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São vicente – heart and soul of cape verdean music by orlando rodrigues

São vicente – heart and soul of cape verdean music by orlando rodrigues

Inspiring its musicians, São Vicente is known for its popular music that glorifies the land of peace and morabeza – a traditional word that describes the welcoming way in which the Cape Verdeans receive their visitors. Through the melodic voices of its musicians such as Cesaria Evora, Bana, Tito Paris and Titina Rodrigues, the Cape Verdean name resonates around the world with the rhythms of Morna and Coladeira that the world has grown to love.

There is no better way to get to know São Vicente, the island of Porto Grande, than through its relationship with music. Mindelo, São Vicente’s main city, is more than just the home of an outgoing and welcoming people, it is also a big stage where the melody of a great love of the land permanently flows, where the joy of living a carefree existence connects its residents to the island with love and affection.

Some say that São Vicente, or “Soncente”, the phonetic simplification of the Creole language, is the place that has inspired more songs than anywhere else in the world.

Although no one has tried, until now to quantify this statement, it is not hard to confirm this as there have been many times where the most cultural island of Cape Verde has served as a muse to the great musicians of the archipelago.

Sometimes treated as a mother and others as Cretcheu, (an expression of the Cape Verdean language that refers to a beloved woman), São Vicente influences Cape Verdean music in two specific ways, either treating the island as a goddess or humanising it, depending on the way the senses of the poet and composer are challenged.

Mindelo is a cosmopolitan city par excellence, because its heart, the immense and majestic Porto Grande, has always been an open door to the Atlantic, where the nations of the world have constantly passed through, bringing echoes and influences from distant lands.

Because of the experience of those who leave the island and end up coming back, sharing these experiences and absorbing new values from those who remain, a social melting pot exists along with a world view that contributes to make the inhabitants of Mindelo a versatile and deeply welcoming people.

São vicente – heart and soul of cape verdean music by orlando rodrigues

It is this characteristic that makes a visitor feel at ease when arriving at São Vicente, a place where you can easily meet a longshoreman, a fisherman or a labourer.

English and French, Dutch, German, Greek and Korean are languages spoken by many of the people that learned them while interacting directly with the sailors whose ships of many nationalities visit Porto Grande, and because many inhabitants emigrated and then returned to São Vicente.

The city of Mindelo which is beautiful, clean and airy, invites you to walk along its wide streets and suburbs near its historic centre or climb the gentle slopes of the hills of Fonte Filipe, Cruz de João Évora, Madeiralzinho and Monte Sossego, or even spread out onto the plains of Chã de Cemitério, Ribeira das Vinhas or Ribeira de Julião.

In São Vicente, culture, including music, theatre and visual arts, is present at all times.

From small bars and restaurants in the Cape-Verdean suburbs, local musicians became famous and popular and bring their music to the big hotels downtown especially on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Another musical event offered on the Mindelo cultural tour in August is the Festival Baia das Gatas, that takes place on the beach of the same name, located a few kilometres from the city.

For three days, the entire population of São Vicente is to be found here, watching the performances of many Cape Verdean and foreign artists, that bring to Baía das Gatas an unprecedented variety of music characterised by a rich and eclectic mix of rhythms and sounds from different sources.
From the Caribbean to Brazil, from Angola to Portugal, through France and Spain, there are many groups and international artists who, over nearly thirty years of the festival, have performed on stage at the Baia das Gatas. Most notably at the 2011 festival, São Vicente enjoyed the presence of the star of the MPB (Braziian Pop Music), Brazilian Alcyone.

The event is organized by the Municipality of São Vicente and is hugely popular given the large involvement of the population of the island along with the thousands of immigrants and tourists that travel to Cape Verde to attend the event, not just because of the music but also because of the great ambience and sense of camaraderie that the festival produces.

The theatre also has status on the island, most notably because of the annual Festival Mindelact that features the performances of many existing companies in São Vicente and a large number from various countries outside Cape Verde.

The Carnival is the other great popular party held in February or March, depending on the calendar, which transforms the city of Mindelo into a real court of King Momo, which can be compared to the Rio de Janeiro party, albeit on a far smaller scale.

Paul, the place of the singing waters by orlando rodrigues

For weeks, the people of São Vicente go out on to the streets with an unrestrained joy that enlivens the city of Mindelo. The party culminates on the weekend prior to the Carnival week, with the parade of the Tropical Samba School and on Shrove Tuesday there is the official parade, with hundreds of participants with floats, music and lots of drumming.


The city of Mindelo was born around the port, where there is a former coal warehouse of one of the large British companies, which in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries supplied the steamboats that did the shipping between Europe and South America.

The memories of an era of prosperity from those times remain today and the inhabitants are trying to recreate this wealth through a new economic means which is tourism.

The urban area of São Vicente extends from the Port to the villages of Ribeira de Craquinha and Passarão, covering Morada, the historic city centre, with its interesting colonial architecture. The area of Chã de Cemitério e Madeiralzinho has new developments, along with the expansion zone of Ribeira de Julião, the popular district of Monte Sossego, and the popular suburbs of Ribeira Mote, Bela Vista, Fonte Francês, Fonte Cónego, Fonte Filipe, Fonte de Inês, Ribeirinha and Cruz de João Évora, to name just a few.

It is in these places that true island life is lived, and where one can witness, in all its essence, the experiences of local people.

The metropolis is surrounded by a mountainous belt. To the east side is Monte Verde, the main elevation of São Vicente, and on the west side the Monte Cara is visible, a landscape that is shaped like a human face with its eye facing the sky and an elegant profile.

On a map of São Vicente, one can see around half a dozen settlements, one of which is the fishing area of São Pedro, which houses the new international airport which has direct flights from Europe, the United States and many more countries throughout the world.

Paul, the place of the singing waters by orlando rodrigues

Calhau is another place to visit, only 20 minutes away by car, where one can enjoy the healthy sea air.

It is a coastal resort where many people from Mindelo have weekend homes, but for the seasonal visitor Calhau already has a tourist infrastructure, with low-cost accommodation, cafes, bars and restaurants with typical good quality food and cultural activities which include typical Cape Verdean music.

Further north, the Baia das Gatas, neighbour of the fishing village of Salamana, is another place of great interest. The vast plain by the sea offers lovely small beaches, as well as a large natural swimming pool with water that is renewed every day by the tides.

Small in size, São Vicente is one of the most interesting and striking islands of the archipelago of Cape Verde. The late Manuel de Novas, one of its most emblematic composers was right when he wrote “quem ca conchê Mindelo, ca conchê Cabo Verde“, or in English this means “those who do not know Mindelo, do not know Cape Verde.”