Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed
Cabo Verde, or Cape Verde as it is known in English-speaking countries, is a small group of islands of the west coast of Africa nearest to Senegal and Mauritania.
The rather-long title of this compilation is fitting in this case, as the story behind this music is truly strange, like something out of a Hollywood film. So it goes that in the spring of 1968, a cargo ship loaded with synthesizers, organs and other electrical keyboards left Baltimore with the destination of Rio de Janeiro. That same day the ship disappeared off the radar without a trace. It was then found 8km from any coastline in the fields of Sao Nicolau Island in Cape Verde, and scientists who had been to visit the site concluded the ship had fallen from the sky! It also had traces of cosmic particles on it, and it had clearly experienced a massive amount of heat akin to what a meteor would experience on entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Strange you say? Well, it gets weirder! The ship was not smashed to smithereens as you might expect when it was found by the islanders!
So this is our ‘mystery’ in the title – and if you’re wondering where this is going… Well all of those electric keyboards and synths soon ended up with the islanders of Cabo Verde, and they used them to make their wonderful music!
Upon first listen, the music immediately defines itself as African; the rhythms, the guitar work and the vocals make it so that there is no other possibility. I get strong flavours of West African in particular; no doubt they would have had a steady supply of their mainland neighbours’ records over the years. The colonial influence is also quite prominent; Latin chord changes, the Portuguese language, and some instruments being played very stylistically (like the piano in ‘Pontin & Pontin’ by Bana).
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Cape Verde islanders also had plenty of Portugese and perhaps even Cuban records in their collections as well (possibly brought from sailors coming across the Ocean). This compilation is actually one of those perfect examples of the marriage of Latin and Afro styles – also found in the music of Senegal and Angola, amongst others. Both styles have that deep, elemental and heart-pumping beat that is made for hip-grinding moves and all-night grooving. Perhaps what sets this music apart from other African music is a distinct windswept island feel – and – of course those cosmic instruments, which are prominent in all tracks.
The opener ‘Pinta Manta’ by António Sanches is a clear indicator of this fascinating breed of Afrobeat, with its strange and digital-sounding percussive intro and futuristic bassline. It sounds very mathematic and precise. This track is led by a reverb-soaked vocal that is contrastingly primordial and powerful. It strangely reminds me of Alain Peters, another African islander from Reunion Island off the eastern coast of Madagascar. You can really feel the ‘island vibe’ flowing in this track.
Pedrinho’s ‘Odio Sem Valor’ is another favourite – with its catchy harmonized melody and it’s relentless rolling rhythm. It also has a ‘part 2’ where the tempo picks up and instruments go bonkers. Other highlights include Dionisio Malo’s ‘Dia Ja Manche,’ with its call and response vocal, and also ‘Stebo Cu Anabela’ by Abel Lima.
By this point, the quality of the release itself doesn't need to be covered. Like all other Analog Africa releases, it is a work of art in itself. The vinyl edition is 2 x LP with a 12-page LP-sized booklet, and the CD edition has a 44-page booklet. It’s the right release for the summer!
Banner image courtesy of Triptello.