The folks who brought you Brazil, the Portuguese, were the Renaissance envelope pushers — extreme explorer / traders like the Polynesians and Phoenicians of earlier times. They were also hard-nosed colonists who didn’t limit themselves to South American real estate. Portugal’s African territories once hung like a pendant on a colonial necklace stretching from Rio to India. Today, the Afro-Portuguese music that remains tells a story as complex and faceted. It is a music born of colonization and of slavery, a simultaneous speech of homesick sighs and lusty exuberance for life.
The Portuguese were among the first to arrive and the last to yield to independence in Africa. A rare military coup in Europe (in 1974) ended the colonial regime and brought a belated liberation to the African territories. Music played a crucial role in the peoples’ struggles for self-determination and continues to serve as trans-cultural catharsis.
The first chapter in the tale of Afro-Portuguese music takes us to Cape Verde. These nine inhabited islands due west of Senegal are the cultural and shipping crossroads between the North and South Atlantic. Their name has been made a mockery by drought and wind. But music has thrived here, in an abundance that has spilled over to a “tenth island” of emigres to America, Europe and Africa and a truly trans-national music scene has emerged.