April 21, 2009
Cape Verde is one of the smallest countries in Africa, and is located 120 miles off the coast of Senegal, making it also the Westernmost of the African countries. Colonized by Portugal in the 12th century, Cape Verde has both influenced Portuguese music, and been influenced by it. When most people think of African music, dense polyrhythmic drumming and simple chants come to mind. In contradiction to that stereotype, the music of Cape Verde is melodic, melancholy, and harmonically rich. Each of the seven populated islands has its own set of distinct rhythms and styles, although some have become popular enough among the broader Cape Verdean Communityand beyond to become recognized around the world as the typical style. Morna and Coladera are the most popular styles. Morna’s best known voice is Cesaria Evora, and Coladera’s is Bana.
My involvement with Cape Verdean music goes back to one day in October of 1995. I was in my fourth semester at Berklee. The phone rang, and the man on the other end said, “Hi, my name is Ramiro Mendes, and I’m looking for a sax player to go to Angola for two weeks at the end of the month. Can you make it?” I asked how long I had to think about it, and he said, “How about five minutes?” I arranged for a leave of absence from Berklee for those two weeks, and began rehearsing with the band, The Mendes Brothers. As it turns out, Ramiro was one of the best-known producers and composers in the music, with many hit songs and recordings under his belt. My association with the Mendes Brothers would lead to my participation in many recordings, including three with The Mendes Brothers, three with Bana, and many many more with other well-known artists such as Maria de Barros, Bius, Jozinho, Belinda, and subsequent tours to Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, and Guinea Bissau in addition to local performances.