What do you know about the music and festivals of Cabo Verde? “Where is that? You may ask. Where else could one surf and scuba dive in one day, dance the samba and funaná on the second and scale a volcano on the third, all in a dry, mosquito-free environment where the mercury never falls below 25C? Yes, that would be Cabo Verde or the Anglicised version, Cape Verde.
Cape Verde is the scenic West African island nation made up of a series of 10 islands. The archipelago is located 350 miles off the Senegalese coast. Looking for an archipelago with a colourful mix of Western Europe and West Africa- head on to Cape Verde.
What caught my fantasy in Cape Verde is not just the much talked about pristine beaches and volcanoes on the islands, but the people’s fondness for tones. If music is the food for the soul, Cape Verde feeds all souls with enough music to last them a lifetime.
Indeed, there’s an old saying which states the Cape Verde is home to a greater number of musicians per square kilometer than any other country in the world. In truth, such a definitive claim may be high on impossible to prove.
However, what is unquestionable is that the islands are peaceful and welcoming, with a population proud of its rich musical heritage. Talking about the musical heritage, one need only consider the music and dance genre called Morna to appreciate the legacy fussed to make it.
Morna recreates the dark imprint of Portuguese Saudade, while the percussion driven dance batuque comes from a sensuous African root. Add in the rhythms of ocean waves for an island lilt, you can imagine the attractions of the music.
Cesária Évora, the “Barefoot Diva”, is the “Queen of Morna.” The Cape Verdean popular singer, who performed without shoes, is unarguably the biggest music export from the Islands.
A visit to any of the Islands tells the story better; music resonates everywhere: from the guitarists on the street to the well-known acts every night at 5 Tal da Musica in the capital of Praia, to the blasting radio of packed taxi vans that wait and wait until they are full to depart.
To dive into Cape Verdean tones and rhythm, visit the Island on any of its festivals. Festivals in the Cape Verdes take place during Saints days, as such, they include church services, wonderfully colourful processions, a lot of drumming and lively music, all of which culminates in a huge party where people enjoy delicious traditional dishes especially prepared for the occasion. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy yourself with lots of other revellers who arrive on the islands for the festivities.
The popular festivals on the Island include the following:
This is the most famous festival in Cape Verde, and it usually holds on most of the islands in February, close to Ash Wednesday. The Carnival is characterized by revelers cladded in fancy dresses who throng streets creating an electrifying atmosphere with the beat of good music. Watch the entertaining float procession with its incredible flamboyant costumes against the backdrop of clear blue sky. The carnival is always competitive as local districts try to impress the judges to be crowned the winner of the best street float. With its Brazilian influence, spontaneous street parties and an electrifying atmosphere, Mindelo Carnival on the Island of Sao Vicente is by far the biggest with tens of thousands of people taking part.
The flag feast is held on the Island of Fogo on April 30th in the city of Sao Filipe named after the patron saint of Fogo. It starts with the ritual of women peeling and pounding maize in a pestle to the beat of the drum. The Flags are important symbols and are blessed with water. Fogo males compete in horse races to have the honour of organizing next year’s event. The event combines a ceremonial mass and street party.
Tabanka means village in Guinea-Bissau. In Cape Verde, or more specifically Santiago island, it is a half religious, half social organisation, with participants basically among the poorest part of the population, a reminiscence of its origin among the slaves that were imported from the coast of West Africa.
A tabanka is like a theatre, with the act being played out over a period of more or less a month, starting in June. The tabanka includes the stealing of a saint, from the heavily guarded (with wooden guns!) “capela do santo”, or the saint’s chapel, on a night with batuku dancing, and ends with recapturing it and catching the thieves. This is of course celebrated with processions, dance, music and lots of good grogue – the local sugar cane bases booze. A conch provides a tremendous sound to the tabanka, spanning ca. 12 different notes. The band Ferro Gaita has taken up the use of it. The Tabanka museum is located in the town Assomada.
São João, Saint John, is celebrated on all the islands. The festival of Sao Joao is a passionate affair involving folk dancing, singing and street parties. A fire is lit to ward off evil spirits and protect the fertile land as women dance the sensual Kola Dance while calling out their song as the sound of the drums becomes louder and more intense.
The jovial street parties involve a symbolic representation of pirates who stole from the local people. Performers dress up in costumes representing ships, demanding gifts from passers-by.
The Gambôa Festival happens in Santiago’s capital Praia. This superb event draws crowds who enjoy a musical extravaganza of local talented musicians and others wonderfully entertaining their audiences with salsa as well as Latino music that get everyone’s toes tapping.
In June, on the island of Santo Antao the Violin Festival in Ponta do Sol takes place. Santo Antao is the lushest of the islands and is one of the best places to hike offering superb landscapes and stunning vistas. The wonderful violin festival draws musicians from far afield to this gorgeous island that’s just an hour away from Mindelo on the ferry.
The event was started in 1984 by a group of friends who wanted to create a way to meet and share musical ideas, but also as a way to create solidarity and peace throughout Cape Verde. The event now involves not only Cape Verdean musicians but also international artists, and attracts tens of thousands of people not only from Cape Verde but also from across the globe.
The music festival of Baia das Gatas is held on the beach over a long weekend in August close to the full moon. It’s one of the Largest open air music festivals in West Africa, and has become a celebration of Cape Verean culture. There are numerous food stalls where you can try Catchupa, fagalada and of course lots of beer and Grogue. The night eventually turns into one big party and giant disco.
This music festival is seen as the blueprint for the others on Sal and Santiago for example the Gamboa music Festival normally held in May.
Just one short week after the Baía das Gatas Festival of Sao Vicente, the fabulous festival of Boa Vista takes place.
The Sal Music festival in Santa Maria is held in September over a weekend and has also evolved into a big event attracting local and international artists. The music played is a fusion of many different styles and influences and is a great spectacle. Cape Verdean people from across the Islands as well as tourists flock to Santa Maria beach and generally camp out on the beach for the duration of the festival. When the sun goes down bonfires are lit and the party goes on through the night.
On the island of Santo Antao, in Ribeira Grande there is the superb Music and Culture International Festival called Sete Sóis e Sete Luas, the translation of which is the delightful ‘Seven Suns and Seven Moons’.
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