is possibly the best cut of this compilation, the hauntingly
beautiful Chico Malandro (Bad Boy) by Ana Firmino and Tito Paris.
Lyrically, he song deals with love, and musically it consists of a series of returning
choruses that alternate with verses. This dual form is further reinforced within each of
the verses, when Ana Firmino's calls in a higher octave are followed by her own response
an octave lower. But it is that sense of bittersweet yearning that gives this song (indeed
the whole Cape Verde album) its mysterious quality. This mood carries over to the
next cuts, Boy Gé Mendes's Cumba Iêtu, with a more percussive Latin
feel, the Brazilian flavored Pays Sol (Sun Country) by Nana Matias, accordion-driven
Nha Fe (My Faith) by Teofilo Chantre and Cabo Verde Manda Mantenha (Cape
Verde Sends its Greeting) by Cesaria Evora, Cape Verde's first international star.
Bana's African Cabinda a Cunene (Cabinda to Cunene) and Maria Alice's Sol
Na Tchada (Sun on the Field) (with a curious klezmer arrangement) maintain the feel until
the compilation runs out of steam. The next five cuts must've been included for their messages and
political significance and only Tchon di Massa Pé (On Solid Ground) stands up
musically to the previous examples.
Still, Putumayo did an excellent job selecting, packaging and popularizing these songs. In our
increasingly homogeneous global culture it is refreshing to know there are some unique cultural
expressions left, although they are disappearing fast. Maybe that's one of the reasons that makes
sodade such a universal emotion...
Copyright © 2000 Ivan Sever