Interview: Thairo Kosta – Redefining Cape Verdean Music on the World Map (April 2023)

April in Praia, Cape Verde, is a time when music takes centre stage. Kriol Jazz Festival and Atlantic Music Expo (AME) are events that draws music professionals, artists, and enthusiasts from around the world. Amid the lively sounds of music filling the air at the Atlantic Music Expo, we had the opportunity to sit down with a musician who embodies the fresh and vibrant soul of Cape Verde, Thairo Kosta.

The singer/songwriter from Santa Cruz stands out as one of the shining talents in Cape Verdean music. His debut album, Nha Kasa, recently burst onto the scene, creating waves of its own. This album seamlessly blends a variety of rhythms, from the traditional batuque to tabanka, finason, and even genres like reggae, hip-hop, and drill. Thairo Kosta’s mission is as clear as the azure waters surrounding the archipelago: to represent Cape Verdean music at its peak.

Our conversation flowed from discussing his debut album to exploring his musical journey and the meaningful messages woven into his work.

Thairo Kosta spoke passionately about his debut album, Nha Kasa, declaring, “This is my first album, and it took me so long to drop it, but now the dream is coming true. I’m so happy”, he exclaimed, and you could see the genuine joy in his eyes. “The objective is, without a doubt, to represent Cape Verdean music at the highest level“.

Nha Kasa features an impressive lineup of collaborations with some of Cape Verde’s most esteemed artists and friends, including the legendary Zeca Nha Reinalda and Ferro Gaita, Jay Moreira, PNC (one half of the hip-hop duo Rapaz 100 Juiz), Hélio Batalha, Trakinuz, Buguin Martins, Neuza de Pina, and Petcha Gomes.

With music videos already released for several tracks, including “Nha Kasa”, “Kabuverdi di Speransa”, “Amizadi”, “Nana di Meu”, and “Sentru Injúria”, which garnered accolades at the Cabo Verde Music Awards, Thairo Kosta’s album is making waves around the world.

However, Thairo’s music transcended mere catchy rhythms and chart-topping hits; it carried a profound message of identity and social responsibility. One track, “Monoparental”, was part of the SOS Responsabilizason Parental project aimed at raising awareness about parental responsibility through music. It was a testament to Thairo Kosta’s commitment to using his music as a platform for social change.

As we delved further into Thairo’s musical journey, he shared the dreams he had nurtured and the challenges he had faced to bring Nha Kasa to life. His words painted a picture of determination and resilience. “Nha Kasa, meaning ‘my home’ or ‘my house,’ represents the comfort and fulfilment I feel”, he debuted. “It represents my journey, my country, and my roots. I’ve always dreamt of collaborating with various artists and creating a fusion of different music styles. In Nha Kasa, listeners can expect a diverse range of music styles, including African music, funanà, hip-hop, drill, reggae, and world music. It’s a collection of different rhythms, energies, and ideas that we’ve brought together to create a unique experience”.

The journey to create Nha Kasa had been far from easy but utterly natural. Thairo had dedicated years to his craft, saving money, working with various producers, and collaborating with many artists, all while building a loyal following. He seemed to relive those moments as he spoke.

“The process of blending these different styles in my album was organic”, he reflected. “I didn’t force it; instead, I let the music flow naturally. Each song took on its own unique shape and direction. I wanted the album to reflect the rich tapestry of my musical influences, shaped by various cultures and traditions.

“Collaborating with a diverse group of musicians and producers allowed us to experiment with different sounds, rhythms, and melodies. Some tracks are deeply rooted in traditional African and Cape Verdean music, while others incorporate elements from hip-hop, reggae, and other global genres. Music, to me, is a universal language that transcends boundaries and genres. I aimed to create an album that resonates with a wide audience, celebrating the beauty of musical diversity and creativity”.

Thairo Kosta’s fervour for representing his country, community, and people was palpable. “I want to represent my country, my community, my black women, my men, my kids. My mission is to uplift my community and, in a broader sense, Africa as a whole. I firmly believe that we should strive for a better future, and music is a powerful tool to inspire change. I want to represent my roots and make a positive impact, particularly by countering negative influences like drugs and violence, which are all too prevalent”.

As Thairo Kosta shared stories of his collaborations with organisations like SOS Responsabilizason Parental, which were dedicated to caring for kids and their parents, he got straight to the point. “We’ve used my music to support campaigns, promote exercise, and encourage people to make better life choices”, he stated matter-of-factly. “There’s even talk about organising a festival to highlight the importance of parental responsibility, a critical issue in our community“.

Our chat then delved into Thairo’s choice to sing and write lyrics in Cape Verdean Creole, a decision deeply rooted in the power of language and identity. “It’s a statement”, he began. “They said the first thing you should do is represent yourself. And when I talk about myself, I’m talking about my country. When I talk about my country, I’m talking about myself. So, singing and writing in Creole is deeply meaningful to me. It’s a way of representing my true self, my roots, and my homeland.

“Creole is like my secret code, my PIN number. When I’m in a place where English isn’t understood, I can express myself in Creole. It’s my language, and it’s saved me in situations where I couldn’t communicate in English. Moreover, using Creole allows me to connect with my family, my people in Cape Verde, Africa, and even Guinea-Bissau, where Creole is spoken. While we may need to translate it for others to understand, it’s crucial to be open-minded and willing to learn different languages. I believe in embracing diversity and have plans to sing in multiple languages in the future. It all depends on how I grow and evolve as an artist.

“Preserving my cultural identity is paramount”, he emphasised, “Everywhere I go, I want to make sure that batuque and tabata are at the forefront of my music. I aim to fuse these elements with hip-hop to create something unique. Batuque is my brand, and I want people to experience it in a way they’ve never seen before. It’s about introducing the world to something new and exciting”.

Thairo then highlighted the significance of the album cover, revealing, “The album cover is an essential part of the project. We put a lot of thought into it, aiming to make it represent not only me but also my journey and aspirations. If you look closely, you’ll see a particular element, a bird we call ‘passarinha’ [the kingfisher]. The passarinha is a representation of the unique, and the only one of its kind, much like myself. I aspire to be everywhere and to represent my country, my community, and all people. This bird symbolises my desire to soar to new heights and be a source of inspiration to others“.

We then began discussing the collaborative aspect of his work, and Thairo shared insights into how he chose the artists he worked with. His choices were deeply rooted in his childhood dreams and aspirations. “My dream of performing with Zeca [Zeca Nha Reinalda, the influential singer of Bulimundo and funanà pioneer], who is considered a music legend in my country, was a driving force. They regard him as a king over here because funanà was a revolutionary music for a long time, before the independence. And this dream eventually led me to collaborate with various artists, all of whom contributed to Nha Kasa. It was a lot of hard work, a personal battle, and a deep belief in my own abilities.

“I chose them because I remember when I was a kid, when I was a little boy, I remember Zeca Nha Reinalda and Bulimundo. Then I had a dream that one day I’m going to be with them in the same music”. His words were infused with the nostalgia of that childhood dream. “At the time, all the guys around me were like say, what are you talking about? You know that it’s not possible because you are in the ghetto. They’re so high; How could you think that would be possible?”

But Thairo Kosta had learned a crucial lesson from his grandmother, “I remember when I went to my grandmother; I was crying. They said it’s not possible; I told her. I will never play with Zeca. I was so sad. And then she just came to me and said, ‘Who’s feeling the pain?’ I said, ‘It’s me.’ She said, ‘Your dream, it’s only you can feel it too’. And I said, ‘God damn’. She just made me open my mind at the same time.

“So selecting the collaborators for my album was an interesting journey,” he recalled. “I remembered the early days when Zeca Nha Reinalda recognised my potential. We started working together, and from there, we brainstormed who else we should bring on board. We sought individuals who were not just talented but also good-hearted people, those capable of making things happen. I came up with a long list of potential collaborators and began reaching out to them. Admittedly, not everyone answered our calls, and some were hesitant because they didn’t know me at the time. But I assured them they’d get to know me, and we worked tirelessly to make it happen. It was about building trust and a shared belief in our vision. Together, we created something special for the album”.

Thairo Kosta concluded with a hopeful message for his listeners. “I hope Nha Kasa leaves listeners feeling inspired and empowered. I want them to sense the positive energy and passion that went into the music, motivating them to pursue their dreams, no matter how big or small. I also hope they connect with the messages in my lyrics, which often revolve around themes of unity, love, and resilience. Music, for me, is a powerful tool for bringing people together and creating positive change. I hope this album contributes to that in some way, bringing joy, positivity, and a sense of connection to those who listen. Ultimately, I want my music to serve as a reminder that they are not alone on their journey towards their dreams and aspirations.

“I have many exciting plans for the future”, he continued, “I’m constantly evolving as an artist, and I’m eager to explore new musical territories and push the boundaries of my creativity. I have numerous ideas for future albums, and I’m thrilled about collaborating with even more talented musicians and producers from around the world”.

Thairo’s eyes sparkled with anticipation. “My goal remains steadfast—to continue working with artists from diverse backgrounds and genres, crafting music that is innovative and utterly unique. Music, in my view, serves as a powerful tool for cultural exchange, and I’m resolute in my mission to use it as a bridge that connects different cultures and communities”.

He added, “I’m passionate about addressing important social and political issues through my music, advocating for positive change. I have big dreams, and I’m determined to turn them into reality. One of them is to collaborate with Eminem. I believe in setting high goals because it keeps me motivated and driven. To achieve these dreams, I’ll continue working hard, building connections, and staying true to my vision. With the right network and the belief that anything is possible, I believe I can make these dreams a reality”.

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