Monday, December 9, 2019

Cape Verde Dancers -

October 17, 2019
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS:  Tarrafal, Sao Nicolau Island
Arrive:  7:00 AM
Sunrise: 6:30 AM
Temp. 86F

By 8:30 am we were 'all aboard" the fleet of small buses for the panoramic tour
 of the island of Sao Nicolau, situated to the north of the Archipelago.
 The very active volcanic past of the island is majestically visible around
 Monte Gordo, the highest peak. The valleys are generally narrow and deep 
except for the Vale de Faja which is wide and fertile enough for agriculture
 to flourish - mostly sugar cane.

Dancing is an integral part of all events in Sao Nicolau, from waltz and square dance with instructions in French, to the typical Portuguese dances. What for me was the highlight of the Cape Verde Islands visit, occurred here in a village in Faja.

The beautiful recorded music for the dances was in itself perfect and, sitting on steps in the small church courtyard, when the dancers appeared, I was amazed. These dancers, dressed simply, were quite exquisite in their calm and gentle movements, facial expressions - and barefoot on cobbles you will notice - with the caller (man in red shirt) giving short, quiet instructions.
I didn't want them to ever stop and was sad when the lovely performance ended!

Cape Verde’s central location brings together musical currents from West Africa, Europe and Latin America. On each island, visitors encounter not only a unique natural environment but unique musical traditions. In the music of the leeward islands of Cape Verde, the significant West African influence can be found in genres such as batuque and tabanka (Santiago), bandera (Fogo) and lundu/lundum (Boa Vista). The windward islands have strong European influences such as the mazurka, waltz and contredance (Santo Antão, São Nicolau). Moreover there are strong connections between the leeward and windward genres; for example, the cola sanjon (Santo Antão) is related to the batuque, which has also been called the soul of the Cape Verdean people.

The living conditions on Cape Verde forced the islanders to be pragmatic. Survival requires creativity, perseverance and a zest for life, and one of the musical styles that expresses this zest for life is the coladeira. This style, which arose on São Vicente, is popular all over Cape Verde, while another style danced all over Cape Verde is the funana, which originated on the island Santiago. At the time of Portuguese rule, this distinctly African-tinted style was forbidden, because its lyrics, accompanied by diatonic accordion and ferrinho (an iron rod played with a knife) challenged social inequalities. The morna, a melancholy musical style the lyrics of which are poems of departure, love and saudade (longing for home), is considered by all Cape Verdeans to be their national music.


In Cape Verde, the Mazurka is revered as an important cultural phenomenon played with acoustic bands led by a violinist and accompanied by guitarists. The Mazurka, popular on the islands of Santo Antão and São Nicolau, came originally from the Mazovia area around Warsaw, Poland. The inhabitants of this region were known as Mazurs, and their dances, which probably date back to the 16th century, were called mazurkas. At the beginning of the 19th century, the mazurka took England by storm, being adopted from the German nobility and the French elite. From there, this dance in three-four time made its way into the musical traditions of many parts of the world. The mazurka is still played and danced at weddings and other celebrations, both on Cape Verde and at Cape Verdean festivities in places like Rotterdam. On Santo Antão and São Nicolau, the mazurka is often alternated with the contredance. The contredance is inspired in English country dancing and was introduced to the French court around 1685. In France, it became the most popular dance of the 18th century. The mazurka and the contredance were probably brought to Cabo Verde by seafarers, as were genres such as the polka, waltz and galop which were popular in the ballrooms of the 19th century.

A day and place to remember always for me.


  1. Dancing is so much more than just moving in time with music, isn't it!
    Thank you for the background information on the various dances and musical styles.

  2. Love the portraits of these beautiful people Mary - absolutely stunning.

  3. Fascinating! Now I think I must visit You Tube to see the dancers in motion. Those bare feet amaze me.


      Vee, I can't find a really good video showing a small group dancing outside, and with the beautiful music we heard, however this one gives you an idea of how the contra dancing goes. I should have recorded our visit at the little church but was mesmerized watching the dancers and was fortunate to at least get some photos!
      Mary -

  4. What a fascinating glimpse into the cultural influences of the Cape Verde islands. I remember learning to play a mazurka or two on the piano back in my youth. How music and dance travel around the globe is amazing. Beautiful people with calm and focused faces.

  5. Wow, what a hauntingly beautiful place. Thanks for sharing the island and the people with us. You are so fortunate to witness so much of this earth. I would love to see your photo cache. Golly, it would be outstanding.

  6. How I would have loved sitting on the church steps with you and watching the dancing and listening to the music. It does sound memorable for sure. I am guessing there were a few toe taps and smiles too.

  7. Beautiful people and beautiful photos. Wow, yet another place you've now been to, if not prior? :)


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