Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Someone once said that the best kind of music is that which makes you joyful and melancholic at the same time.  If such is the case, then Cape Verde’s national music - the morna - might be the perfect sound for the new year: eliciting happiness for fresh beginnings and sadness at some of the dire events of 2016.

The cover of Mornas de Cabo Verde (Lusafrica)
A recently released compilation, Mornas de Cabo Verde, evokes this swing between moods and the spirit of the times, even as it inspires admiration for the artists’ talents. Produced by the Lusafrica label which launched Cesária Évora’s career, Mornas features the late “barefoot diva” as well as earlier and contemporary singers.

The music resembles Portuguese fado, but “its accents are rough and heart-rending”, as Lusafrica puts it. Morna has its own characteristics and “probably comes from lament, a style of singing brought from Angola by slaves”.

Listeners will find that the album fully captures these songs that convey “a sadness full of hope”, starting off with Ildo Lobo’s poignant Nós Morna and quickly moving to Évora’s eternally sublime Miss Perfumado - which was the title of her best-selling 1992 album, and of a successful single.

The tracks also highlight the gifts of other singers such as Lura, Nancy Vieira, Zé Luis and, of course, Elida Almeida – the 23-year-old powerhouse who is regarded as Évora’s heir apparent, although their personal styles are very different. (For more on Almeida, see:

Almeida’s contribution, the plaintive Mar Sagrado, comes from her debut CD, and prospective listeners should be warned that the vocals might bring on an inexplicable urge to weep, while the instrumentals simultaneously make one want to dance. But then, that is the dual nature of the morna, and of this album.


The morna also appears on the latest work from Angolan artist Bonga, aka José Adelino Barceló de Calvalho. Recados de Fora (Messages from Elsewhere) is his 31st album, and comprises Angola’s traditional semba as well as Portuguese fado.

Bonga in concert.
Bonga lives in Portugal, and the album was “quietly” recorded there, in Paris, and in the Cape Verdean port city of Mindelo, says label Lusafrica.

“In Mindelo ... all members of the African-Portuguese community of musicians inevitably meet one night or another on the island of São Vicente,” adds a label spokesperson 

“This is Cesária’s hometown, and it takes pride in its many excellent musicians, including the guitarist Bau and Chico Serra, who both feature on the album.”

Along with Bonga’s gravelly voice and sharp lyrics, the compositions boast excellent backing vocals, infectious percussion, brass, flute and particularly the dikanza – a segment of grooved bamboo scraped with a stick. Producer Betinho Feijo orchestrates the whole with a “light touch”, but the turbulent history of Angola comes across in Bonga’s critiques of globalization and declining solidarity, and in his message of non-violence.

Bonga's Recados de Fora (Messages from Elsewhere)
The singer, now 73 years old, started life as the son of a fisherman, became a successful athlete, and then had to go into exile after working in support of Angola’s independence from Portugal. The story goes that he used various pseudonyms and carried messages between pro-independence groups who opposed the then regime (the country achieved sovereignty in 1975).

He permanently took on the name Bonga in 1972, and recorded his first album in the Netherlands that same year, Angola 72. Its leading song Mona Ki Ngi Xica contained lyrics that were deemed seditious by the Angolan authorities and a warrant was issued for his arrest, forcing him to continue on the move.

Bonga lived in various European countries and settled for a time in France, where he met many other artists who had fled military dictatorships, according to biographical accounts. He made his second album, Angola 74, with musicians who had escaped brutal regimes in South America, for instance.

The early songs were uncompromising, in politics and artistry, and the same can be said of those on Recados de Fora, even with the danceable tunes such as Tonokenu and the title track. But the morna stands out in the compilation, as Bonga returns to a part of his roots with Odji Maguado, a performance in homage to the influential Cape Verdean songwriter B. Leza. This is a song that Évora made popular in the 1990s, and Bonga does it justice in his own way. 

For more information about the albums: