On a recent sultry summer’s day, the vibrant and multi-layered history of the Cape Verdean Islands was explored when Candida Rose Baptista brought her presentation titled, Kabumeramericas, to the Marion Council on Aging. The story of the islands as told through music and Baptista’s research was rich with the emotional longings the Cape Verdean people have had for their country and their culture.
To set-up the hour-long program, Baptista recited the poem The Sum Of Us with passages that spoke to a people torn from their roots by slavery, yet holding firmly to an identity born from many ports of call. “You ask about me and my people … me … I am a part of all that have met … my people … who do you mean …”
Prior to the Cape Verdean Islands being discovered by the Portuguese in the mid-1400’s, the scattered landmasses were an uninhabited verdant archipelago. Once discovered, it became a colonialized outpost for the Portuguese. The islands were fertile enough to grow corps and support livestock, but the islands could not support the rapid over-grazing or farming practices brought from the mainland.
The location of the islands was strategic for another of Portugal’s business ventures – importing slaves from West Africa. Cape Verde, or Carbo Verde, became an integral port for the movement of human cargo throughout the Atlantic trade routes.
By 1747 deforestation set up the once green mountainous landscapes for drought and famine. The people who had been captured and forced into sugar cultivation or traded to the Americas suffered well documented atrocities. The movement of people for profit continued well into the 1800s.
So it was that West African blood mixed with the blood of their capturers, mixed with the blood of merchants, mixed with the blood of royalty, mixed with the blood of every nation that moved Baptista to share, “You are all part of me.”
Moving through the centuries, Baptista said that in spite of suffering, “the people kept on going: they made do.” The generations intermingled resulting in what she tenderly said was, “cousins by the dozens.”
Music was central to the Africans and thus became central to the new people created by colonialization and slavery. Baptista has heavily researched the musical evolution and journey of the Cape Verdean people. Studying trans-national musical trends, she delved into the musical heritage that even today can be heard.
Baptista spoke of the mass immigration waves of Cape Verdeans that brought tens of thousands to this area – people escaping poverty and famine. And with each wave the music flowed through them, with them, becoming the glue that helped to keep them bonded not only together, but to a place – the Cape Verdean Islands. This is true even today, several generations out from those early immigrants, she added.
From whalers to laborers in the growing cranberry industry, to factory workers, educators, preachers, the people came and settled in enclaves throughout southern New England. They strove to assimilate themselves into the American social fabric while maintaining a strong ethnic identification. Throughout it all, there was the music.
Baptista, herself a gifted vocalist who is well known for her smooth lush voice, sang ethnic songs as many in attendance sang along or tapped their feet. She called their attention to the fact that Cape Verdean people have been part of the mainstream music industry for decades naming such international notables as Horace Silva, and Paul Gonsalves, as well as Jovi Gonsalves who worked with Harry Belafonte. Local greats that many in the audience acknowledged were Toy Grace, Johnny Duarte, and the locally famous Ultra Marine Band, a band that has been in existence since 1917.
During the early days, Baptista said Cape Verdean people would gather in kitchens to play, dance and entertain one another, thus passing down not only traditional songs, but songs they were creating. It helped to keep their culture going, she said, “… usually by the third and fourth generations the culture is gone – not for the Cape Verdeans.”
The contemporary ear will know the music of the group The Tavares whose many hit songs was the soundtrack of the 1970’s and 80’s. Playing a clip of one of their hits, Baptista put an exclamation point on what she had for the last hour been driving home – “Don’t Take Away The Music”. As long as the music remains and continues to evolve, Cape Verdean people will be one people drawn from many ports of call.
To learn more about Baptista’s research, you may visit www.candidarose.net.
Marion Council on Aging
By Marilou Newell