Perhaps it is the expat state-of-mind of the nation (an inert labour market has pushed something more than half of people with origins in the country to live overseas) that has led to such cultural confidence. Cape Verdean artists successfully soak up Portuguese, Brazilian, Cuban and West African influences, adding them to the unique local music and dance styles, which are themselves a product of the islands’ position on Atlantic trade routes.
Female vocalists seem to do especially well – Cesária Évora, Mayra Andrade and Nancy Vieira are just a few to chart diverse, successful careers.
Where does Carmen Souza fit into this tradition? Born in Lisbon to Cape Verdean parents and now based in the UK, hers is a Cape Verdean heritage with a generational gap. She sings in the Creole of the islands and incorporates Cape Verdean rhythms into her songs, but her music (all originals here are by her bassist Theo Pas’cal) and voice are intrinsically linked to contemporary jazz.
Protegid is Souza’s third release. With it she continues her exploration of what might be called world jazz. As a jazz singer with a distinctive timbre and sometimes curious delivery, she has been compared to Nina Simone. Complimentary as that might be, for me Souza is a far more contemporary figure. The way she uses her voice as an instrument, delighting in attacking tunes from all sides, reminds me strongly of French-Beninese vocalist Mina Agossi.
Tightly spun, rhythmically searching and pushing at sonic parameters, Protegid nevertheless enjoys the lightness of touch of Cape Verdean music. ‘Afri Ká’, a rare straight-up track, is the undisputed anthem of the album, while a cover of Horace Silver’s famous ‘Songs of My Father’ is all smoky Brazilian elegance.
Elsewhere, the national blues of Cape Verde made famous internationally by Cesária Évora, ‘Sodade’, is beautiful without being a patch on the barefoot diva, while the funky ‘D’xam Ess Moment’ is spiced up by the playing of Cuban pianist Victor Zamora, who is a star throughout.
Souza’s throaty, shaky, wide-ranging vocals sometimes need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but her instinct for the tone of a tune is rarely off and when she needs to sing a simple line, her voice has warmth and character. One gets the feeling she’s a team player and indeed with Pas’cal’s compositions, strong instrumental performances and Souza’s empathy, it is this feeling of genuine music-making that shines through this collection.
Culture Capital rating: 5 stars