SYNTHESISER SHIPWRECK: CAPE VERDE’S LIBERATION

An unexpected arrival provided opportunity for the musically minded.


What is the true power of music? People often say music has changed or even saved them. What about whole nations, can music liberate an entire country? Well, the people of Cape Verde may claim not only that it can, but indeed it has.

In March 1968, a cargo ship set sail from Baltimore to deliver a large collection of synthesizers and keyboards to Rio De Janeiro. They were intended for an electronic instrument exhibition, but the ship never found its destination. 

A few months later, the cargo washed up on the beaches of the São Nicolau island of Cabo Verde (now Cape Verde). At the time, Cape Verde had been colonised by the Portuguese who ran an oppressive regime. Acts of joy and expression were not encouraged and the nation’s traditional music and dances such as Mornas, Coladeras and Funaná had been outlawed.

With good fortune, however, it was not the colonisers who found this vast musical treasure. Instead, anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral was informed of the discovered riches and he declared the many instruments should be distributed equally among schools and churches, hidden from the tyrannical Portuguese. 

Suddenly, the people of Cape Verde had access to some of the finest hi-tech musical instruments in the world. Not only that, but this access came with no context to copy from. Imagine trying to play the guitar, having never heard it played before. Many, if not most, were entirely unfamiliar with the sound of a synth. They had no prior knowledge of any artists to inspire them. So they played these new tools in the only manner they knew: by following the style and sounds of their own traditional music. 

And so, they infused this new sound to modernise what was familiar and instinctive. Suddenly, the previously outlawed sounds and rhythms of Mornas, Coladeras and, in particular, Funaná were reborn and revitalised. The Portuguese tried to censor the musical revolution but the people of Cape Verde were empowered. 


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By Hal Fish: Music Columnist


Acts of joy and expression were not encouraged and the nation’s traditional music and dances such as Mornas, Coladeras and Funaná had been outlawed.


MACKAYAN: cape verde’s liberation


Risking punishment – often severe and violent – they continued with their joyous music and saw it as an act of defiance.

Indeed, this new sound was said to define Cape Verde’s plight for independence, and in 1975 that is exactly what they achieved. Not only that, but their liberation was reached peacefully; perhaps once more showing the true value of music-led change.

Following the nation’s independence, came a burst of electrifying music which encapsulated the county’s new-found freedom to live and to create as they please. In 2016, Analog Africa released the compilation Space Echo – The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!which best represents the wonderfully unique sound created by the musicians of Cape Verde.

Life is often reliant on serendipitous moments. Often the smallest margin can define the largest of outcomes. Had that original cargo ship found its intended destination, or had the waves led the wreckage to some other shore, would the people of Cape Verde ever have gained independence? And if so, without the influence of music, would it have been done peacefully? We will never know. 

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