‘Our heart beats the same’… Pan-African artists from Bahia to Haïti meet in Cape Verde

For the thousands of slaves transported from Senegal across the Atlantic, Cape Verde was the last sight they had of Africa. Today, the country is a meeting point for the diaspora. Its creole population has roots in Europe, Africa and Latin America and the cultural life of the islands is influenced by these diverse origins.

The Atlantic Music Expo (AME) was started four years ago by the minister of culture, Mário Lúcio Sousa, a musician, painter and poet in his own right, to bring together musicians from countries bordering the Atlantic sea. It takes place just before the Kriol Jazz Festival, another celebration of the richness of creole culture.




As director of both festivals, José Da Silva – also the former manager of Cesária Évora – is responsible for the programming: ‘Cape Verdeans are very mixed. And that diversity exists in music too. The festival was created to show that. I wanted a meeting place for people from the north and the south. For Africans, and Caribbeans and Latinos.’

It shows how the past can be built on to create new links, new memories and of course, new sounds.

‘So many problems come from difference. Cape Verde is known for being creole – no one was here before – and we come from slaves, Europeans, Latin Americans, Chinese, Japanese: everyone has passed through Cape Verde. And our culture is similar; everyone finds something to relate to in our culture.’

The AME celebrates this mix – international artists jam with local musicians – creating a new pan-African approach to music. It shows how the past can be built on to create new links, new memories and of course, new sounds.

We delved into the music of three artists who performed. From Senegal, Haïti and Brazil they’re mixing African sound with global influences. They’re inspired by the past but looking towards the future.


Marema is a Senegalese singer who won the Radio France International Discoveries Award in 2014. This allowed her to travel to over ten countries. Her music is a fusion of traditional and modern Senegalese music; with a hint of rock.

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Tell us about your music.

I live in Dakar. But my music is quite mixed; it’s a mixture of traditional and modern music. I like openness and my group is quite mixed. I am Senegalese. The drummer is from Benin. The bassist is Senegalese. The guitarist is Malian and French.

Which artists inspire you?

When I was small I loved Tracy Chapman and Youssou N’Dour and I love Pink. I love rock music; it’s part of my repertoire.



What things do you like to take about in your music?

I talk about social issues and problems. I also give advice and I have taken part in lots of forums which promote women’s rights.

There’s one song, Femme d’Affaires [Strong Woman] which won me the RFI Discovery Prize. It celebrates women who are fighters, who are courageous and women who don’t need anyone to succeed.

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And are you excited about AME?

It’s my first time to Cape Verde. This is an important moment for me. I would love to see Cesária Évora but of course that’s not possible. And I love Lura too.

What’s next?

We’re going to the Côte d’Ivoire for a concert on May 8 and we will tour Germany at the beginning of June.

Check out more here


Vox Sambou is a musician from Limbé, Haïti and is currently based in Montréal. He is one of the founding members of hip-hop collective Nomadic Massive. He raps in Haitian creole.

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What do you want to achieve with your music?

Make people know about my hometown. My hometown is Limbé, in the north side of Haïti. It’s one of the most important places in the world to me. It’s where the movements like that of Jean-Jacques Dessalines started. He and other Africans fought so hard against slavery and they met at this time, at one point to organise a revolution.

Africa is our heritage and it’s something we’re still fighting to get recognised. Just to say ‘we are African’… We’re not just Haitian we are Africans in the Caribbean. That’s what I want to achieve.

Do you think it’s important to work with diaspora artists?

It’s really important. I think one thing we have even though everything is going so badly around the world is music. Music touches our spirits. It doesn’t matter if I have a different rhythm to you, music is our collective rhythm.



Even with my band we all have our different backgrounds, some people play jazz, we’re all from different countries, but it doesn’t matter when the music comes it’s as if our heart beats the same.

Which Haitian musicians should we be listening to?

Paul Beaubrun, Ded Kra-Z & Princess Eud: they’re performing here at Atlantic Music Expo. There’s so many that come to mind.

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What are you up to next?

My album The Brasil Session. We recorded last year in São Paulo and are releasing it in Montréal on May 12. After that we’ll have a few shows touring for the summer in Canada.




Think you’ll come back to Cape Verde?

I would love to come to Cape Verde again, I sense there are a lot of things that are really similar to Haïti.

Check out more here


Tiganá Santana is a Brazilian artist whose recently released album, Tempo & Magma was recorded in Senegal in 2015. He worked with a range of African musicians and Afro-Brazilian artists to create it.

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Have you been to Cape Verde before?

No this is the first time and I’m really glad to be here. Let’s make things happen and appear. I prefer it like that.

Where are you from?

I’m from Bahia, Salvador in Brazil.

Why did you record your last album in Senegal?

I had some sponsorship from an artistic residence programme from UNESCO. That’s why I went to Senegal. I stayed in a city around one hour and a half from the capital of Dakar. I lived there for almost five months. I met some very special people and musicians with whom I could record my album with.



It was a really strong experience. I’m still dealing with it now.

What’s the importance of singing in African dialects?

Let’s start with Brazilian history and the presence of the Bantu people and the descendants of the Bantu people in Brazil, who are especially from the countries that we now know as Congo and Angola.

These languages, Kikongo and Kimbundu are really present there. Their influences are deep-rooted in our grammar. It’s not only an oral thing it’s also the roots of our current language. So first of all, it’s not something far away from our history, from our social and existential tale.

I was born in Salvador, Bahia in which you can really recognise the African presence in Brazil. Like we say it’s one of the really black spots outside the African continent. It’s important to highlight this presence. Especially, considering our post-colonialist times, it’s really important to highlight this influence, this presence to be post-colonialist.



What are you up to next?

I don’t know about the future. But I will be in Paris, touring. I have a project with my partner Clara Domingas who is a visual artist, and Sebastian Notini who produced my two last albums. We are building a team for this new project. It’s an audio-visual project. We’re trying to offer a new audio-visual experience in a totally different way.

Check out more here

Find out more about Atlantic Music Expo

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