Those who have heard of Cape Verde often know it for its music, which is internationally acclaimed for its richness, meaning, joy, anguish, and haunting beauty.

The most recognized of the varying Cape Verdean genres of music is morna, a type of folk music that is sung in the local dialect of Kriolu, accompanied by instruments like the clarinet, violin and guitar. It originates from the English saying, “to mourn” and embodies a romantic quality, complemented by a ballroom-type dance that is slow and dramatic. The popularity of morna has produced some of the culture’s most beloved artists such as Eugénio Tavares, Cesária Évora, Ildo Lobo, and Celina Pereira. The lyrics of this genre often relate to themes of love, longing, connection to the land, and of course, mourning.

Cesária Évora is often referred to as “the voice of Cape Verde.”  The haunting melodies and bittersweet sounds of morna delivered in her thick, rich voice have put the name Cesária Évora and Cape Verde on the map for many countries.  One of few Cape Verdean artists recognized throughout the globe, when you hear her sing it is not difficult to understand why.  Now 68, Évora did not even begin her music career until her late forties.  In 2004, Voz d’Amor received a Grammy nomination for Best World Music.  Évora still owns a house in the center of Mindelo and, though she does not perform much in the city – apart from the music festival Baía das Gatas – she has not let her age slow her down.  There are currently a number of shows lined up for 2010 and a new album, Nha Sentimento, was released in 2009.

In the 1930s, however, a more upbeat version of morna emerged called coladeira.  It is light-hearted, often humorous and sensual. It possibly stems from tabanca, the musical and processional celebration of recognized Saint’s Days. During the time of slavery, the observed holidays allowed the slaves a day free of work. The tabanca procession included a mass service and the transportation of particular saint statues to a special alter (visible on hillsides throughout Cape Verde). During the procession, horns and drums were used to keep the beat as slaves sung out in celebration, but also in criticism and mockery of their masters.

Similarly birthed from the islands is the fun and lively funaná, an accordion-based style of music that originated on Santiago and features a varied, upbeat tempo. The lyrics are often metaphoric and in the form of poetry, requiring that the audience is well-versed in both the language as well as the cultural significance. As with many forms of Cape Verdean music during the colonial period, the Portuguese scorned funaná for being “too African.” Since independence, however, there has been a revival, and Cape Verdeans see their music as a form of identity. Groups such as Bulimundo and Ferro Gaita have reignited pride for the genre, added pop influences and incorporated elements of coladeira that created a hybrid variety called funacola.

Batuque is considered the oldest genre of Cape Verdean music. With its drum beats, strong lyrics, and exotic hip-shaking flicks, the dance was once forbidden in rural areas for its messages of women empowerment, overt sexuality, and freedom of expression. Though it was once an outlet to express exaltation or anguish, the dance is mainly performed for entertainment value. In the past, batuque had a specific social meaning, as it was performed on holy days during ceremonies, feasts, and weddings. Similar to tabanca, it allowed the slaves to express their frustrations and difficulties, hidden to their masters. Many speculate that the movement of dance has a sexual meaning, indicating that the goal may be to promote fertility.

Those who perform the dance are mainly women who are called batukaderas. They gather in a circle, play a low beat and the dancer begins to sway almost lethargically to the music. In unison, those who are chanting and singing pick up the tempo. As the drums quicken, so do the movements of dance – so much so that the song builds velocity and the fervor of the group accelerates until the dancer is flicking her hips in a furious rhythm of shaking, her skirt whipping back and forth for the crowd. Her upper body remains almost motionless while her hips begin swinging and swaying in an almost unnatural gyration. The performance reaches its peak in an incredible crescendo of movement, drum beats and voices, and the immediate silence leaves the beat echoing delightfully in your ears.

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