You know it’s strange how if two people visit the exact same place at the exact same time they won’t have the same experience or see the same things.
Case in point: earlier in the year we took a drive a little further along the coast than usual to Margate. Now, I knew there was a fairly fabled record shop in the town and I was curious to check it out. I remember the vibe, the range and the purchases I made and having to run down the street with the little guy in my arms hoping the food place on the corner would have a toilet he could use.
My wife remembers the music that was playing, I don’t. She shazamed it and it keeps appearing on our Spotify as she listens to it while working at home. So I start listening to it…
Now here we are at the twist of fate element because as much as I’m enjoying the album – Space Echo: the Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde* – the story behind it, the ‘mystery’ is one of my favourite ever.
It’s 1968; a ship leaves Baltimore harbour headed for Rio de Janeiro. It’s a calm, steady sea, the containers it carries are safely secure and this March sailing should not be noteworthy. Except, later that same day, the ship vanishes. Disappearing from radar without a trace.
Skip forward to a few months later and the villagers of Cachaço on the island of Sao Nicolau, Cabo Verde -an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa – are appropriately gobsmacked and confused when they find… a ship. Somehow marooned, the crew nowhere to be seen. Oh, I should probably point out that they were gobsmacked and confused because Cachaço is 8km inland from the coast.
After much back and forth between the village elders and local authorities it’s decided that the containers should be opened and a team of welders arrive on the scene, getting to work while the locals await with baited breath – presumably still scratching their heads and wondering where the hell this fucking great big ship came from. Well, the only certainty is that it came from Baltimore, having set sail in March of that year. We know that because of it’s cargo. Turns out it’s containers are full of gear from Korg, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Rhodes which had been en route to an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro (the first such of its kind) before it mysteriously vanished.
We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of the very latest and best keyboards and synths available at the time. Seemingly fallen from the sky, into a village with no electricity. In fact, this is what was believed to be the origin of the ship; “fell from the sky”. Aside from the bloody great big crater that had appeared underneath the field it was in, those physicists and scientists drafted in to explain it came up with the same theory! Then, perhaps less scientifically, I don’t know – you have to remember that this was 1968 – someone claimed there were ‘cosmic’ particles on the ship’s hull. Apparently the bow also showed evidence of extreme heat. You know; like a meteor that had fallen to earth.
Origins aside – the cargo was commandeered by the local police and stored in a church. I imagine at the time the locals were more than a bit disappointed – a bounty of seemingly amazing treasure falls in their lap and a) the lack of electricity makes it useless and b) the fuzz decide to lock it all up.
Now, in 1968 Cabo Verde was still, along with Portuguese Guinea, a colony of Portugal. A chap called Amílcar Cabral and a group of fellow Cape Verdeans and Guineans were fucking furious about this to say the least. Some years prior they’d formed the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). Acts of sabotage eventually erupted into full scale conflict and the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence in 1963. This would eventually lead to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau achieving independence.
So, back to Cabo Verde and that shit load of synths. At this point large tracts of Guinea-Bissau are, despite the presence of Portuguese troops and authority figures, under PAIGC control. Not so much Cabo Verde but the writing is starting to show on the wall. Amílcar Cabral** decides ‘arseholes’ to the police commandeering the haul. He announces that they should be distributed equally amongst those schools on the islands that had electricity.
Overnight a generation of young children got their hands on the very latest musical equipment. According to the legend any of those children that came into contact with the equipment inherited amazing musical abilities. I’ll take that with a pinch of salt but then I’m something of a cynical bastard. I’d say it’s more likely down to kids having a much stronger and untarnished sense of rhythm. Either way the effects of this sudden take up – according to the label behind the release, at least – had a massive role in inspiring the explosion of electrified sounds that emerged from Cabo Verde following its independence in 1975.
All these instruments helped bring to life and modernise traditional, indigenous fold music – some of which had been forbidden under Portuguese governance – and enthusing them with salsa-beats, trippy, futuristic sounds and rhythms that made for a truly unique and compelling sound that’s brilliantly compiled on Space Echo: the Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde. As a bonus it makes for a great listen while the summer sun and heat is burning away too.
Now that is one hell of an origin story, isn’t it?! A whole musical scene and shift and generations turned on to and absorbed by music by one of the strangest twists of fate.
I’ll drop a few below along with the Spotify link for the album, should you be so inclined. Well worth an explore.
*Perhaps a little out of the usual Alternative / Rock stuff you may be used to expecting on this blog but variety and life’s spices and all of that…
**Amílcar Cabral, born in 1924, was a well-educated agricultural engineer. A poet, theoretician who turned revolutionary and became one of Africa’s leading anti-colonial leaders whose legacy would reach far and wide long after his assassination in 1973.