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PAUL, THE PLACE OF THE SINGING WATERS BY ORLANDO RODRIGUES

Friday, May 6th, 2011

THE PLACE OF THE SINGING WATERS, Cape Verdean

Within the geographic parameters of Cape Verde, Santo Antão is considered the giant of the north of the archipelago, the Big Island.

The island’s origins are volcanic, of recent formation, as evidenced by its high and impressive mountains, cut by beautiful and fertile valleys, where every place, every village and every community is a paradise of peace and simplicity.

The island is divided into three administrative districts or counties, Porto Novo, Paul and Ribeira Grande, each area has its own unique beauty.

Paul is the place we are visiting today to present to you one of the most majestic places in Cape Verde, a small corner of pure natural beauty torn by deep valleys and lush fertile terrain, protected by mountains that lead to the open sea.

THE SEA AND THE MOUNTAINS

SEA AND THE MOUNTAINS

Squeezed between the ocean and the prodigious peaks, the city of Pombas, the county headquarters, is a small area of land which has been created to preserve the rural landscape where tranquility is something almost tangible.

For many years, Paul was the most inaccessible municipality of Santo Antão, but today it is the gateway to the interior of the island, via the modern new road that has been ingeniously built on the edge of huge cliffs, and offers the traveller views of dazzling beauty in each of its bends and counter-bends that show the ever-changing ocean down below. The journey from one extreme to another feels dangerous, but road accidents are rare in Santo Antão.

The mountains, designed by a generous Mother Nature, offer the eyes strange contours that resemble well-known figures and objects, in one place showing the Sphinx of Gizeh, and elsewhere, a giant phallus proudly pointing to the heavens.

THE BIG VALLEY

Paul is one of the most luxuriant valleys of Cape Verde, and water flows in streams throughout the year, feeding rich vegetation that thrives even in the driest seasons.
Agriculture is rich and diverse, offering typical products that enrich the cuisine,
such as breadfruit, which also grows to a lesser extent elsewhere in the archipelago but is difficult to find in the markets of the other islands.

Corn, the main crop cultivated on Santo Antão, gives rise to a wide variety of foods such as maize porridge. Baked sweet potatoes in hot ashes have a delicacy of flavour unmatched by anything else, especially when eaten with fresh goat’s milk. The huge variety of cookery using traditional recipes, also contributes to the gastronomic wealth of Paul and the entire island of Santo Antão and the island’s goat’s cheese is, for some, the best in Cape Verde.

THE TRAPICHE

grogue (rum made from cane sugar)

The grogue (rum made from cane sugar) is one of Santo Antão’s most well known products, and in the streams of Paul, this is an industry that provides a quality product.

In January the cycle of production begins and all over the island, the “Trapiches” still largely driven by cattle, do not stop until the crunch of the last cane rod.

One of the most famous “Trapiches” of Santo Antão, being the oldest and the biggest, is located at the property of Ildo Benrós who also owns the largest sugar cane plantation in Paul.

Visiting Ildo Benrós during the month of manufacturing of “Grogue” is a mandatory stop for all of those who pass through the county as the new asphalted road that connects to Paul, Porto Novo and Ribeira Grande takes visitors past his land.

The visitor can taste various types of Grogue”, old, white, this year’s harvest or previous years, along with a traditional punch of molasses and liqueurs of different flavours that are also produced from sugar cane.

But the experience does not stop there: the visitor can also watch the operation of the ancient “Trapiche”, the fermentation of sugar cane and the distillation of “Grogue”, which is placed in twenty litre bottles which are then carefully stored for bottling and immediate marketing or for ageing.

THE LIGHTHOUSE OF BOI

One of the island’s greatest historical assets, the lighthouse Fontes Pereira de Melo, is popularly known as Farol de Boi (Lighthouse of Boi). Its name comes from its proximity to the islet of Ox, which is opposite.

Formerly an important navigational tool that marked the north entrance of the Canal de São Vicente, it is now a dilapidated structure which lives on in the memories of those old enough to remember it in its heyday.

Built by Royal Decree in April 1884, the lighthouse came into operation just two years later in May 1886, which illustrates how important this building was, as at this time in provinces as poor as Cape Verde few public buildings were erected so quickly.

For nearly a century, with its powerful light powered by oil and a range of about 30 miles, with its complex rotating mechanism of cables, pulleys and gears that operated the winch, the Lighthouse of Boi played an important role.

Despite the current state of the lighthouse, it still manages to show signs of its past grandeur, including the octagonal tower which is nearly 11 metres tall, the interior spiral staircase built in solid cast iron and the arched look outs. The rotating mechanism is still visible along with the crystal lens of the 4.5 metre flashlight inside the lighthouse, and externally one can see the metal dome with its windmill moving at the mercy of ocean breezes.

The rest of the parts of the building such as those made of bronze, wood and everything that could be disassembled and had some value were stolen sadly.

THE CARVED STONE

Paul is also the land of legends and mysteries. In the not too distant past, there were many stories of witchcraft.

One of the well known legends revolves around the so-called Stone Letters (Pedra de Letra), a boulder in the town of Lombo de Canequinha where there are mysterious and ancient inscriptions, their origins and meanings no one can explain. According to the people of the town, the boulder appeared one morning where it still stands, with its smooth face marked and embossed with unknown characters and symbols, some of which are religious and have fascinated people ever since.

According to the local people we contacted, many people, both local and foreign, throughout the ages have tried to decipher the meaning of the inscriptions, but without success.

The age of the stone inscriptions also remains an unsolved mystery. Nobody knows when they appeared, and those that saw them originally died long ago. Certainly centuries have passed since the boulder with its inscriptions first appeared.

The Carved Stone lies on the shores of the beautiful green river that is located in Lombo de Canequinha, a place where water is plentiful for much of the year.

It is fortunate that this is one piece of history that has never been subject to any act of vandalism, the inscriptions remain perfectly intact to this day.

Whether they are or are not an expression of the occult or even a description of historical assets or life in those days, the fact is that people are fascinated by this legend and have great fondness for the Stone Letters that continue to remain a mystery to this day.

 

SPLASH!

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Splash,CAPE VERDE’S MOST SUCCESSFUL BAND
SPLASH! A CLOSE UP WITH ONE OF CAPE VERDE’S MOST SUCCESSFUL BANDS BY ANNE-MARIE DIAS BORGES

The wait is finally over! The Cape Verdean legends have been working on new material with a view to releasing their fifth album in the coming months.

Indeed, after nearly ten years spent touring the world, Splash! rekindled its romance with the recording studio and promises an opus full of their recognizable catchy melodies and a few surprises, proving that the magic is still there.

One expects this coming album to set another milestone in the musical history of the islands, just like its 4 predecessors did. After all, this is the band that literally creates “musical tsunamis” with the release of each album, changing the course of contemporary African music.

To better understand the significance of Splash! and the influence it has on its contemporaries, we need to go back to the source, the beginning, the creation…

From the start, this band has set itself apart from the rest. When it was formed in 1990, in Holland (where the musicians reside and where there is a large Cape Verdean community), it was only as a back up band performing with recording artists.

Its members came from some of the most successful Cape Verdean bands of the time, namely Livity, Rabelados, Gil & the Perfects and Dragões. It was a match made in heaven. Never before had Portuguese Africa seen so much talent in a single formation. By fusing their various styles, ideas and experience, Splash! was able to offer the eager public a new sound and a new generation of Cape Verdean music was born.

Their first album, “Simplicidade” or “Simplicity”, was released in 1996, six years after their debut as a band and was an instant hit. Two years later, “Nha Terra K’chuva” came out, the success was phenomenal. The band was awarded a Silver Record and finally achieved international recognition. Moreover, the title of this album, which translates as “my country with rain” hit a sensitive cord amongst Cape Verdeans across the world. Indeed, the islands have been plagued with periods of drought throughout its history and inadequate rainfalls remain a constant worry and subject of discussion for islanders.

“Africana, the Best of Splash!” promptly followed in 1999, consolidating the band’s fan base, before their fourth opus “Contradição” came out in 2001 – an album which showcased the full range of their musical styles, from Zouk, to Morna, Marzurka and Funana.

Splash! has not only been evolving musically but also with its band members. Today the band is comprised of Djoy Delgado, Grace Evora, Danilo Tavares, Johnny Fonseca, Dina Medina, Manu Soares and Laise Sanches. But this is a band in constant evolution, just like its music, artists Johnny Ramos, Milena Tavares, José Azancoth and more recently Denis Graça have all been part of Splash! over the past years.

One thing is for sure, each member of the group is a superstar and musical virtuoso in his or her own right. And each one of them has brought to this formation something unique, which in turns sets this band apart, one can even argue, above the rest.

Behind every great idea there is a great man, in this instance his name is Djoy Delgado, the founder and one of the two keyboard players of the group. This creative genius has worked on over 500 albums and received various prizes, notably one for Best Music Producer. He is undoubtedly one of Africa’s most renowned music composers and not a day goes by in Cape Verde when at least one of his compositions is not played on the radio. Thanks to his vision, Splash! came to life and continues to flourish.

Grace Evora, plays the drums in the band whilst enjoying a thriving musical career as a solo artist. He is currently one of Cape Verde’s most popular and prolific singers, with numerous hit singles to date, such as “Lolita” and “Isolada”. Asking him how he is able to juggle between his experiences as a lead singer when he performs as a solo artist and a drum player when he is on stage with Splash!
Grace simply declares that “it all comes together naturally, without any conflicts, because after all these years playing together, Splash! feels like a big family in which everyone respects each other – every voice is heard”.

Splash! Band, capeverdean

Danilo Tavares, bassist, is an ex-member of the famous 80’s band Rabelados. Besides playing the bass guitar in Splash! Danilo has established himself as a highly regarded music producer. His Rotterdam studio, Music Pro, is very sought after amongst recording artists and Danilo has produced hundreds of successful albums, such as “Venus 1 & 2”. According to him, Splash’s upcoming album will once again put their talent on display. He says “the fact we have been playing together for so long and know each other so well shows in our music. Our experience shines through… We are ready to resume the dialogue with our fans and show them we are still here for them”.

Singer Dina Medina, is also a very successful solo artist. In fact Splash! debuted on stage as her band in 1991, when her first solo album, “Paixão e Coração” was released. Dina, who was a member of early 90’s pop sensation band Gil & the Perfects, has recently been performing in various productions featuring Cuban and European artists. Her latest solo album, “Mornamente” offers the public a more acoustic experience, with Dina following in the footsteps of Cesaria Evora. Still, regardless of her solo success, Dina refers to Splash! as “her roots” and reassures the fans she will carry on performing both with the band and as a solo artist.

Laise Sanches is the other female vocalist. She joined Splash! five years ago and has brought with her tremendous energy. Her distinctive vocal range and charm brings great uplift to the band. Originally from the island of Santiago, Laise is able to connect further with aficionados who appreciate funana and batuku, two music styles which are traditional to that island. She is currently working on her first solo album.

Manu Soares, the other keyboard player, is another musical veteran who has been seen on stage with numerous artists. Over the years, he has established himself as one of Cape Verde’s most talented and highly regarded musicians. This native of the island of São Nicolau also commented on what makes his band special. According to him, “the band always stays true to its essence” before adding “we are like a family, we understand each other and this is our strength”.

Last but, by no means least, is Johnny Fonseca, who has been with Splash! since its creation. Johnny is arguably Cape Verde’s number one guitar player. This virtuoso who started playing in a High School reggae band attributes his amazing success to the fact that having been born in Holland he is able to add a “European flair” to his repertoire. Indeed, Johnny has managed to develop his own distinctive style of playing his instrument of predilection. For Johnny, it is the fact that Splash! “still has soul, meaning that they still continue to record albums the old fashioned way, with real instruments and real musicians”, that keeps the fans coming back for more.

It is interesting to note that almost every island of the archipelago is represented within this band, making it unique in a country where age old ethnic rivalries remain rooted in popular culture. The islands are geographically divided in two groups, often referred to as the “Sotavento” islands or the” Leeward” islands, which is the southern island group and the “Barlavento” islands or the “windward islands”. This geographic distinction is coupled with distinct variations in the culture of each island, giving way to time-old stereotypes about the two main ethnic groups, the “Badius” from the southern islands and the “Sampadjudu” from the northern part of the country.

There are notable differences between both groups, especially in the different dialects of the national Krioulo and in the various musical genres. Yet, could this pioneer fusion be the reason for Splash’s success and mass appeal? This would certainly explain why Cape Verdeans from all backgrounds appreciate and identify with the band’s music. Why change a winning formula? Thousands of fans cannot be wrong… there is something captivating about Splash! that keeps on making the public asking for more twenty years on. And rest assured the release of Splash’s newest album is set to be one of the musical highlights of 2011!

For more information on Splash! visit www.splashcvonline.com