Interviewed by Rita Vaz da Silva
You appear to be a very concentrated and calm person before your shows, but when you hit the stage you explode. Where do manage to get so much energy?
The stage is like being in a movie. You’re not the same person you normally are in everyday life. When I’m on stage, I let myself get caught up in the music’s energy, in all of that movement that gets inside of me. The audience’s reaction is also important in my being more or less energetic.
Do you come to Cape Verde often?
Twice a year.
Normally to perform?
Yes. I always have a desire to come to Cape Verde, but often artists don’t get the support they need, especially to participate in the festivals. People support the artists they want to support. This is too bad, it shouldn’t happen.
What do you mean by this?
I’m not talking about the invitation to perform itself. This is given freely, you invite the artists you like or that you think the public will like. But from the moment the invitation has been made, we’re often given difficult conditions that don’t allow us to participate. I’ve done a lot for Cape Verdean culture. I’ve recorded eight CDs, I’ve participated in various other recordings, I’ve produced several artists, and I had a career with the group Livity, which was very famous in Africa’s Portuguese-speaking countries. But, for example, when I came to the Gamboa Festival, I wanted to take advantage of the occasion to shoot a live DVD. In order to do this I had to bring two people, one to film and the other to make a 24-channel recording. They told me there wasn’t any funding to bring two additional people, while there are groups that bring more than 20 people. They discriminate certain artists.
In Assomada you were very well received. Was it a positive homecoming?
It was great. Assomada deserved something of that sort to be done there. I hope the festival keeps going and that next year it will be just as good or better. It’s one more choice in Cape Verde and a way for people to be satisfied. We’re a poor country, we don’t have oil or diamonds, and our only wealth is our music. We don’t even have enough rain for good farming or water to use in our homes. These festivals are good because they’re a way to showcase our artists, they stimulate creativity and give artists more strength to continue.
Were the songs you performed today all your own compositions?
Yes, all of them are my own compositions. I’m a keyboardist, that was my role in Livity. I’d only sing from time to time.
How did the group’s break-up occur?
Livity opened the doors of music to me. It was with them that I earned a lot of experience, I traveled to a lot of places. It was a good school to learn about musical direction.
Why did the group break up?
Because we weren’t mature enough.
What’s it like to stop traveling and composing with a group and begin taking it all on by yourself?
There are advantages and disadvantages. In a band you’re a group of people, you have more strength. When you’re solo, you have to struggle more. In Livity we’d all write the lyrics and the musical arrangements together, and now I’m the only one who does this, and it’s something I was used to doing with seven people. I also get the impression that doors close to you more when you’re in a solo career. To get a certain degree of visibility I have to do a lot more than when I was in Livity. But there’s also the advantage that everything that comes in is mine, whereas before I had to divide it with the whole group.
You’ve been solo since 1995 and most of the time you perform in Europe, especially in the Netherlands, where you reside. Are most of those who go to your concerts Dutch, Cape Verdean, African?
I perform for Dutch people, but more for people from Portuguese-speaking African countries who live in Europe. The Dutch aren’t very familiar with our music, but the Portuguese are, for example. But I’ve begun to be shown on Dutch television channels and I believe that in the future I’ll be more well-known, not just in the Netherlands, but in Germany and Belgium as well.
Do you think that Europeans don’t understand African music?
They don’t, but they will.
Maybe it’s easier to understand if there’s some relationship with African countries.
All of an artist’s strength is in promotion. And this includes television, especially. It’s the best sort of promotion an artist can have, in any type of art. When I made my first video, in 1996, I noticed the difference immediately in Cape Verde: before that, I could walk around without being noticed on the streets, and after that everyone knew who I was. These videos have to be shown on Dutch television as well. You often understand music better on television, because you see a story.
What more can be done for Cape Verdean music? Lura, Mayra Andrade and Cesária Évora are already everywhere, but many others could make it there too.
These artists make more acoustic, traditional music. My music is influenced by Cape Verde, but it’s modernized. I live in Europe and I listen to all sorts of music: jazz, rock, house, African, Arab, and all of this influences my work. I use more electronic instruments. Some people think that in order to reach a wider public we have to make a different type of music, by I don’t believe this. The music I make now is a modern style that began in the 80s and the early 90s. How old is traditional music? I don’t have any idea! I think it’s always existed, as long as Cape Verde has existed. But even so it’s only now that traditional artists have managed to enter the market, when Cesária Évora became well known a few years ago. That’s why I think nothing is impossible. It’s a question of time and vision.
We have musicians and a feeling for music, and producers are the channel to make it there.
Do people who make traditional music criticize the style of music you make?
Yes, many people do. We’re Cape Verdean, we sing in the language of Cape Verde. There are people who don’t support the style of music we make, they try to change our thinking and steer us toward the traditional. But music is something you feel. You can’t make music for a producer to fill his pockets with money. Music has no borders or rules. Traditional musicians criticize us a lot. But we never criticize them, we always support traditional music, we buy their CDs, we listen to them and we always say good things about them. I always praise Tito Paris, Ildo Lobo, they’re quality artists, Boy Gê Mendes, Sara Tavares, who makes a mixture. She’s got all she needs to become a major artist.
I don’t criticize the newer generations because music changes either. The style I sing now will change too, it’ll become even more modern. And people shouldn’t criticize.
What do these people criticize, precisely?
They think that the music we make has no worth, that it’s all the same. They also think that our music isn’t Cape Verdean. But if you analyze things well, then no musical style is Cape Verdean. Morna comes from Portugal, from Brazil. Coldeira comes from the Caribbean, from Brazil. The only thing you might be able to say is ours is funaná, but that accordion sound comes from Portuguese and French music. There are many African musical styles with the same rhythm as batuko.
Don’t you think that nowadays it’s really best not to define musical styles? Everything is becoming more blended, influences, rhythms.
Yes, things are becoming increasingly mixed. It’s as if we were in an era where everyone mixes with everyone else, all races are in contact. This happens with music too, it adapts itself to all parts of the world. And there’s space for all artists, because with time and quality you can do anything.