My birthday ended with shots of grogue at Jazzy Bird, a speakeasy-style basement where friendly owner Vou presides over the bar, with a huge poster of Évora and a tenor saxophone once owned by the late player Luis Morais mounted on the wall.
The following night, we were back at Jazzy Bird for a weekly music jam. Little did we know that we’d catch an intimate performance by Bau, one of the islands’ best-known musicians, who toured with Évora for years and whose song “Raquel” was featured in Pedro Almodóvar’s 2002 film “Talk to Her.” That night at Vou’s, Bau played guitar and a local performer named Kappa sang. Two songs struck a chord: a rendition of “Sodade” and a nameless morna that moved me to tears.
Early the next morning, with the morna still in my mind, we moved on by ferry to Santo Antao, an island known for its fertile valleys, pine-clad ridges and stark canyons. We spent the first night in end-of-the-road Ponta do Sol, a tiny town on the edge of the Atlantic, where the only music came courtesy of giant waves that crashed on the cliffs, beyond which lay . . . nothing.
On the second day, we headed to Paul valley, a lush landscape strewn with hamlets, flowers and fruit trees — breadfruit, banana, bougainvillea and sugarcane. (Paul is said to have the island’s best grogue.)
On a late afternoon meander through the valley, along a quiet country road that leads through the string of villages, we ran into a merry bunch of men, their good mood fueled by guitars and grogue. My husband and I must have been a curious sight in this middle-of-nowheresville, and a chitchat ensued, in Creole.
I couldn’t understand a word, until my husband and the merry bunch suddenly broke into song. It was the same tune by Paulino Vieira from my birthday dinner. Admittedly, they sounded quite out of tune — blame it on the grogue — so we bade them a friendly goodbye and left for a ramble up the valley.
A few hours later, we began our ascent along the footpath leading up to the inn where we were to spend the night. By the time we’d reached the middle of the path, night had fallen. We climbed slowly, carefully, guided by the moon and our cellphone light. The twinkle of the inn appeared still far up the hill when suddenly, at the point where two paths diverged on the hillside, there was the merry bunch again. Like long-lost friends, happy to see one another after a lengthy absence, my husband and the hillside crew broke into song again. Even I, not much of a singer, hummed along, in the bush, in the dark.
As we sang in the middle of that verdant valley on that moonlit night, I zoomed out. It was one of those rare moments when you manage to step outside yourself for a split second, to observe the scene as if from above. There we were, a pair of vagabonds on a hillside on a flyspeck in the mighty Atlantic, singing a morna with a couple of merry rambling strangers.
You know you’re in Cape Verde when everything turns into song.
Mutic, a New York-based travel writer, researched Cape Verde for the upcoming “Lonely Planet West Africa.” Her Web site is www.everthenomad.com.