No mystery but plenty of treasures on “Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed”

Various Artists, Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed, Analog Africa, AACD080 (2016)

At long last, the music scene that thrived in Cape Verde during the late 1970s / early 1980s gets a reissue on CD by Analog Africa as part of a series showcasing African pop music from the last quarter of the 20th century. This CD (number 20 in the Analog Africa series) is an excellent compilation of 15 songs composed and performed by various musicians, whose relations to one another I’m still not really sure of after reading the booklet that comes in the package. The songs are credited to individual composers and musicians but that can’t be completely right as all songs are performed by bands, some of whose members rate no mention in the booklet.

Generally the music has a light feel and a mostly sunny outlook, though given that Cape Verde’s culture was much influenced by its Portuguese colonisers, a bit of melancholy is bound to appear here and there. The surprising aspect of the music is the use of synthesiser, electric piano and other electronic instruments popular in the 70s and 80s through most tracks in composing and playing melodies and rhythms, and creating and sustaining moods and soundscape backgrounds. Even when the background music seems at its most electro-alien and cold, the charging percussion, rhythms and singing infuse the songs with lively energy and spirit.

Listeners expecting that the music will be similar to Brazilian and a lot of African pop of the same period might be in for a surprise: sure, there are African-influenced beats, rhythms and structures, and the musicians sing in Portuguese, but the music also sounds very European, much more than we might have assumed. There’s not much call-and-response music, where a lead vocalist calls out to a crowd and urges them along, and everyone responds singing the same lyrics or a chorus, and a dialogue that bounces back and forth continuously is set up, that appears here (or what does appear seems watered down into verse-chorus refrain songs); and there’s a lot of Euro-disco and Latino influence across the songs. In short, we have a true synthesis of African and European styles and elements overlaid and united by the Western music and cultural trends and advances in the music and recording technologies of the time and the opportunities these offered to musicians to explore, question and engage with their musical heritage, and to reach out to their people and the world beyond.

There are many good songs to be found here and anyone and everyone who listens to the album will soon have a favourite song or two. The one song that typifies this compilation and which I consider the best is one of the middle tracks, Quirino do Canto’s “Mino di Mama”, which is a wonderful liquid duet (or duel?) of a lone male vocal and a flippy silver synthesiser melody over a light galloping percussion beat. This song comes at the end of a run of great tracks starting with Fany Havest’s “That Day”, the sole English-language song, which initially start slowly, even a bit gloomily, and then suddenly go light and sparkly.

I believe the 15 songs that appear come from a collection of 1,000 songs found by the compiler over a year or so of research and travelling around Cape Verde, only to discover most of the musicians who composed and played these songs are actually living and working in Europe. As mentioned before, on the whole these tracks are upbeat and sunny, and most listeners will be satisfied with that, but I’m hoping future follow-up compilations will include music of a wider range of moods and subject matter. Still, this collection is a great introduction to the music and culture of Cape Verde.

As for the “mystery” about the supposed lost ship whose cargo mysteriously appeared abandoned on the shores of Cape Verde … the mundane reality is that the music scene celebrated on this CD exploded after the islands gained their independence in 1975, and that event must surely have been the watershed that allowed Cape Verdean culture to flourish.

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