Album Review: Various Artists – Space Echo, The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed [Analog Africa, 27th May 2016]

“The cosmic sound of Cabo Verde” arises when the Western African archipelago’s lush musical culture meets the instruments of electronic music. Legend has it that this all began one early morning at the end of the ‘60s, when the villagers of the São Nicolau island found a ship stranded in the fields, as if it had been dropped from the sky, the hold full of keyboards, synths and other electronic instruments. The revolutionary leaders, who were fighting for the country’s independence from Portugal, decided to distribute the tools equally within the local schools. According to the story, the kids who came into contact with those instruments acquired prodigious music skills, due to the cosmic particles remaining in the boat after the fall.

Fiction or magic, the story reflects the originality and extraordinary creativity of the Cabo Verdean music scene between the ‘70s and the ‘80s, of which Space Echo constitutes a beautiful selection. The compilation features many of the kids who experimented with the prodigious, cosmic instruments, and then grew up spreading their talent along the strands of the Cabo Verdean diaspora. One of them is Paulino Vieira, leader of Voz de Cabo Verde, the backing band in eight out of the 15 tracks on the album. Vieira, multi-instrumentalist and outstanding arranger, retreated for several years from major events, blaming the Cabo Verdean music entourage for selling out the vibrant local heritage in order to fit into the shoddy categorisations of the world music market. In line with his recriminations, Space Echo is proof that the Afro-Lusitanian archipelago deserves a wider space in the global music scenario than just Cola-zouk.

In over one hour of excellent music, the album brings traditional mornas, coladeiras and funanà ballads into a cosmopolitan sonic dimension, dialoguing with fado, electronic music, funk, psychedelia, Latin rock and Caribbean sounds. This journey across the first generation of musicians from the Republic of Cabo Verde reveals a truly African, fully contemporary repertoire.

The sweet inflexions of the local kriolu and the captivating 2-beats rhythm of the gaita (how diatonic accordion is called on the islands) match with a groovy, soul-like frame in “Dia Já Manché” by Dionisio Maio, while creole melodies duet with prog rock guitar riffs in “Po D’Terra” by João Cirilo. Abel Lima structures his socially engaged lyrics into a Salsa ballad in “Corre Riba, Corre Baixo”. Americo Brito chants the inconsolable saudade of Cabo Verdean migrants in “Sentado na Pracinha”, enriching the classic Morna with a powerful brass section. Digital reverberation and synth organ intrude into the traditional coladeira in songs like “Mino di Mama” by Quirino do Canto, “Morti Sta Bidjàcu” by José Casimiro, “Ódio Sem Valor” by Pedrinho or “Pontin Pontin” by Bana, spreading a psychedelic aura over the tropical rhythms and the melancholia of islander guitars.

Space Echo is a project born of the research of Celeste/Mariposa, a Portugal-based DJ duo dedicated to the rediscovery of Afro-Lusitanian music, with the intensive support of Samy Ben Redjeb, Tunisian founder of the German label Analog Africa, and producer Deni Shain. It writes another vibrant page in the history of the contribution of African musicians to global experimentation, electro and psychedelia. Hopefully, we won’t need another forty years to find out what is going on in African music today.