Carmen Souza's music combines traditional folklore with jazz. Her tendency to mix up musical ingredients inspired her to name her current album after the Cape Verdean national dish, the spicy stew cachupa.
Souza was born to Cape Verdean parents but grew up in Portugal, where she was exposed not only to the Creole dialect but also the traditional sounds of her forefathers. The Cape Verde region has much to offer musically; each island has developed its own individual identity, incorporating elements from other countries brought back by the indigenous seafaring people. For example, on Santiago the Funana and West African-influenced Tabanka dominate, while Sao Vicente is geared more towards the samba-esque coladeira.
A vocal journey
And it’s from all of these diverse elements that Carmen Souza has developed her own particular "cachupa style," which incorporates a liberal splash of jazz. "Cachupa has just as many ingredients as my music," she says with a laugh, adding, "The parallels are unmistakable." And it was with this mix that Souza went on tour, singing, joking, whispering and generally playing up to the audience throughout the Cape Verde region - clearly having fun along the way.
The predominantly jazz-oriented album "Kachupada" is also interwoven with African influences, as Souza herself explains: "Kids like us, born to Cape Verdean parents but growing up in Portugal, we have a different cultural background. Of course we all carry a part of the island within us, but we also draw on the influences and experiences of our new home."
Souza has given her work such a personal stamp that native Cape Verdeans are heralding it as a completely new genre, something which the 31-year-old regards as an honor. "Purists of Cape Verdean melodies won’t get very far with me," she says with a grin, "But more open-minded people pick up on the swing of the islands and can identify with it."
Carmen Souza doesn’t just play with melodies but also with the idiosyncratic phonetics of the Creole dialiect. "For example, the criolo from Santo Antao, which is the very lush, green island where my parents come from, is very melodic. Santiago on the other hand is very dry and you can hear that in the language; the words are much rougher," she says. This diversity between the islands is reflected in the breadth of Souza's music; her album serves as a kind of aural island-hopping.
"Life is often hard enough - I don't think you need to make it harder with sad thoughts," says Souza, whose music tends to be upbeat, "In many ways I'm like a sunflower; I always turn towards the light. The same can be said for my music. I want to give warmth and joy to whoever listens."
After her recent concert appearance in Bonn, Carmen Souza took the opportunity to visit the world-famous Beethoven House, birthplace of the composer. "That was a once in a lifetime experience being able to see his handwritten sheet music," she explains, "And reassuring in a way to see that even a genius like him often scrubbed out whole passages of music that he wasn't happy with."
A decade on stage
Souza was 21 years old when she first appeared on stage; that was at a concert in London, and her mentor then was Portuguese performer Theo Pas'cal, still responsible for guiding her career today. The guitarist and double bass player first discovered her talent in Portugal when she still sang as part of a choir. He proved very influential; not only did her convince her to strike out as a solo artist but he also introduced her to jazz, opening the door to a new musical world for the singer.
Since then the pair have been inseparable, an experienced team willing to go in new directions. Souza doesn't just sing, she also plays guitar and piano, and rounding out the numbers in the Cachupada quartet are the Nigerian Jonathan Idiagbonya and American musician Maurico Zottarelli.
Into the mix
Carmen Souza incorporates many different flavours and feelings on Kachupada; everything from the mundane gossip of neighbours ("Manha 1 de Dezembro") to the tragic story of a man unjustly jailed for six years ("6 on na Tarrafal"). She references life's occasional superficiality on "Easy Life," while "Donna Lee" and "My Favorite Things" are tributes to her heroes Charlie Parker and Richard Rogers.
Just the right mix of diverse ingredients, in fact, to do justice to the humble cachupa which inspires her sound.