One of the highlights of our cruise around the island nation of Cape Verde was a visit to a guitar-maker's shop in Mindelo, on Sao Vicente. Here, four brothers, the Baptistas, stood in the half-light of a small shed and played the sweetest melodies for us (video above). They were all brothers of Bau, a Cape Verdean musician who plays internationally, and sons of a famous guitar-maker.
The Baptista brothers have carried on their father's trade. The owner of the shop, Luis, explained how they soak pine wood in water to form the instruments' graceful curves. Then, at the nudging of our guide, whom you can see dancing near the end of the video, Luis played us a song. The music seemed to capture the easy-breezy languor of the island life. Men from around the neighborhood leaned in through the windowsill of the workshop. Another man draped his arm over the door. A small dog wandered into the room and curled up for a nap.
The song the men sang was called "Soldade," by famous Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora. She's also called "the barefoot diva" for her habit of singing without shoes on--and for her lack of pretension even as she achieved world renown. Évora is particularly famous for her mornas, songs that give voice to an emotion called saudade. This word has no direct translation in English, but as I understand it, saudade is a feeling of deep longing for someone or something that is forever gone. It's the ache that pools in your chest when you truly miss someone.
Throughout the Cape Verde islands, I saw cafés, bars, and even convenience stores named "Sodade" or "Saudade." Our guides also talked about this emotion with passion, explaining that it is an essential part of life in Cape Verde, where so many people have left to search for a better existence in the U.S. or in Europe. I've thought about what is means to be able to collectively share this yearning feeling of sadness or melancholy--how it makes it less lonely and less dark. Through music, this heartache becomes a kind of bittersweet celebration.