Morna: On the Trail of Traditional Music in Cape Verde

06 April 2012 - The Guardian - Nick Maes

After a glass of grog, Chico was happy to chat. "Of course I knew Cesária Évora. I played with her on a tour of the US. Hey, she was first discovered singing at my piano!" It soon became apparent that there were many in Mindelo, capital of the Cape Verde island of São Vicente, who had known perhaps the greatest ever exponent of morna.

Morna is the national music of the Cape Verde islands, and Cesária was the undisputed queen of it until her death last December. The haunting melodies are creole – a fusion of Portuguese, African, Brazilian and Cuban – which some say are reminiscent of the Blues. To my ear morna sounds more poignant and refined. But what's indisputable is the place that is its spiritual home: Mindelo.

To get to São Vicente you have to fly via tourist hub on the island of Sal. But it's worth the trip. Mindelo's a pretty place of sun-bleached colonial buildings with cast iron balconies. And although tourism is growing, this is still a working town with an active port and fishing fleet. After work, fishermen head for bars on Rua Santa Antonio, a cobbled alley in the old town. Don't be put off by the lack of street lamps; it's a friendly place. The bars radiate a dim blue/green light and knock out decent beer for pennies. Grog, the local rum, is an altogether different kind of knock-out, believe me.

Pica Pau is a tiny, bare-boarded cafe with a big reputation for prawns and lobster – as evidenced by the hundreds of thank-you letters on the walls. I particularly liked its fish soup, loaded with dry bread.

Leaving a mark to celebrate your visit seems to be the done thing. Clube Nautica, an open-air bar by the marina is draped with flags donated by previous guests – passing sailors I presume, but it also has live music. On my first night in Mindelo I drifted into the bar and struck lucky: a lone musician began singing a hypnotic morna as he strummed a twangling 12-string guitar. He had the half-dozen drinkers transfixed.

To read the remainder of Nick's feature, please click on link to view the article on The Guardian website.

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