To the Cape Verdeans art and music are important aspects of life and culture, because music seems to be woven through the people of these lovely islands. Cape Verde culture has elements of both Portuguese, African and Brazilian influence. For 500 years Portuguese influence dominated the country. It is sometimes said that Cape Verdean culture is based on music, food and the telling of stories.
Being a predominantly Catholic country, religious holidays are observed in Cape Verde. These include Easter, Christmas, All Saint’s Day and the Feast of the Assumption. The islands each celebrate their own saint’s days too. Secular holidays include Heroe’s Day (20 January); Children’s Day (01 June); and Independence Day (05 July).
The influence of the country’s colonial past can be seen in Cidade Velha on the island of Santiago. This was originally known by the Portuguese as Ribeira Grande in the 15th Century. The town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009 and examples of colonial architecture can be seen there.
There are distinct styles of music to be found in Cape Verde, such as Morna and Funaná in particular with some variations. Singer Cesária Évora, the barefooted diva made morna famous. The words are mostly in Cape Verdean Creole. The subjects are usually related to romance, patriotism and mourning. It is thought that this style of music came from Boa Vista originally. Morna is similar to the Fado in Portugal.
Funaná is a genre that started in Santiago and is based on the accordion. Since Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal, Funaná has become more widely accepted. Prior to independence the authorities frowned on Funaná, because they considered it was too African.
Drumming is heard quite frequently in Cape Verde. This is the African influence and in batuko (meaning ‘to beat’), which originates on the island of Santiago, a large number of percussive instruments are used. The batuko performance is by women and may include dance.
Linked to the love of music is the love of dance. Some of the young dancers seem to have boundless energy and skill.
There is also an interest in literature, with a small, but growing amount of Cape Verdean literature. Most of it is written in Portuguese, but there is a growing movement to formulate a standard written version of Creole.
Since the 19th Century some notable poets and writers have come from Cape Verde. Baltasar Lopes da Silva, who also wrote under the name of Osvaldo Alcântara together with Eugénio Tavares were prominent between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The Cape Verdean tradition that was established during that period has subsequently been continued with more recent writers. Creole and Portuguese languages being used.
There is also an oral tradition known as Nho Lobo, which centres on two characters – Ti Lobo and Chibinho. These two have counterparts in the culture of west Africa.
Arts and crafts
Other forms of culture and art in Cape Verde have a tendency to vary from island to island. For example, Boa Vista, Maio, Sal and Santiago are known for pottery. The small island of Fogo for carvings made from lava. Embroidery, basket making, carpentry and joinery are all practised and the finished articles sold at local markets.
One particular craft is the making of cloth, mainly dyed blue. These square cloths, called Panos, are used for items of clothing.
São Vicente is known as the island of culture. Furthermore, the island’s capital Mindelo is considered to be the centre of the culture of Cape Verde. Here you will find art galleries together with music bars.
Cape Verdeans love festivals and there are several throughout the year, and located on different islands. The Full Moon Festival, takes place on the beach at Baía das Gatas at the end of August and is one of the major festivals. In February Mindelo hosts the Creole Festival. Carnival and other smaller events takes place on most islands and are noisy, colourful, lively affairs. So in conclusion, you will enjoy the culture and festivals in Cape Verde whichever island you visit, but the main concentration is probably found in São Vicente.
The original capital of Cape Verde, Cidade Velha, on the island of Santiago displays influences from the time that the country was a Portuguese colony. It was originally called Ribeira Grande when the Portuguese settled in the 15th Century. There are notable examples of architecture from that period. Cidade Velha was made a World Heritage site in 2009.
The current capital, Praia, is home to an ethnographical museum (Museu Etnográfico da Praia). This museum houses exhibits relating to local history and music. There is also a museum displaying objects found in shipwrecks etc., this is the Núcleo Museológico da Praia.
There are other museums, dedicated to people such as Amílcar Cabral. Cabral was born in Cape Verde but was a leading opponent of colonialisation. There is also the Museu Municipal de São Filipe on the island of Fogo and the Centro Cultural Norberto Tavares in Assomada on Santiago.