Introduction to CD “Protegid”
My good friend, the late Mário Ruy de Rocha Matos was perhaps Cabo Verde’s most experienced 20th century ethnomusicologist. He used to commute between Portugal, Cabo Verde and Angola in seach of archival and firld data . Members of Carmen Carmen Souza’s family may have come across him. Everywhere he had a “tio” (Uncle) who would help him in need, because Mário suffered a lot from asthma. In 1982 I was with him on a long joint fieldtrip in Malanji Province, Angola , until one night we were almost kidnapped by UNITA forces.
Many years later, in Portugal, I was walking up the hills from Manique de Baixo to Manique de Cima (West if Lisbon), to the house where Mário’s relatives used to live. I found the place deserted. Later, I learned that Mário had died from asthma.
If he were alive today, what would he say about Carmen’s music and poetry?
More than half of Cabo Verdian nationals live abroad in Portugal, but also in the United States, in Holland, Italy and Angola. Carmen Souza was born in Lisbon in 1981, within a family that used to speak Crioulo at home. This would be the language for her to write the lyrics of her songs. Her links to the past, to her childhood are thereby maintained, with whom ever she performs her music. The language with its phonetics is the strongest determinant of her art. Reinforced by the specific quality and wide range of her voice, the intonation and accents giving her music a Cabo Verdean identity. This can be checked by comparison: for example with the only song on this CD in which she sings a few lines in English: “Magia ca tem” (Passionless), Track 10.
The song is beautifully accompanied by Theo Pas’cal in bass, Sebastian Sheriff on percussion instruments and Jonathan Idiagbonya with a lengthy jazz piano solo. When Carmen switches to English with the words “Humankind has been following blind souls…” she sounds more like an American jazz singer, revealing her second identity.
In her teens in Lisbon she used to sing professionally in a Gospel Choir. After some time she became acquainted with modern jazz. Singers like Nina Simon, Ella Fitzgerald, and musicians such as Horace Silver, Keith Jarret and Joe Zawinul impressed her. Much more even she identified with Lusophone popular African music.
Before that, as a little girl, Carmen had often experienced an emotion that is described as Sodade in Crioulo. A song under this title was recorded by Cesária Évora. Now, in an arrangement by Cuban pianist Victor Zamora, using the lyrics of Amandio Cabral, Carmen presents one of her own versions on Track 7. Sodade, translated into English as “missing”, expresses a feeling which the little girl Carmen must have had many times in relation to her father who used to work at sea, and consequently was much absent from home. It is a complex emotion, somewhere between Span. “solidad” (loneliness) and Port. “solidariedade”, the feeling of belonging together in a family , community (in politics widened to mean “solidarity”).
Carmen’s thoughts about her father also come up in two more of her songs on this CD: “Protegid” (Protected), Track 5, and “Song for my Father” (Track 8). The music of “Protegid” was written by Theo Pas’cal, the lyrics by Carmen. It is a stirring declaration of allegiance to an eternal guardian, a caretaker like a father transformed into a transcendental being: “Rain comes, storm blows, freezes. There is a guardian, there is an angel always observing my step, watching me; a hand that holds me, that doesn’t allow me to give up…” In “Song for my Father” (track 8) she has rewritten a composition by Horace Silver, with a text in Crioulo about her father “qui passá tud sê vida na mar” ( who spent all his life at sea). But Father would always come back, and in spite of all the hardships he would still find time to share his joy with little girl Carmen. This song is played by what may be considered the basic cast of the present group, with Theo Pas’cal (Bass guitar etc), Carmen Souza (Voice / Rhodes solo), Jonathan Idiagbonya (Piano) and (as a guest) Sebastian Sheriff (various percussion instruments).
Carmen’s gradual rise to stardom began in 2003, when one of the best known bass guitar players in Portugal, Theo Pas’cal, spotted her talent and began to train her in the areas of composition, voice control, guitar and piano. Ever since, Carmen and Theo have been like two artistic pillars of an ensemble with changing members. Their first joint CD Ess ê nha Cabo Verde was released in 2005 and earned them an invitation to appear at the “Womad at Reading” Festival the same year. A second album was released in 2008 under the title Verdade (Truth). As a composer and producer, Theo Pas’cal has been tireless in promoting Carmen’s songs. He himself has been a musician since age 13, formed at the National Conservatory of Music Lisbon. So far, he has recorded several Cds together with Portuguese and African Artists. In addition there are two solo albums for bass: Quamundos (2001) which was the first solo record in Portugal by a bass player, and then Motive, published in 2005. Theo Pas’cal signs for the music of all of Carmen Souza’s songs, while Carmen signs for the Lyrics in Crioulo.
When my colleague and friend, Prof. Dr. Fernando Arenas, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Minnesota, and I attended their concert at The Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, on Friday, April 24, 2009, they presented themselves with the young Pedro Segundo, a percussionist who had studied in Lisbon and London, and with pianist Jonathan Idiagbonya, replacing the group’s Cuban pianist, Victor Zamora who was unable to travel because of visa restrictions. Fernando Arenas has invited the group to Minneapolis on the occasion of the International Symposium on Popular Music Studies which he had organized with an emphasis on “African Musics of the Portuguese and French-speaking World.” (April 23-24, 2009) .
The audience in the hall was educated and included many conference participants. Carmen and her group received a tremendous applause.
What struck me most when we met them in the dressing room was, how quiet and restrained they all they all were after the excitement of the concert, answering politely our questions. Carmen and I exchanged postal addresses. I asked Carmen about her timbre and accentuation techniques, including her moaning sounds, and her fascinating voice range, sometimes reaching down to a pitch level that sounded male.
Jonathan told me that he was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but had grown up in London where he began to play piano at age 12. His parents had come from the Bini (or Edo, ancient Benin) ethnic group. I tried a few words in Yoruba on him, without any response. He told me that he liked to play any kind of music, it all interested him, but that he had specially studied Salsa. He said that he enjoyed playing Chopin, Bach and Rachmaninov, and that he began to study jazz piano after having received a recording of Keith Jarret’s Koln concert. He said that Jarret, Oscar Peterson and Papo Lucca along with Chucho Valdes were great influences on his piano playing.
Theo Pas’cal also confirmed a strong background in Baroque music (Bach) for himself, but also in modern Jazz, with major influences being Bill Evans, Miles Davies, Charles Mingus, Keith Jarret, Art Blakey, The Yellow Jackets, Jaco Pastorius, Joe Zawinul---a long list besides general inspiration from the music of Lusophone Africa.
Since time was short we did not want to bother the musicians with too many questions after a long concert. We agreed that some of my questions would be presented to them in written form. Here some extracts with their answers:
Q. Carmen has used the term “Jazz fusion” in her spoken interventions (during the Minneapolis concert). I have the feeling that she is quite comfortable with the present developments and considers them a great opportunity.
A. Yes, I feel grateful because I’m developing my own style, every day through research, not only in music, but also through other sorts of inspiration, such as artists that I admire and who influence me. Each time I’m given an opportunity to share my music I feel happy and blessed. About the jazz fusion, I would call it more Afro from Cape Verde, with Jazz influences mainly from artists of the 1940s, 50s, 60s. I guess, my spirituality can be heard in my music and it creates a new and unique approach. I believe that brings people closer to my music.
Q. If I had an opportunity to speak more in depth with Theo, I would have asked him, how did he create the extensions of the cycle C-F-G-F taken from Cuban music in the song “Afrika” (cf. Track 2 on this CD) through harmonic substitution?
A. Cuban music is mainly based on Africa, that’s why they call it Afro-Cuban. The extensions came naturally to the ear, without giving them much thought. Theo can say, it was 95% feeling and inspiration, and only 6% technical. He considers that to be the best way to create inspired music. In Cape Verdian music you can hear a lot of Cuban influences in harmony and rhythm (6/8 bar).
Q. How was Jonathan able to paraphrase this basic cycle with so much blues tonality injected into it? Was that an extension of Salsa?
A. When we were looking for a piano player to substitute Victor Zamora (because of Visa problems), we went to a club in London and we found Jonathan, and we invited him and started rehearsing. Discussing about my roots we tried to understand Jonathan’s roots as well and also the musical styles he identified with and played. Together we choose from those styles what would fit. As a common denominator we found Afro, Blues/Jazz and Cuban music. That was what we needed, exactly.
But also, Jonathan, as he plays more with us, he starts to create his own approach in the project. Cape Verdian music is mainly based on the pentatonic scale , so that’s why in that manner it’s liked with Blues. About any improvisation, it is always a personal thing, with some guidelines. As he enters more into Carmen’s music and familiarizes himself with it, he gets more and more comfortable to express himself in his improvisational language.
Q. I feel that the direction Carmen’s music is taking is probably very much a function of how her voice, with its wide range of sounds, combines with harmonic patterns produced by the accompaniment.
A. Yes, sure, because everything is composed by us, Carmen and Theo, and the natural melody comes after the harmony, normally.
Sometimes the voice is developed through the harmony, or it can be the opposite process, melody first, then the harmony. My voice and the melodies I sing are always to be seen as an instrument.
Q. In other words, with other people in your band, the nature of your music would probably be significantly different?
A. Yes, because everyone is different, but it would never change my musical personality. My music is clear in terms of the package of messages it conveys, and nothing can alter its foundation, but a new and different environment can be created depending on the musicians we invite.
The present CD includes musicians from many different countries. Almost every song of the twelve tracks here has a slightly different cast. As compared with their previous CD Verdade (2008) this trend has intensified.
Are Carmen and Theo then going global? Fernando Arenas in his Symposium lecture in Minneapolis, April 23, 2009, suggested that there was a globalization of Cape Verdean popular music (cf. lecture title, footnote 3). However, the matter is complex. There are some groups, especially small groups, often tightly knit and never sharing their music with other performers. By contrast, some others are always ready for “Jazz sessions”. But Carmen and Theo represent a third, different case. I believe they are artists who are interested in engagement, in musical conversation, provided that their potential partners are ready first to work out with them a common language.
In that process they have also learned how deceptive the word “globalization” can be. Actually, we musicians and scientists don´t feel much of it, except that we can stand somewhere in Europe with a cellphone and contact a friend standing in a hill in Angola (provided that he finds a “network”). But if we invite him to come over, it may turn out to be impossible. In spite of all that “globalization” we see that everywhere walls and fences are going up, visibly and invisibly. Travel for some of our friends in Africa and elsewhere is highly restricted. In the 1970s and 1980s it was different. Nowadays, some African nationals, just for touching down at specific European airports to change planes, may need a transit visa (even if they will not leave the airport). Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible to organize a tour with a band whose members have different types of passports.
Carmen and Theo have learned that with reference to percussionist Paulo Rosa Martins and pianist Victor Zamora. The dialogue with others then becomes circular, a form of in-breeding between holders of European Union and/or U.S. passports.
In this CD the Carmen Souza Band consists of Carmen, Theo Pas’cal, Victor Zamora, Jonathan Idiagbonya, Pedro Segundo and Tiago Santos.
Then there is the long list of guests performers in sessions that were recorded in London, Lisbon, Toronto and New York. Eminent among the guests is Omar Sosa, pianist from Cuba who appears on the first track (1) in “M’sta Li Ma Bô” (I am here for you).
But the most unusual instrumental exploration can be found in the lament “Mara Marga” (Bitter Mara), the story of a three-year old girl who had to die because she was unwelcome on Earth, accepted neither by her mother, nor by her father. Carmen wrote the text which was then recorded, involving Adel Salameh on the Arabian/Egyptian Lute (‘ud) and Naziha Azzouz with her wailing voice.
The song takes us almost on a time-journey to the remote past when the Iberian Peninsula was still part of the Islamic World. It shows the extent to which music can be reconfigured and recreated.
Born in Vienna on December 10th, 1934, Gerhard Kubik is a music ethnologist from the University of Vienna, perhaps the most broadly knowledgeable and prolific of scholars on the music traditions of Africa and the Black Diaspora with over 300 articles and books and at least 25,000 field recordings of African music traditions to his credit.
"This voice chooses to sing in Creole of Cape Verde, the language derived from the Portugal of the 600’s, adapted and mixed with the languages of the cultures of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Bold Choice, reckless, from who affirms that one can be a citizen of the world and continue to dream and write in the language of the emotional childhood. And it is the first revelation. The texts are dense, pregnant with life, taking full advantage of a language to be invented but that takes some writers and dedicated cultured poets. Eugenio Tavares, Baltasar Lopes and Corsino Fortes have in Carmen Souza an unexpected continuum in poetry and prose in Creole.
The result is a fluent musical speech, marked by various influences and controlled by the virtuosity of the musicians. There is a clear desire not to use the easy and stereotypical effect. And the balance of the arrangements for the instruments present in each track shows the care and art of these great professionals.
But it is the voice that is perhaps the most unique attribute of these songs. Expressive, able to tell these wonderful texts without losing a single syllable and giving them an impressive intensity. The timbre records show domination and sensitivity that goes through states of mind difficult to translate musically. Even when singing in English in “Magia ca tem" she carries us into the intimate universe of the great North American interpreters.
Authors and performers of Cape Verde are recognized for their contribution to the renewal of the world music scene. They win now this unexpected accession of an author and artist who innovates, opens new horizons and breaks with easy paths already crossed."
(PT)"Esta voz opta por cantar em crioulo de Cabo Verde, essa língua franca derivada do português de seiscentos, adaptado e miscigenado com as línguas dos povos de África, Ásia e América Latina. Escolha arrojada, temerária, que afirma sem hesitação que se pode ser cidadã do Mundo continuando a sonhar e a escrever na língua afectiva da infância. E é a primeira revelação. Os textos são densos, prenhes de vida, tirando todo o partido de uma língua por inventar mas que tem em alguns escritores e poetas cultores dedicados. Eugénio Tavares, Baltasar Lopes e Corsino Fortes têm em Carmen Souza uma inesperada continuadora na poesia e prosa em crioulo.
A resultante é um discurso musical fluente, marcado por diversas influências e pelo virtuosismo controlado dos músicos. É patente a preocupação em não recorrer ao efeito fácil e estereotipado. E o equilíbrio dos arranjos para os instrumentos presentes em cada faixa revela o cuidado e a arte destes excelentes profissionais.
Mas é na Voz que reside talvez o mais original atributo destas músicas. Expressiva, capaz de dizer estes belíssimos textos sem que se perca uma única sílaba e dando-lhes uma intensidade impressionante. Os registos tímbricos revelam domínio e sensibilidade que passa por estados de alma de difícil tradução musical. Mesmo quando em “Magia ca tem” nos canta em Inglês transportando-nos para os universos intimistas das grandes intérpretes norte americanas.
Autores e intérpretes de Cabo Verde são reconhecidos pelo seu contributo para a renovação da cena musical mundial. Ganham agora esta inesperada adesão de uma autora e intérprete que inova, abre novos horizontes e rompe com a facilidade de caminhos já percorridos."
DOMINGOS MORAIS, Portuguese Ethnomusicologist