Cape Crusaders

Mayra Andrade -  Navega
Mayra Andrade – Navega

Mayra Andrade – Navega (Sony BMG 886971005642, 2007)

Tcheka Lonji (Times Square/Four Quarters Entertainment FQT-CD-1809, 2008)

How can a country like Cape Verde- a small, remote, rather barren archipelago a few hundred miles off the west coast of Senegal -produce so much great music? I don’t know. There must just be something inspirational about the place. Whatever it is, I hope it continues.

When I first heard Cape Verdean music, what immediately attracted me was the similarity it bore to that of Brazil, another former Portuguese colony. But soon, through hearing the distinctively Cape Verdean styles of morna, coladera and funana, it began to take on its own voice. That said, I must disclose that if I had heard Mayra Andrade’s album Navega without knowing her nationality, I might well have guessed her to be a Brazilian singer with Cape Verdean leanings rather than the other way around. But the Cuban-born Andrade is Cape Verdean sure enough, though she spent parts of her childhood in Senegal, Germany and Angola as well and currently calls Paris home.

Before she was even 20 years old Mayra Andrade was an acclaimed vocalist, winning contests and captivating audiences in both the Americas and Europe. Navega is her debut disc, and this still-very-young singer possesses a warm, nimble vocal style that makes the early acclaim understandable. Several of the players providing instrumental support on the CD are in fact Brazilian, thus accounting for a samba-like feel for much of the album’s first half. But keep listening (and believe me, you’ll want to) and a vibe more befitting Andrade’s true homeland seeps in.

By the time the closing track “Regasu” unfolds in true morna style worthy of Cesaria Evora (whom Andrade once opened for), you’ll want to hear the whole lovely disc again just to catch the subtlety and sparkling beauty with which Andrade vocally spans the Atlantic to connect Brazil and Cape Verde.

There’s likewise something of a Brazilian bottom line to Tcheka’s Lonji, which was produced by Brazilian rocker Lenine. But Tcheka’s sound is based on Cape Verdean batuku, a voice-and-makeshift-percussion style originally sung primarily by women on both celebratory and sad occasions.

Tcheka -   Lonji
Tcheka – Lonji

/>While there is some strange percussion accompaniment mentioned in this disc’s credits (including kitchenware and brushes on a telephone book), the main focuses here are Tcheka’s voice and guitar. His singing suggests Angola’s Bonga without so much gravel, and his acoustic picking deftly guides his whispery delivery through the breezy but insistent rhythms of the songs.

Decorative touches like the accordion that weaves through “Tuti Santiagu” and the trombone enrichment on “Lingua Pretu” shed some light on the shadows of Tcheka’s intimate style, which is every bit as inviting as more established Cape Verdean stars like Tito Paris. Lonji prompted me to revisit Tcheka’s previous release Nu Monda (which I lazily never got around to reviewing) and marvel at the hints of jazz and blues (as well as “real” percussion) that Tcheka adds on both discs while maintaining an unspoiled sense of underlying simplicity befitting the music’s traditional sources. So consider Lonji a must if you like your Cape Verdean sounds especially tasty, and check out Nu Monda as well.

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