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Transition 103 goes to Cape Verde

By Geoff Wisner

Most of the latest issue of the magazine Transitionis devoted to the art and literature of Cape Verde, the drought-stricken archipelago, once a colony of Portugal, that lies some 350 miles off the west coast of Africa.

The hundred-odd pages in the Cabo Verde section of the issue were assembled by Carla Martin, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard. She contributes a helpful introduction, a co-translation of a long poem by Danny Spínola, and a profile of the singer Cesária Évora, who is probably the best-known Cape Verdean in the world.

The profile is one of the highlights of the section, and the issue as a whole. Sympathetic and well-written, it draws on Martin’s considerable knowledge of Cape Verde and its language as well of Évora herself.

Martin explains that she first met Évora in 2004 at the singer’s home in Mindelo on the island of São Vicente, then joined her world tour “as a researcher, translator, and glorified groupie.” She deftly describes Évora’s impoverished upbringing, the musical styles she mastered, and the development of her image as a “barefoot diva” known for interrupting her concerts with an onstage break for a cigarette and a drink.

Having covered the one Cape Verdean artist we are likely to know, Martin makes an effort to bring the work of lesser-known artists into the light. The results are mixed.

“Dilinha,” Spínola’s long creation-myth poem, is energetic and sensual, but many of the words left untranslated from Cape Verdean Creole are omitted from the unalphabetized glossary at the end. Russell G. Hamilton contributes a detailed review of the country’s literature as well as a translation of a chapter from The Fantastic Island by Germano Almeida (whose novel The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo I wrote about here.) Unfortunately, the translation is so rough that the two texts seem to come from different authors.

With whatever woman he danced Uncle Maninho did not forego enjoying the feeling of her breasts pressed against his chest and causing nipples to harden. And when the music was a traditional morna he would require the following from the ladies: head to head, like an indolent person suddenly bitten by a tick!

Uneven though it is, this special section of Transition succeeds in its goal of drawing attention to work that is largely unknown to English-language readers. It also features photos and artwork by Cape Verdeans, of which my favorite are the bold, messy paintings of Abraão Vicente, which resemble Rorschach blots given life.

Published Dec 2, 2010   Copyright 2010 Geoff Wisner

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