If you follow my blog (and I know I’ve been very neglectful of it in recent weeks) you know I have been a traveler all my life. Not by choice, mind you. Life just always took me on journeys I probably would never go on should it be left up to me. I’m not very adventurous and as an introvert as much as I love visiting new places and seeing new things I need something or someone to push me in that direction.
When I was about seven years old I lived in a small Atlantic African island called Sal in the Cape Verdean archipelago. Literally translated Sal means salt and there is a very good reason why that island bears this name. It’s been a long time so I cannot speak for the island as it is today. However, back then Sal was a small arid island that survived off the sea salt mines and lobsters. It never rained, there was not much to eat besides lobster and goats were about the only livestock that could survive the harsh environment.
I was not too happy there at first because I was a minority of epic proportions. I was a white skinny girl in an island of dark-skinned people but, even worse, I was a poor white girl in a place where the only other two white girls my age were the daughters of officers. I was stuck between two worlds. The black girls hated me because I was white and the white girls hated me because I was poor. I won over the local girls by showing them I was almost as poor as they were, lived among them in a house with no electricity (eventually we were upgraded to a house with electricity, but not much more) and no running water and—brace yourselves—by telling jokes. Yes, I became a regular comedian as a survival strategy. I stole my “material” from my father’s old comedy records (by the great late Portuguese comedian Raul Solnado) and put on a daily show every day during recess. I can’t say I made a lot of friends, but at least I was able to get along with the other girls in school (not the white girls though. They truly hated my guts).
Like most places where I lived in the great continent of Africa, Cape Verde holds a special place in my heart. There is something magical about Africa. We, the expatriates that lived there, used to say it was something in the water; once you drank it you could never remove Africa from your heart. For me one of the most magical things about Cape Verde (besides the wealth of lobster, which I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner) was the music. Cape Verde were originally uninhabited islands discovered by Portuguese explorers and later populated with a mixture of Portuguese settlers and African slaves. Because of its geographic location and history, the islands developed a very unique culture and language. Creole (which I spoke once), a mix of Portuguese and African dialects, is the language spoken on the islands. Just like the language, the music also reflects the influence of both Portuguese and African traditional music. The coladeira is a fast dancing tune that sounds a little like a merengue; the morna is a slow, poignant, warm and sensual dance .
Thanks to my parents who loved music and dancing, I was exposed to all of Cape Verdean dances and by the time I left the island I was moving my hips just as well as the other local girls and their music was forever enshrined in my soul. I went back years later as a young adult to enjoy their beautiful isolated beaches for a few days. But nothing can describe the plight and harsh beauty of the islands better than the song Regresso by the great Cape Verdean singer Cesária Evora and later sang by the equally great Brasilian singer Alcione. I hope you have the chance to listen to it and enjoy it. Even if you don’t understand the words, the music says everything. Here’s a song for Cape Verde.