Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Cabo Verde

Various  Artists   ‘Space Echo –  The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed’ .  Released  by  Analog Africa,  May  27th  2016.

350 miles adrift of the West African coast, Cabo Verde (probably more familiar to many of us as Cape Verde) lies almost isolated out in the Atlantic Ocean. But this former overseas ‘department’ of Portugal fatefully, so the local legend goes, happened to be stuck in the exact right place when a shipment of the latest Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Korg synthesizers and keyboards bound for the Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico Exhibition in Rio De Janeiro ended up marooned on one of the archipelago’s ten volcanic islands in 1968. The real story grows mysterious, as the cargo, destined to reach a promising market in South America, disappeared off the radar on a calm morning the same day it set sail from Baltimore, and ended up 8km away from the Cape Verde coastline in a field near the village of Cachaço.

Framing the latest compilation from the assiduous choice label – known for revitalising previously lost, obscure and overlooked recordings from the African and on occasion South American continents – Analog Africa, the myth like backstory is elaborated further: ‘After consulting with the village elders, the locals had decided to open the containers to see what was inside but the news had travelled fast and before they knew it, colonial police had already arrived and secured the area. Portuguese scientists and physicians were ordered to the scene; and after weeks of thorough studies and research, it was concluded that the ship had fallen from the sky. One of the less plausible theories was that it might have fallen from a Russian military air carrier. The locals joked that the government had wasted their tax money again on a useless exercise, as a simple look at the crater generated by the impact could explain the phenomena. “No need for Portuguese rocket science to explain this!” they laughed.’

Monolith Cocktail - SPACEECHO_image_JOSE-CASIMIRO 1981

Initially stored in the local church, it is said that the anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral weighed-in (thankfully) and suggested distributing the keyboard hoard out equally in places that had access to electricity, which as it would turn out meant mainly the island’s schools. This proved an ingenious idea, as a burgeoning curious generation of kids grew up experimenting with the instrument, going onto form bands and produce a new fusion: ‘The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde’. Concerned with shaking off the shackles of their former colonial masters, who finally obliged the islands with independence in 1975, this new generation reintroduced former traditions previously scorned upon by the Europeans, but firmly looked towards the future.

And so it goes: a musical manna from the heavens or space; a cargo that literally dropped into their laps from out of the stratosphere sets into motion a new dawn in music history. Whatever the truth, Cabo Verde’s musicians were certainly transformed. The melting pot of Mornas, Coladeras, carnival and previously prohibited – deemed far too risqué and sensual by the Portuguese overseers- Funaná styles of music were given a new lease of life and modern twist by the booty of futuristic sounding synthesizers. Given a special tribune and nod on this compilation of 1970s and 80s tracks, Paulino Vieira, a beneficiary of this synthesizer gift, is held in high esteem as one of Cabo’s most important music arrangers and keyboard maestros. Just over half of the songs presented in this compilation were recorded with the backing of the band he led, the Voz de Cabo Verde. Recorded mostly overseas in Lisbon they became a sort of house band to a revolving stage of solo artists from the islands, most of them likewise émigrés either forced to move before independence or with a new lease of freedom experiencing the European scene and trying to make a living. In fact, due to a number of far more nuanced than space will allow conditions, the population of the islands is outnumbered by a diaspora living throughout the world – this compilation’s accompanying booklet refers especially to a majority residing in both Portugal (which isn’t a surprise) and further north in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The Voz de Cabo Verde were certainly pioneers, embracing the club scene of pop and disco, integrating the futuristic modulations of the synth, but also paying respect to the past, if only to change it for a more contemporary audience. Underlining both the group’s sound and the majority of the album is the already mentioned Funaná. One of the capital’s, Santiago, oldest musical genres, is a sound born in the hinterlands from a marriage between the Gaita, a Portuguese imported diatonic accordion, and a locally manufactured percussion instrument called the ferrinho, an iron bar scraped with a knife to set the rhythm.


Funaná is transmogrified. Whether it’s the echo laden analogue keyboard pulses and liquidity of Antonio Sanches’ life-affirming celebratory ‘Pinto Manta’, or the electro-accordion rocking ska funk ‘Mino Di Mama’, by Cabo abroad in the US, Quirino Do Canto, the original template is transformed into something vibrant and alive. It is a full on Funaná revival. Analog Africa are even re-issuing, what is considered to be the best and most powerful Funaná masterpiece, Bitori Nha Bibinha by Bitori and Chando Graciosa in the next couple of months as a follow-up. Becoming standards and classics over time, given another life in the clubs yet still remaining a Cape Verde phenomenon, the album will now get a global release.

Despite the celestial allusions this compilation is tethered firmly to the beaches and tropical landscapes of the archipelago. Despite the cosmological allusions, these are earthbound marvels that liberally integrate carnival, disco, blues and funk with the roots of the Cabo Verde islands. It’s all about the enrichment of the Island’s original sounds mixing with those from around the globe, the maritime crossing point playing host to many cultures over the centuries. For the former accountant student turn singer Dionisio Maio it sounds like the Caribbean with a hint of Cuba held sway on his contribution ‘Dia Ja Manche’. Fany Havest on the other hand transports us to the disco on his beach blues turn Niles Rodger’s funky private pressing ‘That Day’.

Selected for our enjoyment by the Celeste/Mariposa crew, a sound system based in Lisbon, Mexico-based producer Deni Shain, and Analog Africa’s founder Samy Ben Redjeb, the compilation offers an undeniably infectious dance soundtrack for the summer.

Despite the emphasis on the strange space like emulations and modulations of the keyboard technology and its impact on the Cape Verde music scene, this compilation is really about a former suppressed colony finding its own independence; revitalising once banned traditions and giving them, for the time, a unique twist.

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