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coverpic flag Cape Verde - Full Moon 44 - 05/18/00

Various Artists
Cape Verde

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 liner notes.

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 Cuban son.

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...

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