Sunday 24 January 2010

Cape Verdean Swing and Red-Hot Sodade: Carmen Souza Savors Trans-Atlantic Ties on Protegid

Carmen Souza’s voice purrs like kernels of corn swirling on a traditional wooden platter one moment and bursts with a perfect blue note the next. It rings like a red-hot solo and sighs like a ship-deck lament. It finds the sweet spot between Birdland and the white sands of Cape Verde, the archipelago far off the coast of West Africa.

Protegid (Galileo Music; June 8, 2010), the London-based musician and songwriter’s latest album, lives in this magical Trans-Atlantic space, thoughtfully exploring the unexpected connections between jazz and Cape Verdean culture. Virtuosic yet warm, stunning and welcoming, Souza, with support from long-time musical collaborator Theo Pas’cal, captures all the possibilities of her Cape Verdean roots, everything from Polish dances to Arabic ornaments, with earthy wisdom and cerebral swing.

Souza has long embraced these roots, the music she grew up hearing her sailor father play on the guitar, the rhythms of language and daily life in a Cape Verdean family. But it wasn’t until she was already studying translation at a university in Lisbon that she discovered the sounds that would forge her voice: the music of jazz greats, from singers like Ella Fitzgerald, who use their voices as instruments, to soloists like Bill Evans, Miles Davis, and, most symbolically, Horace Silver.

Silver points to the intriguing, yet rarely explored connection between American jazz and Cape Verdean music, something Souza felt almost immediately. Silver, whose classic “Song for My Father” gets a new twist thanks to Souza’s Creole lyrics and gorgeous voice, had Cape Verdean ancestry, yet the ties run far deeper.

“Cape Verde was colonized by Portugal, but a lot of other European, African, and Arabic influences came afterward. It’s a mestizo culture,” Souza reflects. “I came to discover that the songs that people sang in the fields on Cape Verde have the same pentatonic scale identified with the blues,” in part due to a shared history of slavery.

This trans-Atlantic link makes Souza’s sway from one idiom to the other effortless. “Magia ca tem” starts out as a morna, the traditional bittersweet song form made famous by Cesaria Evora, yet soon morphs into a full-on jazz swing. “Someone who doesn’t know much about my Cape Verdean roots will most likely identify this morna as a jazz standard,” Souza smiles. “I love that. I love to put things together.”

There’s another element binding blues to Cape Verde’s shores calledsodade, a deep and sorrowful longing for home, for the kind of sanctuary Souza’s lyrics often invoke on Protegid. It echoes in the song of the same name, originally recorded by Evora but reimagined by Souza with help from Cuban pianist Victor Zamora.

“’Sodade’ has a great history behind it,” say Souza. “A man was abducted from Cape Verde, taken from his family to work in San Tome, in the fields. While he was on the ship, he wrote these words longing for Cape Verde and his loved ones. It’s a simple story, just a man suffering in this boat. But this song”—like the many, many migrants forced to leave Cape Verde for economic reasons—“went all over the world.”

Souza got her own taste of sodade as a young girl, as her father often left home for months at a time. “My father was traveling everywhere. He worked on cargo ships, common work for Cape Verdean men,” Souza recalls. “I felt this Cape Verdean feeling of sodade quite near me, from early on.”

At the same time, Souza gained great strength from her upbringing and her roots, the protection, both familial and spiritual, reflected in the title track, “Protegid, which means “Protected” in English” And this strength continues to flow, whether she’s uncovering unexpected gems of Cape Verdean wisdom on the internet or exploring unexpected sides of the islands’ wildly multifaceted culture.

“Dos Eternidade” was sparked by an online video Souza came across that featured a Cape Verdean elder speaking his mind. “A video I saw on YouTube had a very wise old man talking about modern society,” Souza remembers. “He was talking about humanity being very focused on material rather than spiritual things, and that there are two eternities: being good and being bad.” These thoughts stayed with Souza as she and Pas’cal were playing with a bass line one day. Intuitively, the close collaborators felt a melody and the lyrics, drawing on the old man’s words, followed naturally.

Souza was inspired by other aspects of Cape Verde’s diverse cultures, where one rhythm that’s well loved but often neglected is the mazurka, which forms the foundation for “M’sta Li Ma Bo.”

Along with Poles and their dances, Cape Verde has long incorporated Arabic influences, on top of its African and European flavors. Souza draws on the sounds of the oud (Arabic lute) and keening vocal ornamentation for the heart-wrenching “Mara Marga,” the frightening tale of a neglected toddler and a powerful indictment of child abuse.

“It’s about how it sounds, but it was also the emotion of the musicians involved and what Adel Salameh, the oud player, and singer Naziha Azzouz could give to the song,” Souza explains. “It’s not very logical, but it’s a very profound thing.”

That profound intuition guided Souza and Pas’cal as they traveled with a portable studio, recording tracks with friends in hotel rooms and borrowed spaces around North America and Europe. Yet everywhere, the duo strove for the intimacy and immediacy of an artful jazz solo. Or of a perfect batch of cachupa.

Cachupa is a traditional dish that uses dried corn,” Souza explains, “and to choose the corn, women on Cape Verde go through what’s called tente midj. They put the corn on a wooden plate and stir it to a certain rhythm as they sort the kernels. I used to watch my mother do this, and that rhythm begins my song ‘Tente Midj.’ It’s about stirring up your life, not getting too comfortable, staying engaged.”

“Carmen Souza sings in her native creole dialect with an intimacy, sensuality, and vivacity, characterised by a tremendous lightness of touch. Her music has a deceptive simplicity, a rare clarity, derived from a unique mix of influences from her Cape Verdean background to jazz and modern soul creating this beautifully vibrant, largely acoustic, accessible hybrid. World soul music for the 21st century.”— David Sylvian, UK singer-songwriter

Written by Rock Paper Scissors (USA)

Management Press Release
After 2 critically acclaimed albums, "Ess ê nha Cape Verde/This is my Cape Verde" (2005) and "Verdade/Truth" (2008), Carmen Souza returns in 2010 with the impressive "Protegid" (Protected) that blends perfectly with elegance and sophistication the African and Cape Verdean traditional rhythms with Contemporary Jazz and Afro-Latin. This groundbreaking album presents a highly innovative sound & a continuation of the work already initiated in the two previous albums: pushing the limits of what constitutes the Cape Verdean music, World Music and Jazz.

This new set of songs showcases Carmen Souza's excellent ability for melodies and lyrics while exploring her mesmerizing colourful, versatile and expressive voice. “Expressive, able to tell these wonderful texts without losing a single syllable and giving them an impressive intensity. The timbre records show domination and sensitivity that goes through states of mind difficult to translate musically.” Say Portuguese Ethnomusicologist Domingos Morais.

Besides co-producing and featuring on Rhodes and Guitar, Carmen Souza also signs all the lyrics, like in previous releases, to the exception of an exquisite version of the song 'Sodade' that became famous on the voice of Cesária Évora.

Her outstanding songwriter talent gives emphasis to her mission as a messenger of Human understanding and Faith. "No jumble of disconnected phrases masquerading as coherent thought; instead, cogent observations on the monetary value some place on life, the hope given by children, intimate questions of faith, or inner desires." Said journalist Simon Rowand, talking about her lyrics while reviewing her last album.

“Protegid” also includes a version of the well-known song from Horace Silver's 'Song for my Father' and Carmen wrote a new lyric in Creole to dedicate to her Father just like Horace Silver did with his Father.

In this album you can feel the almost palpable musical chemistry between, two talented free spirit composers, Carmen Souza and her long-time composer/producer and Bass player, Theo Pas'cal, who signs all the music.

"After working together for more than 8 years, we know each other very well, the process of building new songs is very natural, we always try to compose "out of the box" without prejudice, creative limitations or commercial impositions. We can only write and compose what we feel and believe in, always looking to be faithful to our roots and influences. “Say Carmen Souza and Theo Pas'cal.

This record has the particularity of having been recorded in London, Lisbon, Toronto, New York, Paris, etc, mostly on a mobile studio that accompanied Carmen Souza and Theo Pas'cal for over 5 months into their Tours and Trips.

"The compositions and the bases of the songs with voice and bass first and then some pianos and percussion were recorded in London, pretty much everything else was recorded in the mobile studio, sometimes using only special rooms to capture the instruments, because of the acoustic requirements necessary. It was a great experience, because we had the opportunity and freedom to record and mix on super quiet inspiring environments without being obliged to be stuck to a common studio somewhere... “
Say Carmen Souza.

"Protegid" exceptional group of musicians from Jazz and World backgrounds, most of them from her band, come from several different countries around the world (Portugal, Cuba, Angola, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Nigeria, Canada, Palestine, France, UK), were somehow already linked to the project, performing live, or were invited by Carmen for the musical and artistic identification.
Names like this year Grammy nominee, Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, French Accordionist Marc Berthoumieux, Portuguese based Tora Tora Big Band and French based Oud player Adel Salameh from Palestine were some of the ones that add richness to this album.

“…The most unusual instrumental exploration can be found in the lament “Mara Marga” (Bitter Mara), the story of a three-year old girl who had to die because she was unwelcome on Earth, accepted neither by her mother, nor by her father. Carmen wrote the text which was then recorded, involving Adel Salameh on the Arabian/Egyptian Lute (‘ud) and Naziha Azzouz with her wailing voice. The song takes us almost on a time-journey to the remote past when the Iberian Peninsula was still part of the Islamic World. It shows the extent to which music can be reconfigured and recreated.” Say the Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik, perhaps the most broadly knowledgeable and prolific of scholars on the music traditions of Africa and the Black Diaspora.
Carmen Souza is undoubtedly one of the most important singers/songwriters of the new generation who, despite being born outside of Cape Verde, is a true ambassador of the mixed culture of her ancestors. She gives the traditional rhythms of the islands, like Funana, Morna, Batuke, Mazurka and others, a unique approach always looking for Excellency. “The language with its phonetics is the strongest determinant of her art. Reinforced by the specific quality and wide range of her voice, the intonation and accents, giving her music a Cabo Verdean identity.” Say Gerhard Kubik.

Her successful "Verdade/Truth", last album, led Carmen Souza to some of the most important stages in the world. With 'PROTEGID', she will surely win over audiences with her charisma, relaxed presence on stage, exceptional musicians, and her amazing vocal sound; so personal and unique.


This voice chooses to sing in Creole of Cape Verde, the language derived from the Portugal of the 600’s, adapted and mixed with the languages of the cultures of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Bold Choice, reckless, from who affirms that one can be a citizen of the world and continue to dream and write in the language of the emotional childhood. And it is the first revelation. The texts are dense, pregnant with life, taking full advantage of a language to be invented but that takes some writers and dedicated cultured poets. Eugenio Tavares, Baltasar Lopes and Corsino Fortes have in Carmen Souza an unexpected continuum in poetry and prose in Creole.
The result is a fluent musical speech, marked by various influences and controlled by the virtuosity of the musicians. There is a clear desire not to use the easy and stereotypical effect. And the balance of the arrangements for the instruments present in each track shows the care and art of these great professionals.
But it is the voice that is perhaps the most unique attribute of these songs. Expressive, able to tell these wonderful texts without losing a single syllable and giving them an impressive intensity. The timbre records show domination and sensitivity that goes through states of mind difficult to translate musically. Even when singing in English in “Magia ca tem" she carries us into the intimate universe of the great North American interpreters.
Authors and performers of Cape Verde are recognized for their contribution to the renewal of the world music scene. They win now this unexpected accession of an author and artist who innovates, opens new horizons and breaks with easy paths already crossed.

(PT)Esta voz opta por cantar em crioulo de Cabo Verde, essa língua franca derivada do português de seiscentos, adaptado e miscigenado com as línguas dos povos de África, Ásia e América Latina. Escolha arrojada, temerária, que afirma sem hesitação que se pode ser cidadã do Mundo continuando a sonhar e a escrever na língua afectiva da infância. E é a primeira revelação. Os textos são densos, prenhes de vida, tirando todo o partido de uma língua por inventar mas que tem em alguns escritores e poetas cultores dedicados. Eugénio Tavares, Baltasar Lopes e Corsino Fortes têm em Carmen Souza uma inesperada continuadora na poesia e prosa em crioulo.
A resultante é um discurso musical fluente, marcado por diversas influências e pelo virtuosismo controlado dos músicos. É patente a preocupação em não recorrer ao efeito fácil e estereotipado. E o equilíbrio dos arranjos para os instrumentos presentes em cada faixa revela o cuidado e a arte destes excelentes profissionais.
Mas é na Voz que reside talvez o mais original atributo destas músicas. Expressiva, capaz de dizer estes belíssimos textos sem que se perca uma única sílaba e dando-lhes uma intensidade impressionante. Os registos tímbricos revelam domínio e sensibilidade que passa por estados de alma de difícil tradução musical. Mesmo quando em “Magia ca tem” nos canta em Inglês transportando-nos para os universos intimistas das grandes intérpretes norte americanas.
Autores e intérpretes de Cabo Verde são reconhecidos pelo seu contributo para a renovação da cena musical mundial. Ganham agora esta inesperada adesão de uma autora e intérprete que inova, abre novos horizontes e rompe com a facilidade de caminhos já percorridos.

DOMINGOS MORAIS, Portuguese Ethnomusicologist

CONCERT HISTORY: North Sea Jazz Festival(NL), San Francisco Jazz Festival (USA), Monterey Jazz Fest (USA), Montreal Jazz Fest (CA), Akbank Jazz Fest (TR), Womad(UK), FMMSines(PT), Ulsan World Music Fest(SK), Leverkusener Jazz Festival(DE), Mercado Cultural(BR), Festival Jazz & Blues de Guaramiranga/Fortaleza (BR), Casa da Musica(PT), Luminato Festival (CA), Trafalgar Square (UK), Ottawa Jazz festival(CA), Bray Jazz Festival(IR), Bimhuis(NL), Barbican(UK), IJazz(NL), Jazz International Rotterdam(NL), Jazz Maastricht(DE), Toronto Afro Fest(CA), Bam Festival(SP), Cedar Cultural Centre(USA), Chicago Cultural Centre(USA), Sunfest(CA), Musicport(UK), Suoni di terra(IT), Nick de La Rocca Jazz Fest(IT), RAI1 Concerto Dell’Epifania(IT), Harmonie(DE), Tropentheater(NL), Moods (CH), Masala Festival (DE), Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall(TR), Satelitte Cafe(FR), Colf(UK), Philarmonie(LU), Théâtre de Vendure d ́Alger(Algeria), Sergels Torg(SE), Handelsbeurs(BE), Helsinki Festival (FI), and many more...

Concerts broadcasted (TV/Radio) by: CBC(CA), NPR (USA), RDP/RTP(PT), BBC(UK), CONCERTZENDE(NL), WDR/3SAT(DE), RAI UNO (IT), MONTEREY JAZZ TV (USA), etc...


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