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The song “Boas Festas” – an end-of-year soundtrack heard everywhere on the radio and in the bars and taverns of Cape Verde – was written by the famous clarinettist Luis Morais, master of an entire generation of Cape Verdean musicians. Wherever you go, whatever you do, either the original or one of the more modern versions of “Boas Festas” will be playing, its joyful yet nostalgic beat plunging listeners into contagious, euphoric sadness. The imminence of the New Year celebrations when all cares are forgotten irresistibly conjures up the image of a friend, brother or loved one, lost forever or gone to seek a better life elsewhere… In Cape Verde, there is always time for tears and memories before laughter and song…
Luis Morais died suddenly at the age of 67 on Wednesday the 25th September 2002 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Luis Morais is a legend in the land of Cesaria Evora. Born on the 10th February 1935 in Mindelo (São Vicente Island, Cape Verde), he spent his youth in Dakar, where he first studied and learnt the rudiments and theory of music, then composition. He began to play his favourite instruments, the clarinet and saxophone (alto and tenor), at Cape Verdean dances, very fashionable in Dakar at the time.
In those postwar years, Latin beats (merengue, cha-cha, etc.) were sweeping the entire world. In Dakar, the young musician fell in love with them. He began to arrange updated versions of Cape Verdean standards and write original pieces himself. Although he stuck to the traditional form of coladera, he changed its rhythmical structure, basing his work on Cuban beats. Dakar high society was enthusiastic and began to refer to dances where this dizzying music was played as “coladeras”. After Luis Morais, Cape Verdean coladera would never be quite the same again.
At the end of the 50s, Morais formed the group Voz de Cabo Verde with other Cape Verdean musicians in Rotterdam. It was the first band to introduce Cape Verdean beats, mornas and coladeras to the world. Over ten years or so, Voz de Cabo Verde recorded many albums and singles for the Morabeza label, also based in Rotterdam.
In the 60s and 70s, Luis Morais travelled between Cape Verde and Lisbon, where the bulk of the Cape Verdean musical scene was based. In the Portuguese capital, Morais became one of the scene’s main figures. He trained musicians (the Vieira and Paris brothers especially, but many others too), arranged pieces for some, wrote for others and above all produced scores, helping to provide a lasting record of this music that had essentially been an oral tradition until the sixties.
Luis Morais recorded many solo albums and wrote hundreds of pieces, including “Boas Festas”, an instrumental he released in 1961. It has been the definitive holiday-season song ever since, shared by Cape Verdeans the world over.
He was an old friend of Cesaria Evora, having performed with her regularly on stage in the days when she sang in bars at the very start of her career. José da Silva chose Morais as the artistic director when he produced the “La Diva aux Pieds Nus” (The Barefoot Diva) album in 1988.
Luis Morais got back together with Cesaria Evora on stage at the Nuit du Cap-Vert (Cape Verde Night) at the Paris Zénith on the 28th April 2001. He then joined Cesaria’s group for different concerts, among them her American tours in July and October 2001 and her European tour in summer 2002. He died in September 2002, just as Lusafrica released his last recording, the “Novidade de Mindelo” album, recorded in Paris a few months previously.