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Written in fRoots issue 321, 2010

Djunta Mô

PAI PAI-W-09/050 (2009)

This is a prime example of the eye helping the ear; the inclusion in its substantial book-type pack of a DVD makes this already attractive-sounding CD a lot more understandable and interesting.
     Here’s the story.
     Some Cape Verdean women who in the early 1970s emigrated to Spain and settled in the fishing port of Burela, on the north coast of Galicia, got together to continue the Cape Verdean tradition of batuko, in which groups of women sit singing lively songs together, usually in call-and-response, or jump up for giggling bum-wiggling dance, as their vocals sail freely over a brisk ‘bom-paka-ta’ 3/4 rhythm from hand-slapped batukos, small plastic or leather-covered wads of cloth laid on their laps.
     In Galicia there’s a long tradition of women singing together in pandeiretera groups, accompanying themselves on tambourines (pandeiretas), sometimes to a similar rhythm to batuko. In the recording project Djunta Mô (meaning something like ‘all help together’ in the Cape Verdean Mandinka-Portuguese creole) the two traditions come together; the Batuko Tabanka group is joined by singers and instrumentalists mainly from Cape Verde and Galicia, about a dozen from each.
     The recordings were done with equipment rigged up in hotel rooms on the largest Cape Verde island, Santiago, and in a Galician studio. Among the Cape Verdeans are popular singer-guitarists Tcheka and Vadú, and the elderly but animated gold-toothed versifier Ntoni Dente D’Oro, whose vocals are a kind of sing-rap; among the Galicians are singers Uxía and Mercedes Peón, both fine exponents of the pandeiretera tradition, Berrogüetto drummer Isaac Palacín and ex-Milladoiro harpist Rodrigo Romaní and gaiteiros and wind players including Xosé Manuel Budiño.
     The DVD presents a 52-minute documentary that opens with some useful historical background to Cape Verde’s history and goes on to give a good sense of the context and people involved in the making of the album, including visits to elderly traditional singers across the island. Voice-over and subtitles are in Galego, Castilian Spanish and Portuguese, but the visuals are vivid and a non-speaker would get the gist pretty well. It also contains concert footage, of the group plus some of the guests in the dusty centre of Cape Verde’s old capital Cidade Velha and in a little house of culture in today’s capital Praia, videos of two tracks and a 5.1 surround audio recording.
     Not all the Galician musicians were present at the Cape Verde recordings, but Uxía is among those who were and she’s seen in the films joyfully connecting the traditions, in a pandeiretera song and a morna with the batuko group and instrumentalists including Cape Verdean violinist Nho Nanu. Of the Cape Verdeans Ntoni Dente D’Oro, who seems to be something of a local legend, is particularly prominent in the footage.
     The resulting audio album is often quite a dense, muscular layering of overdubs of instruments and percussion, but it bursts with life. Batuko Tabanka’s energetic solo and answering group vocals are the over-riding sound, joined by sympathetic interjections from the other vocalists including the characteristic warmth of Uxía and wildness of Peón.
     It’s joyfully infectious music full of melodic ear-worms, varied voices, sounds and rhythms that expands on the simple batuko-slapping and sometimes moves away from its prevailing 3/4 into other local song-styles, making a celebration of Cape Verdean social music-making and cross-cultural communication with one of the islanders’ emigration destinations that’s likely to generate considerable international airplay and draw attention abroad and at home to the value of the islands’ less obviously commercial musics. One would imagine it’s a dream-fulfilment for the group too, and an encouragement to others.


© 2009 Andrew Cronshaw

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