A collection of early electronica from Cabo Verde, Synthesize the Soul boasts impressive range, rhythm, and pure island spirit.
It feels like there’s been a rush on the national archives of Cabo Verde lately. No fewer than three major releases of vintage music have been mined from the island nation in the past year alone, letting loose a flood of rural revolution (on last year’s Bitori anthology Legend of Funaná) and old-school future funk (on Analog Africa compilation Space Echo). The styles on Synthesize the Soul fall squarely into the later category. Pulled from the 1970s and 1980s, the artists featured on this latest compilation play with early electronics and the catchy beats so common in all genres of Cabo Verdean music to make dance music that is simultaneously of its time and ahead of it.
Cabo Verde won its independence from Portugal in 1975, and, as is typically the case for nations coming out from under the thumb of European colonization, found itself a nation in poverty. The synthesizer -- relatively cheap and easy to come by -- became a symbol of moving forward and a new way of creating the infectious sounds embedded in the Cabo Verdean culture. For Cabo Verdean musicians immigrating to other countries, synthpop became a natural part of their musical landscape, something new to weave into their sounds with the changing times. The tracks on Synthesize the Soul have that distinct national flavor, rhythm-centric and repetitive, and a universal appeal that comes from strong beats and simple, compelling melodies. The synths add an extra otherworldliness to tradition, a juxtaposition that gets more interesting with more listens.
Island music always has something unique about it, isolated as its development is from a good deal of mainland influence. Cabo Verde’s has a passing familiarity with Iberian, Latin, and West African music, but tracks like Manuel Gomes’s "Jelivrà Bo Situaçon" usher in Atlantic breezes and plucky guitar sounds that feel like sunshine and saltwater, while Tam Tam 2000’s "Melhor Futuro" sounds like a nighttime beach party with just a hint of nautical melancholy.
Range is vital to Synthesize the Soul; some songs barely touch electronics -- Bana’s softly brassy "Canta Cu Alma Magoada" is a masterpiece that sticks mostly with horns and fado-esque guitar, Dionisio Maio’s croons dominate "Mie Fogo" and allow for few synthetic gracenotes -- while others go all-out. Val Xalino’s "Dança Dança T’Manche" spikes the punch with tightly wound new wave sounds, giving brightly colored Afropop a chrome finish that makes for a thrilling track. Kola’s "Lameirao" and Elisio Gomes and Joachim Varela’s "Chuma Lopes" favor more distinctly Cabo Verdean melodies played through synthesizers, adding superhuman energy to already upbeat songs. Tulipa Negra’s "Corpo Limpo" takes an updated approach to rural funaná, a perfect reflection of the era’s modern culture, balancing rapid growth and roots.
Though groundbreaking artist Paulino Vieira contributes to the majority of songs on the album, every track offers something entirely new to the collection. There are two tracks from the psychedelically minded Pedrinho, whose grasp on integrating synths into acoustic dance music is near perfect and makes his songs sound like they could fill stadiums. There are experimental freakouts, sharp trumpets, hypnotic drums, and wild distortions (the Cabo Verde Show excels at these on the jazzy, instrumental "Nova Coladeira"). If Cabo Verdean musicians have done it, Ostinato Records has found the best of it and put it all in one place on Synthesize the Soul.