Her first album, Ora doci, Ora margos (Sweet Moment, Bitter Moments) proved a success when it was released in 2015. Now Elida Almeida brings us Kebrada, a collection of all of her new songs following the spring 2017 release of a six-track EP whose Cabo Verdean Creole title, Djunta Kudjer (Putting Our Spoons Together), means becoming united in friendship, solidarity or even love.
Combining various genres and inspirations, the twelve tracks on the new album explore the traditions of the Sahel archipelago, a port of call for sailors crossing the Atlantic. With Elida, we set off on a voyage, too, from nostalgic ballads (Forti Dor, the story of son who died because he fell in with a bad crowd, or Nlibra di Bo, a song about separation that has a very Cuban touch) to the energy of batuque (N’Kreu), funanà (Grogu Kaba) and tabanka (Bersu d’Oru) beats.
Packed with pop references and echoes of islands across the Atlantic, the young singer’s style is extremely international. Winner of the 2015 RFI (Radio France Internationale) Discoveries Prize, the 24-year-old Elida Almeida learned the art of fusion as she toured the globe from Côte d’Ivoire to Haiti, Paris and Cuba. The new pearl of Cabo Verde has a powerful appetite, curiosity, a ton of good humor and an equal measure of determination.
Born on February 15, 1993 on the island of Santiago, Elida Almeida was raised by her grandparents in the little village of Kebrada, a remote, mountainous spot near to Pedra Badejo in the east of the capital island. “A place with no roads or electricity” where the only connection with the outside world was battery-powered radios, but where there was genuine happiness to be found. At the age of 14, Elida moved to the island of Maio with its vast stretches of sand, salt marshes, beaches and pearly waves. There, she helped her mother to sell fruit and vegetables in the market of Vila do Maio, also known as Porto Ingles (the English Port).
Chosen among the ten islands of the archipelago by fate, Santiago was the land of Elida Almeida’s roots; Maio the isle of her emancipation. When she became a mother at 17, she continued her studies. In the heat of Maio, she also presented a show on local radio and refined her musical culture. To improve her vocal technique, she practiced church singing. Determined and keen to defend the right to education, Elida left the rural world to write songs of love and empathy.
At a concert in Praia (having doubts, she had prudently enrolled to study “multimedia communication at university”), she met José da Silva, founder of the Lusafrica label, and sent him her songs “apprehensively, as a female songwriter in a country with so many great artists”. She recorded Ora doci, Ora margos in 2014. Her freshness and warmth of voice won immediate success. The track Nta Konsigui, which she had written at the age of 17, subsequently featured in the highly popular Portuguese TV serial A Unica Mulher.
If a ‘golden cradle’ exists, Elida Almeida was not born to it, but fashioned it herself with elegant obstinacy. Enjoying complete freedom as she crafted her Bersu d’Oru, Elida Almeida chose a more obscure beat: tabanka. Used during carnival celebrations on the island of Santiago, tabanka became the symbol of the country’s struggle for independence. Today, it expresses a joyous, colorful assertion of African identity. On the track, she namedrops relentlessly: Manuzinhu, Sema Lopi, Nha Nacia, Katxàs, Norbetu… “I grew up surrounded by those ancestral masters of tabanka and often dreamed of having met them, of having danced with them. Tabanka is a tradition that was originally developed to get around the colonial power’s ban on African beats and instruments.” Each year, black kings and queens defy the white masters, revel in their transgressions and revive black splendor in a grand carnival.
Although the tradition – which evolved in various forms over the different islands – is tending to disappear, Elida Almeida captures, digests and transforms it with the help of her guitarist and arranger Hernani Almeida. She draws on her environment with precision and lightheartedness. “My songs are inspired by my own experiences. Such as Sapatinha, which is about the nursery rhymes of my childhood when I woke up at cock crow. Sometimes I put myself in the place of other people, for instance a woman who is the victim of domestic violence in Kontam.” There are also songs about the ravages of grog (the local rum), Grogu Kaba, and the return of a migrant in Nta Fasi Kusa. Then there is the eternal figure of the mother, who loves and sometimes punishes, but also gives affectionate advice.
Recorded with the musicians who back the singer on stage – Hernani Almeida (guitars), Nelida da Cruz (bass), Diego Gomes (keyboards) and Magik Santiago (drums), Kebrada also features a few distinguished guests, especially Vincent Segal on cello, the sons of Codé di Dona on gaita and ferrinho, and accordionist Regis Gizavo in one of his final recordings.