Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica From the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988”

“Culture, the fruit of history, reflects at every moment the material and spiritual reality of society, of man-the-individual and of man-the-social-being, faced with conflicts which set him against nature and the exigencies of common life.” – Amilcar Cabral (Guinea-Bissauan/Cape Verdean revolutionary)

For the better part of five centuries, the West African coastal territories now known as Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde islands languished under the influence and brutal control of colonial Portugal. By the early 1960s, the contentious struggle for freedom had erupted into an all-out war for national independence.

By 1975, the Cape Verde islands and Guinea-Bissau were free from Portuguese rule, embarking on the long journey of post-colonial reformation. Throughout the next decade and a half, the cultural life of the Cape Verdean islands exploded, giving birth to a number of bands who took the islands’ traditional/indigenous styles and fused them with Portuguese fado (the folk music of Portugal’s urban poor and working class), while also taking influences from the rock and R&B sounds that had been coming over from the States. This eclectic mixture of musical ingredients helped produce a dynamic music community that would carry the spirit of the Cape Verde islands around the world.

Synthesize the Soul: Astro-Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands 1973-1988, the latest compilation from New York-based reissue label Ostinato Records, explores the broad range of electrifying music that blossomed up from this small cluster of islands. Primarily consisting of guitar-and-keyboard-driven, uptempo dance music, the tracks have strong stylistic resemblances to other musical styles of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora, most notably zouk music—as well as Trinidadian soca and the bachata music of the Dominican Republic. It’s a bit different from Analog Africa’s Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde—more dancefloor-oriented and less psychedelic—but they’re clearly two essential peas in a pod.

America Brito’s catchy and celebratory “Babylon 79” features a nimble, pulsating rhythm section a sing-songy chorus and oddly phased/flanged keyboard chords that infuse the high energy dance tune with an odd, nearly psychedelic edge. The tracks are rich with colorful instrumentation. Tulipa Negra’s masterful “Corpo Limpo” rides atop a heavy, insistent groove, while the guitar deftly comps in the background, the dynamic vocals intertwine with a cheesy but absolutely perfect toy synth/organ.

Throughout the compilation’s 18 tracks, the songs of unheralded acts such as Jose Casimiro, Pedrinho and Tam Tam 2000 stand out as examples of the bright, optimistic sound of the Cape Verdean people. Expertly compiled and sequenced, Synthesize The Soul gives us a glimpse into the potent, celebratory music of a culture as it struggled to find its place in the world, wrestling with the demands of progress and reveling in the ecstasy of freedom.

—John Morrison

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