VOZ DE CABO VERDE - A legend
Generous brass, enchanting melodies, a fiery beat, languid guitars… In the highly-charged setting of “La Bonanza”, a Rotterdam discotheque frequented by locals and the Dutch Cape Verdean community, music from the Atlantic archipelago leapt from the meanders of a highly colourful repertoire where the sparkling melody of coladera rubbed shoulders with Beatles standards or the staccato tempo of patchanga…
In the mid-60s, Voz de Cabo Verde, a group of Cape Verdean musicians based in the Netherlands, brought fire to the cold evenings of the great North Sea port. Between 1966 and 1970, they toured the stages of Europe and Africa, introducing audiences to the music of Cape Verde, a small country plagued by drought, famine and emigration, an arid, oceanic land for its inhabitants, but a source of infinite inspiration for poets and musicians.
More than 30 years have gone by. Now, at the start of the 21st century, the former associates are celebrating their reunion, returning to the international stage and releasing a new album with a timeless feel to it. It should be remembered that Voz de Cabo Verde paved the way for our discovery of Cape Verdean music (whose festive energy and lazy, abandoned ambiences delight music-lovers today, some three decades later). Without the efforts of these gifted musical pioneers, Bana, Cesaria Evora or Tito Paris might not have achieved the same recognition in the world music sphere today.
VOZ DE CABO VERDE - biography
Voz de Cabo Verde’s fortunes are emblematic and inseparably linked to the history of Cape Verde’s Diaspora. Fuelled by cycles of drought and famine, the country’s great migratory waves covered the world throughout the 20th century, especially reaching the United States at the start of the century, Dakar in the 40s and Europe in the 50s.
The prelude to the Voz de Cabo Verde venture began with Senegalese independence. Since the 30s, a large Cape Verdean community had been living in Dakar. Initially employed in the docks, these migrants climbed the social ladder and were to be found in retailing and administration by the early 60s. At the time, the group’s future members were entertaining the local night-owls with their music. Their repertoire included cheerful coladera melodies and more melancholic morna pieces (the archipelago’s typical genres), blending neatly with the Cuban beats that were fashionable at the time.
Luis Morais was the figurehead of this little artistic circle, which played a major role in the emergence of the first urban groups in Senegal. Today, he is acclaimed as the father of modern Cape Verdean music. After studying at the French School of Dakar, Luis, a native of Mindelo, developed his clarinet and saxophone skills at the local Conservatoire where he attended lessons with his fellow-countryman Morgadinho, a talented bass and trumpet player hailing from the island of São Nicolau.
Morais earned a living performing with the band at Miami, a fashionable venue at a time when the musical references were Tito Puente and Orquesta Aragon. A born musician, he transcribed the oral music of his land, adapting it to current tastes by introducing Cuban themes. After his stay at the Miami, Luis was hired at the Saloum, a club managed by another Cape Verdean. There, he was reunited with Morgadinho, who was the leader of a band that included guitarist Toy Ramos, another island expat in Dakar.
They delighted their Dakar and Cape Verdean fans with a repertoire of cha-cha, bolero, patchanga, coladera and morna (which the Senegalese call slow) until Morais received a letter from Franck Cavaquinho, a musician from Santo Anton living in Rotterdam, inviting him to come to Holland with his associates.
Between May and June 1966, Luis, Morgadinho, Toy and the guitarist Jean Da Lomba made their way up towards the mists of the north, taking the boat to Marseille, then the train to Rotterdam. There, they found a large Cape Verdean community that had settled in the 1950s, following the Portuguese who had migrated in droves to rebuild postwar Benelux. The musicians’ reputation had preceded them. Djunga de Biluca, head of the Rotterdam-based Cape Verdean label Morabeza Record, was waiting, ready to find them bookings at the city’s nightclubs.
It was a turning point in the lives of the four newcomers and the start of a unique adventure. They were among the first African artists to be recognised as such abroad, treated as professionals and properly paid to play African music. Luis, Morgadinho and the others finally achieved the dream of many African artists in these independence years: to play the music of their native country on European stages for a mixed audience of their compatriots in exile and Europeans.
Immediately after their arrival, the five musicians – Luis Morais (saxophone and clarinet), Morgadinho (trumpet, vocals, bass), Franck Cavaquinho (drums), Toy Ramos (guitar) and Jean da Lomba (bass guitar) – came up with the name Voz de Cabo Verde and settled in at “La Bonanza”, a dance hall much frequented by Cape Verdean dockers and a clientele of local ladies. With the benefit of experience, the five quickly adapted their repertoire to the demands of international pop (Beatlemania was at its height and pop music riding high in Holland).
The group had arrived without a singer, but they soon discovered the hidden vocal talents of Morgadinho, who rose to the challenge and sang (in various languages) all the hits of the day: American standards, English pop ballads and Italian and French MOR… not to mention the glittering coladera and languorous morna of his native land. Morgadinho also became the group’s spokesman for everyday affairs, while Morais was more their arranger and guardian of artistic values. While bowing to the demands of marketing and especially competition with the city’s other groups, they continued to play their part as goodwill ambassadors for Cape Verde’s music beyond its borders. For four years, their variegated “La Bonanza” clientele listened to the melancholic lyrics of writers such as B. Leza and the more unrestrained efforts of Morais, Morgadinho and Cavaquinho.
Destined for a nomadic life like all Cape Verdeans, the members of Voz de Cabo Verde were forced to move every three months because of visa requirements. After recording a first album for the Morabeza label (“Dançando com Voz de Cabo Verde” in 1967), the group travelled constantly between Benelux, France, Lisbon and Portuguese-speaking Africa. They were soon joined by singer Djosinha, also a native of São Vicente, who brought with him an entire repertoire of cumbia and merengue, choice genres at that time. At the end of 1967, they all gathered in Lisbon for Christmas. Then, although Djunga de Biluca had summoned them back to Holland, the musicians decided to make their first trip to Cape Verde, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1968. There, they recruited a young man from Mindelo: Francisco “Chico” Serra, who became the seventh member of the group on keyboards (piano, organ). They toured each of the archipelago’s islands (a first in those days) and triumphed at every venue. Audiences listened in wonder to their new arrangements and this new way of playing their music on electric instruments. The event had a definite impact on the development of the archipelago’s different musical genres.
In May of the same year, Bruno Coquatrix invited the group to play at the Olympia in a festival of Portuguese-speaking musical styles shortly to be held over two consecutive weeks. Since the proposal offered them a chance to play in the most prestigious theatre in Paris, refusal seemed inconceivable. Yet when Morgadinho answered in the name of the group, he told the stunned Coquatrix that they were already committed to another 3-month contract with “La Bonanza”! Today, the erstwhile spokesman puts this momentary aberration down to a lack of knowledge of European showbiz.
In 1970, the group split up after a second tour in Angola. Djosinha left for the United States, while Ramos and Morgadinho settled in France. Meanwhile in Portugal, Voz de Cabo Verde carried on in name (led by Morais and with Bana as their singer), but things were not the same. The group confined itself to a community dimension and steadily lost its former character, despite the arrival of talented young musicians such as Paulino Vieira and Tito Paris. Even so, the “new-style” Voz de Cabo Verde still recorded ten or so albums.
Almost twenty years later in 1998, the founding members of the group got together again. Morais, Morgadinho, Djosinha, Ramos, da Lomba and Serra (sadly, Cavaquinho had died) performed together on stage in Lisbon at a Portuguese government tribute to Cesaria Evora. The audience was captivated and the former partners all agreed they should “do it again”, but this was easier said than done with the musicians living on 3 different continents. Morais and Serra had gone back to Cape Verde, da Lomba and Djosinha had settled in the USA and Morgadinho and Ramos had remained in France. Finally, the opportunity came two years later. At the suggestion of the Diaspora Congress, a very influential Cape Verdean association based in Lisbon, the Cape Verdean government invited Voz de Cabo Verde to give a concert in Praia on the 6th June 2002 at the national parliament (the concert would be followed by another in Mindelo a few days later). It was to be the entire country’s tribute to the group, pioneers in modern Cape Verdean music who brought world popularity to the archipelago’s essential heritage, the fruit of cultural cross-fertilisation between African slaves and European colonists.
The concert was recorded by the Camoes Institute of Lisbon. The musicians (who owned the rights to the tapes) subsequently contacted Lusafrica to release their historic recording. It was a faithful reflection of what Voz de Cabo Verde had been doing during their Dutch period. Apart from Toy Paris replacing the late lamented Franck Cavaquinho on drums, the line-up was the same: Luis Morais (saxophone and clarinet), Morgadinho (trumpet, vocals, bass), Toy Ramos (guitar), Jean da Lomba (bass guitar), Djosinha (vocals) and Chico Serra (keyboards). Voz de Cabo Verde took us on a journey through time, leading us back to the glory days of the 60s. The musicians had chosen to allude to all those things that made up their everyday lives in those days, dressing in the fashion of the period, for instance – black trousers and green jackets – and performing the repertoire of the time… Enthusiastic about the welcome they received from the archipelago’s population, the musicians decided to permanently re-form the band when they were invited to play again in Cape Verde in August, before more than 50,000 people at the 2002 Festival Baia das Gatas.
While the sudden disappearance of Luis Morais the following September came as a shock for the band’s members (not to mention the Cape Verdean community as a whole), it did not weaken their determination to release the album and re-form the group. On the contrary, Voz de Cabo Verde is a final tribute to their courageous companion, universally acclaimed as the father of modern Cape Verdean music.
VOZ DE CABO VERDE « LIVE » - CD Lusafrica 362902
VOZ DE CABO VERDE « VOZ COM PAZ E AMOR » - CD Doçura 023232
Dançando com Voz de Cabo Verde (33rpm. Morabeza - 1967)
Regresso de Voz de Cabo Verde (33rpm. Morabeza - 1967)
Resposta de Segredo co mar / Jam cre Ranja ma bo (45rpm. Morabeza - 1967)
Voz de Cabo Verde - Instrumental (33rpm. Morabeza - 1968)
Voz de Cabo Verde - Partida (33rpm. Morabeza - 1968)
Voz de Cabo Verde - Meche (33rpm. Morabeza - 1968)
Recordings made with the accompaniment of the members of the group Voz de Cabo Verde:
Luis Morais - Boas Festas (33t. Morabeza - 1967)
Bana accompagnado pela Voz de Cabo Verde - Pensando & Segredo (33t. Morabeza – 1966/67)
Djosinha - com a Voz de Cabo Verde (33t. Morabeza - 1967)
Also note that there are several recordings of Humbertona, Tazinho and Luis Morais solo, accompanied by one or another of the members of Voz de Cabo Verde, made by the Morabeza label in the years 67-70.