To the west of Africa lie the Cape Verdean Islands, a country known for its Creole-Portugese-African culture, coladera music, morna folk (the Islands’ traditional melancholic genre) and Carnaval, not forgetting the hospitality of its people. The São Vicente island merits a particular mention. The party island and culture capital has been compared to the early days of Ibiza, all the while an electronic music scene has been growing…
This year, a festival UNDERGROUND Mindelo Fest (organised by Rotterdam based Liber Artista) will be welcoming international artists one of whom is Jus-Ed, alongside its own DJs. Our friend Ed so happens to be from Cape Verde. Having never had the chance to visit, this is a first for him. And the very fact that music is bringing him back to his origins is something we’re already smiling about.
We catch up with him before he heads out there. But first, Romy (organiser and resident DJ) gives us a sweet introduction to the festival and an insight into what makes São Vicente such a special place to party…
So Romy, can you give us a rundown of the music, dance, art and food culture that makes São Vicente a culture capital?
MUSIC The first thing that needs to be said is that the Cape Verdean Islands – the roots of the famous Jazz musician Horace Silver amongst others, the “Barefooted Diva” (Cesária Évora aka Queen of Morna) – is already a cultural “walhalla” in itself with its vast creative population. As for the island of São Vicente, where you find approximately 93% of it’s population in Mindelo the city centre, it’s all about the carnaval – “Little Brazil”….
DANCE | ART | FOOD “Cabo Verde é um Brasilim” [Cape Verde is a little Brazil] – dance and art go hand in hand, a synergy well felt during the Carnaval season. Besides this, São Vicente has its annual theatre festival “Mindelact”, which is a great theatrical event. Right in the middle of the Atlantic, it brings together participants and partners from all over the world.
As for the gastronomy, I can directly point out our annual food festival “Kavala Fresk Festival”. Essentially it honours one fish – the “Kavala”. Since our waters are rich with fish, namely the “Kavala”, our cuisine has an abundance of fish-based dishes that also brings an abundance of benefits to our diet.
So yes we have a rich culture of music, dance, art and food. A great tradition in sports too – windsurfing, cycling, running and trail walking. We’re fit and healthy ha!
So how will you incorporate this fascinating local culture into UNDERGROUND Mindelo Fest?
Actually we’ve booked the amazing DJ duo “Celeste/Mariposa” from Lisbon, Portugal. We’ve worked with them many times in The Netherlands – the duo bring a colourful selection when it comes to the classic “PALOP” music (belonging to the Portuguese speaking African countries), especially the hard to get “wanna have” Cape Verde classics.
And alongside my Portuguese friends we’re flying in “Radio Hobo” from Berlin, who’ll be providing us with epic “Afro Funk”. Then to open up the festival, of course we haven’t forgotten to bring in one of the island’s best Carnaval brass bands. [smiles]
But we haven’t just stopped at the music…we’ve also brought our festival crew to team up with the local artists. It’s across this entire spectrum that we’ll create a synergy…which will in turn bring an energy. We leave every year with a list of lesson learnt and in the hope that our efforts will inspire others to initiate more cultural activities on the island.
So are you originally from Cape Verde?
I was born in The Netherlands, but originally from Cape Verde. That’s where I eventually grew up as my parents decided to go back when I was 8 years old. When I was older, I returned to the Netherlands but I’ve always come back to Cape Verde for vacation, and for the last few years I’ve also been coming back for bookings and events. This is how and where UNDERGROUND Mindelo was initially born and for the first time we’re bringing it to you as a festival.
Can you tell me the story behind the festival and your collective Liber Artista?
Coming to the Islands for over a month at a time every year, I always missed my music and culture scene from Rotterdam, which is where I live. We [Liber Artista – talent management and creative concepts collectif] started feeling that there was a need for this on the Islands, not just to fulfil our own desires… and yet it was something that could sit alongside the ‘vacation’ climate of the country.
We didn’t mull it over for too long – even though most of the population weren’t prepared for some Techno and more – we just did it and went ahead with organising the first club edition of “UNDERGROUND Mindelo”. It was an underground success and actually we noticed that the people were waiting for this movement. Liber Artista are now even settling on the Cape Verdean Islands, representing the underground music and art scene, the first of its kind out here.
What will you be bringing from The Netherlands?
For this first edition of the festival I’ll be playing alongside Chester Code, Shawn Rubens, Shanodin and others. We’re bringing stage building artists, filming and photography collectives and even an ‘arts’ psychologist. We’ll also provide a “Batiq” workshop for the people of the island. It’s not just about the music – we’re focusing on various art forms.
So the festival starts on October 20th, the opening night will showcase art whilst the second will focus on music culminating with a closing party on the third and final night. Can you share with us some details about the programming…
Yes the first day will consist of art workshops and lectures and the second day we’ll start with the music. We’ve invited Jus-Ed to play, in the hope that he’ll be one of the pioneers of this new movement on the island and opening the door for many to come.
So Jus-Ed will play at the festival! Cape Verde is where he’s originally from – is that one of the reasons why you booked him?
The Islands of Cape Verde is a people’s country and Jus-Ed is a people’s person, together with his Cape Verdean roots there was no question about having him here! Not to mention that his music represents an incredible wealth of knowledge. He was the first on the list to whom we wanted to grant the honour to come, also for him a chance to experience his origins, ‘back to basics’.
As well as a cultural hub, São Vicente is also known for being the party island of Cape Verdean Islands. What is it about that island that makes anyone and everyone want to party?
Actually that party fever of the island remains unexplainable but I can assure you that anyone who comes here feels the magnetic vibrations that are particular to this island. But you could also attribute it to the “Tutti Frutti” mix of people from all over the world. I’ve always said that whilst the Islands of Cape Verde is one of the smallest countries on Earth, it remains one with the most mix of people, with discrimination and racism being a real “taboo”. You don’t need to think twice if you want to be here, let alone partying here. It’s a whole other level of freedom!
You compare the island to the early days of Ibiza. That sounds incredible. Do you see potential for São Vicente to become a destination for international partygoers?
Yes definitely. Even now that Liber Artista is the first of its kind settling here, but we’re already looking at and feeling the need to work with other collectives who also believe in this island. And we’ve already successfully brought over young entrepreneurs from The Netherlands who are happy with this new working environment and the “no stress” mentality. With all due respect, Eivissa is an amazing place but Cape Verde…….. pfffffft come and feel it yourself.
How would you ensure that the island doesn’t follow the same “commercial” fate of many exotic party destinations of today?
Like I said before, Cape Verde is the people’s island. If you stay in your resort and don’t mix with the locals you’ll end up saying and I quote (a tourist on the plane returning to The Netherlands) “The island Sal has beautiful beaches, but that’s all…dry land and a boring place”.
I always have fun in Sal – I know where to go and I definitely hang out with the locals, I have some surf friends too. For me, it feels as though the country has a natural force, only letting in the ones who are are prepared for it. And those who touch its soil…lucky for them.
And lastly, what would you say to convince someone to buy a ticket to São Vicente for UNDERGROUND Mindelo Fest?
Actually I don’t want to convince anyone. I want this concept to grow naturally. I know what kind of place it is, there’s no need to force the nature behind it. The ones that need to be here will get here eventually and even they would be a bit quiet about it, just by the fear of it turning into a commercial walhalla. But I still want to take the opportunity to welcome you to next year’s festival edition, and feel what I mean.
Thanks Romy, it all sounds quite magical. Now over to Ed…
Hi Ed! The end of October will see you heading over to Cape Verde to play at the UNDERGROUND Mindelo Festival. The Islands are your motherland – you’ll be going back to your roots and correct me if I’m wrong but that’ll be your first time out there, how exciting!
Absolutely! Wow, I’m not sure where to begin with this… first I’m overwhelmed with emotion and questions…
I was born in the States, that’s where I grew up but I had always felt that I belonged somewhere else, physically and spiritually. My mother always told me about our heritage – where we come from. My great grandfather had a farm in Mass. We would visit and play in the fields eating corn or cucumbers, strawberries and green beans…it was fun! But I always wondered what Cape Verde would really be like and if I would ever make it to my root land. I’m 54 this year and because of music and Romy I’m actually going!!! [smiles] I had my agent back off this time, ha! …it may be my only chance to answer a 50 year-old question – do I belong there?
And what a coup that you’re going for music…if you hadn’t have been asked to play at the festival, would the Islands have featured on your ‘bucket list’?
Very doubtful on this… but I wasn’t giving up hope that I would one day visit…
Your parents/grandparents must have told you so many stories of the journey to America…
No, we lived in Connecticut and all my cousins and my grandfather lived in Mass so that kept us separated, in terms of location and religion. My mom didn’t grow up with the language but she did get the cooking part of our culture!
In our first interview with you, you mentioned that at times in your life you’ve felt like an outsider…would you say that this is in part due to the migration patterns of your ancestors?
Yes. But my mother was very clear about us knowing our cultures – we have African American mixed with Black Foot Indian and Mohegan Indian as well as an Asian mix. That’s why I look so good and make beautiful babies! [laughs]
Ha! So you lived in the United States for most of your life, and it happens to be the host country of the largest community of Cape Verdeans outside of Cape Verde. Did you grow up in a Cape Verde neighbourhood?
No but there were a few Cape Verde’s that went to our church.
Were you exposed to Creole Portuguese-African culture?
No…I mean I have heard music that really moved me but didn’t know why, or I had eaten a new dish and it was soul soothing. When I investigated and found out it was from Cape Verde I would smile and say “Hmmm no wonder I like it”.
One of the premises of dance music is that dancers, DJs, producers and promoters alike are a family of shared values – we dance together we smile together and we’re happy together. Would you draw parallels between this world and the ethnic communities?
Yes I would say that music and dance is a common thread between all cultures.
And would you say that African music has played a role in the music that you’ve gone to produce, play and represent?
Ah Africa music doesn’t inspire me to make music. I have music in me 24/7 – awake or asleep – happy or sad or in between. For example as I answer these questions I’m listening to a recording of me and my wife Jenifa playing B2B…the song playing right now Scott Grooves – Back to My Roots!!!! Music is inspiring but music in itself doesn’t compel me to write or make music. Music is me – it’s part of my person – my body – my thoughts…if I could translate all the music in my soul it would be crazy brilliant! There are people who make music and there are people who are music…my inspiration comes from dance and movement, life and death!
Can you share a track with us that is most representative of your ties to Cape Verde?
At the mo’ I can’t but when I get back I’m sure I’ll not only be writing music about my homeland but I’ll have a song just for you. But in anticipation of going – I would have to say my track from the Father EP “The Belief”.
Having lived in the States how do you feel the Americans, or even people generally perceive and react to “foreigners”?
This is a big question…there’s too many variables. So I would say as an African American living in America not by choice, I honestly don’t have an answer. First, I have no heritage claim to The States…I’m a citizen. And though I have a house in there and my name is on it, I still don’t own the land.
So what makes you proud to be American?
I’m proud to be me. I know the politically correct phrase is African American but I don’t believe in this token fraze – I’m mixed race born in America. So when people meet me for the first time I’m a black man from America, I remind myself that I have a chance to erase the media stereotyping that has gone on forever by just being a human being. It’s amazing, I was in Belarus Minsk for 5 days – I fished and lived in a log cabin and I was just a man…of course I have a permanent sun tan, but I got on with living and enjoying and so did my brothers. I believe people want to be respected then accepted…this is what I’m looking forward to in my root land Cape Verde.
Given that you now live in Berlin, how would you compare living in the US to the German situation?
Yes less stress on Violence! More stress on communication! Cause I don’t speak German yet! Less stress in being accepted… it’s easier here in Berlin to be trusted. People seem to respect life while living!
Which is what it’s all about. Thank you for this insight!
Thanks again for this opertunity.
Ed Jus-Ed that is….
Edited by Kaajal Shah
Cover Image from V.A. – Space Echo (Analog Africa)