Event Review: Atlantic Music Expo 2023 (Praia, Cabo Verde; Monday 10th to Thursday 13th April 2023)

The highly anticipated return of the Atlantic Music Expo in Praia marked a triumphant comeback after a few years of hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This April, music enthusiasts from around the world rejoiced as the Expo revived its primary aim of showcasing the captivating music, vibrant colours, and rich imagery of the Cape Verdean Archipelago. The event served as a powerful platform to introduce and spread the unique sounds and cultural essence of the ten islands to a global audience, furthering the “vision of creolization”.

In its characteristic style, the Expo created a dynamic and immersive experience by offering four distinct stages situated in prominent locations throughout Praia. From the Palácio da Cultura to the lively Rua Pedonal, the vibrant Praça Luis Camões, and the scenic Osteria club overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, each stage provided a captivating setting where musicians and DJs from diverse backgrounds converged to perform. This collective celebration of music and artistry reinforced the Expo’s commitment to fostering cultural exchange and forging connections across borders and seas.

Beyond the performances, the Atlantic Music Expo also featured a series of engaging events, including conferences, meetings, workshops, and musical speed-dating sessions. These activities not only provided valuable opportunities for industry professionals to connect and collaborate but also highlighted the potential for creating an organic and quality-focused musical ecosystem both within Africa and globally. The Expo served as a testament to the transformative power of music, uniting people and nurturing the growth of a diverse and interconnected artistic community.

Spanning over four days and three exhilarating nights filled with DJ-soundtracked sets, AME also served as prelude to the acclaimed Kriol Jazz Festival. With an exciting line-up of emerging Cape Verdean artists and fresh acts hailing from Slovakia till Canada, and everything in between, the event presented a captivating journey through a diverse and enchanting soundscape of global music. Each performance was a testament to the artists’ unique voices and styles, captivating audiences and leaving a lasting impact.

The Expo featured indeed remarkable performances by talented artists. It all began on Tuesday late morning with Sara Alhinho, a Cape Verdean musician, who enchanted the audience with her mesmerizing voice and fusion of Cape Verdean music with jazz, soul, and world influences.

A few minutes later, Palacio de La Cultura also hosted the Neapolitan band Suonno D’Ajere, who created a unique fusion of traditional folk tunes from Southern Italy and modern interpretations. The evening’s showcases debuted in Rua Pedonal with Beny Esguerra, a Colombian-Canadian artist, who combined his roots with music, poetry, and activism, captivating the audience with soulful melodies and thought-provoking lyrics.

Followed by the smooth songwriting by Leo Middea, a Brazilian singer-songwriter who impressed with heartfelt melodies and a blend of bossa nova, folk, and indie-pop. While Helio Batalha, a Cape Verdean hip-hop artist, showcased dynamic rhymes and infectious beats, merging his roots with hip-hop beats and militant rhymes.

The following evening enjoyed a captivating performance by the Portuguese artist Cristina Clara. Supported by the bewitching performance of Batucaderas Mondon, she painted vivid musical landscapes with her mesmerising vocals and emotive songwriting, evoking raw emotions. Meanwhile, the US-based Cape Verdean star-in-the-making Thairo Kosta brought a unique and energetic flavour to the music scene with his quintessential Kriolu-infused hip-hop.

The final day of AME opened with a truly inspiring set by Cape Verdean cantora Bertânia Almeida, expertly blending traditional and touching morna with contemporary influences. A few hours later, Sonia Noor brought the rich sounds of Morocco to the streets of Praia with her enchanting voice and mastery of various instruments, while the Slovakian band Varkocs showcased the lively spirit of Eastern and Central Europe through their fusion of old Slavic folk sounds with contemporary elements.

The grand finale was reserved for the legendary Cape Verdean band Bulimundo, who solidified their status as icons of Cape Verdean music with their infectious funanà rhythms and soulful melodies, often enjoying the support of the audience with “universal” sing-a-longs.

The Expo also featured electrifying DJ sets by Cape Verdean DJs Oleg and Streladuh, whose infectious beats and versatile music blending Afro-house, kizomba, and global beats ignited the dance floor, creating an electrifying atmosphere that kept the crowd moving. Innovative Colombian DJ Bleepolar also pushed the DJ-booth boundaries with his unique mix of afro-electro, cumbia, and tropical bass, taking the audience on a cross Atlantic sonic adventure.

AME‘s closing night marked the beginning of an exhilarating new chapter in Cape Verdean music, reigniting Praia as a thriving hub of creativity. With its intense and vibrant program, the Expo not only paved the way for the highly anticipated Kriol Jazz Festival but also revitalised the city’s artistic landscape post-pandemic. Serving as a catalyst for an artistic renaissance, AME reinstated Praia as a central point for embracing creolization, celebrating cultural diversity, and fostering exchange.

As preparations begin for its 10th anniversary next year, AME‘s impact intensifies, leaving attendees yearning for more. The Expo transcends being a “mere” event; it has become a symbol of artistic renewal, showcasing the captivating power of Cape Verdean music and reaffirming the archipelago’s dynamic role as a centre for cultural exchange.

Photos ©: Cristiano Barbosa