Cape Verde’s central location brought together musical currents from West Africa, Europe and Latin America. On each island, visitors encounter not only a unique natural environment but unique musical traditions. In the music of the leeward islands of Cape Verde, the significant West African influence can be found in genres such as batuque and tabanka (Santiago), bandera (Fogo) and lundu/lundum (Boa Vista). The windward islands have strong European influences such as the mazurka, waltz and contredance (Santo Antão, São Nicolau). Moreover there are strong connections between the leeward and windward genres; for example, the cola sanjon (Santo Antão) is related to the batuque, which has also been called the soul of the Cape Verdean people.
The living conditions on Cape Verde forced the islanders to be pragmatic. Survival requires creativity, perseverance and a zest for life, and one of the musical styles that expresses this zest for life is the coladeira. This style, which arose on São Vicente, is popular all over Cape Verde, while another style danced all over Cape Verde is the funana, which originated on the island Santiago. At the time of Portuguese rule, this distinctly African-tinted style was forbidden, because its lyrics, accompanied by diatonic accordion and ferrinho (an iron rod played with a knife) challenged social inequalities. The morna, a melancholy musical style the lyrics of which are poems of departure, love and saudade (longing for home), is considered by all Cape Verdeans to be their national music.
Cabo Verde’s musical treasure chest has also made its contribution to the Roman Catholic church. Litanies and vespers were given a Cape Verdean tint. And on a number of islands, the traditional work songs are preserved, such as the songs sung in traditional style on Santo Antão while making grogue, a spirit distilled from sugar cane.
The melancholy morna is one of the most important musical styles of Cape Verde. Thanks to Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora, the morna has been bestowed with international acclaim. This style probably arose around 1800 on the island of Boa Vista. Originally the morna was only instrumental and played much faster, inspired by the lundu, which probably originated with Bantu slaves from Angola who brought their music to Cape Verde. Under the influence of other styles, especially the Brazilian modinha, the morna was slowed down and poetic lyrics were added. This poetry revolves around the feeling of saudade, a nostalgic combination of homesickness and lost love but yet hope for a better future. In the early 20th century, journalist Eugénio Tavares of the island Brava brought the morna to increased prominence and gave it its lyrical content. Tavares was a lover of the fado, which reveals a link to this Portuguese genre. In the first half of the 20th century, Francisco Xavier da Cruz (better known as B.Leza) and Luis Rendal of the island São Vicente added the influences of the Brazilian choro and samba. Excerpt from the CD Pertu di bo: “Mãe”
The coladeira arose in the middle of the last century on the island of São Vicente, alongside the morna, probably from the need to dance to differing rhythms. This new style developed into a popular dance music of the time. The story goes that some mornas were played in double-time in order to have room left for a coladeira. Some also say that it is related to the galope, a French musical style of the nineteenth century. It would seem more likely to link the coladeira to the cola sanjon style, which is mainly popular on São Vicente’s neighbouring island of Santo Antão, but also to the related batuque style, played primarily on the island of Santiago. There is also a distinct South American, predominantly Brazilian, influence. The lyrics of the coladeira are of a more satirical nature. Later, during the struggle for independence, lyrics were used as a form of political criticism, just as in the morna.
The funaná arose at the beginning of the last century on the island of Santiago. Some claim that this style originated on the island of São Tome, where a similar style is played. Because due to the social criticism embodied in its lyrics, the funaná was banned under Portuguese rule, this style developed in virtual isolation prior to Cabo Verde’s independence. Traditionally the vocals are accompanied on the gaita (diatonic accordion) and ferrinho (an iron rod played with a knife). The old masters of the traditional funana are Tchota Soares, Bitori and Codé di Dona. After Cabo Verde’s independence in 1975 this style became tremendously popular with the addition of instruments such as the electric guitar, synthesizer, bass and drums, with numbers such as Carlos Alberto Martins “Catchas.” The funana is still danced by packed crowds at parties and in Cape Verdean dance clubs.
Batuque is one of the oldest musical style of Cabo Verde and is played mainly on the island of Santiago. This music is traditionally played and sung by women known as batukadeiras, who play bundles of cloth (tchabeta) by holding them between the knees and striking them with their hands. This playing style probably arose from the time when, in the days of the slave trade, the Portuguese banned the drum in an effort to prevent uprisings and deprive the slaves of the means of exchanging secret messages. The lyrics, usually full of sage advice, are sung by one of the older women and answered in choir, accompanied by a distinct and exuberant dance style. One form of the batuque is the finason, in which lyrics of an instructive, political or philosophical nature are improvised on the spot. Batuque is still a living tradition and is played at family events, holidays, and the like.
In the month of May, on the island of Santiago, the festivities surrounding the tabanka begin. The word tabanka means ‘a symbiotic community,’ or sometimes refers to a brotherhood. The tabanka was originally an African celebration to which European (Catholic) customs were later added. This mix can be seen in the “tabanka temple.” Here the tambors, instruments descended from European marching drums, are stored. On a small altar lie the buzios, large shells that are blown rhythmically, like a trumpet, and together with the tambors form the musical basis for the tabanka. The tabanka is traditionally performed as a procession representing a royal court. At the head of the procession strut the beautifully costumed king and queen accompanied by their retinue. The procession bears along many flags, bones and other attributes, and the whole village joins in dance.
The mazurka, popular on the islands of Santo Antão and São Nicolau, came originally from the area around Warsaw, Poland. The inhabitants of this region were known as Mazurs, and their dances, which probably date back to the 16th century, were called mazurkas. At the beginning of the 19th century, the mazurka took England by storm, being adopted from the German nobility and the French elite. From there, this dance in three-four time made its way into the musical traditions of many parts of the world. The mazurka is still played and danced at weddings and other celebrations, both on Cape Verde and at Cape Verdean festivities in places like Rotterdam. On Santo Antão and São Nicolau, the mazurka is often alternated with the contredance. The contredance is inspired in English country dancing and was introduced to the French court around 1685. In France, it became the most popular dance of the 18th century. The mazurka and the contredance were probably brought to Cabo Verde by seafarers, as were genres such as the polka, waltz and galop which were popular in the ballrooms of the 19th century.
For centuries, May 1 has marked the celebration of Nho São Filipe on the island of Fogo. In this celebration, named for the patron saint of the island, secular and religious symbols flow together into the bandeira. The event revolves around a ceremonial flag (the “bandeira”), which is first dipped in the sea and then blessed in church in a special mass. The flag is the prize in a horse race, and the family who wins the flag earns the privilege of organising and paying for next year’s festival. The proud representative of the winning family bears the flag in a procession through São Filipe to the sound of drums and through the canizade, who have already carried out an extensive preparation ritual in which three women stamp corn in a stamper in a batuque-style rhythm. The same number of drummers play a variety of rhythms on marching drums in old European style. On top of these polyrhythms, a cantor sings partially improvised lyrics which are answered in choir. At the same time, a ritual meal is prepared. The Mendes Brothers, who are natives of the island of Fogo, have worked the bandeira into their music in a modern way.
Sao João is a religious festival celebrated in many parts of the world at the end of June. São Vicente, Santo Antão and Brava were the first islands to add secular aspects to this celebration after celebrating the mass, by erecting a pole in the fields next to the church on which were hung gifts for the poor. This is the origin of the cola sanjon style, a “belly dance” that exhibits elements of African fertility rites and traces of 17th century Portuguese folk dancing. Drummers play a batuque-like rhythm on drums brought by the Portuguese from Europe long ago, and the music is not complete without a chirping whistle. Traditionally the men dance in a richly decorated mock boat. Sao Joao is celebrated throughout Cape Verde and by the Cape Verdean communities abroad, but it the wildest version is found on Santo Antão.
For groups such as Babylon, with members such as Américo Brito, and of course Voz de Cabo Verde, with Bana, Djozinha, Luis Morais, Frank Cavaquinho and others, Rotterdam has played an important role in the modernisation of the coladeira through the addition of synthesizer, electric guitar, bass and drums. Particularly during the struggle for independence, the lyrics were usually of a political nature. As an embellishment to this revolutionary coladeira, the group CaboVerde Show was formed in Senegal in 1977 around keyboardist/producer Manu Lima. He added ingredients from the very popular disco music of the time and from Caribbean music, creating a new genre dubbed Coladance. Later, in the 1990’s, when the popularity of coladance was superseded by the funana and the zouk of Guadeloupe, a new fusion was created that became known as “colazouk” or “caboswing.” With the impetus of these developments, at the end of the 1990’s Rotterdam regained its status as the city shaping the latest trends in Cape Verdean music, embodied in the likes of Gil Semedo and Splash.