Ask a Cape Verdean what makes their homeland so special and they’re likely to respond with one answer — fellowship.
It’s a surprising reply, especially considering how more Cape Verdeans live abroad than in the country itself. But centuries of emigration hasn’t weakened Cape Verdean culture. If anything, it’s strengthened it. The ties that bind Cape Verdeans together are many — music, food, dance — but underneath all that it’s the people. Their language. Their love of the islands. Their struggles as immigrants.
Saturday, June 21, dozens of Cape Verdeans gathered at the Waterbury Cape Verdean Social Club to share these stories with one another, enjoy music and celebrate their culture.
Today, more than 125,000 Cape Verdeans live in Connecticut. The towns of Norwich, New Haven, Bristol and Waterbury have particularly large populations due to a mid-20th century immigration boom.
Geographically, Cape Verde is an archipelago of twenty-one volcanic islands located about 300 miles off the western coast of Africa. The country boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but suffers from unpredictable dry spells, which make raising dependable crops notoriously difficult. The nation was under Portuguese control for more than 300 years, but gained its formal independence in 1975. The first multiparty elections took place in 1990. Portugal made a huge impact on the island, heavily influencing the country’s language, krioulo, which is a mix Africanize overlain with a heavy dose of Portuguese. Portuguese influences can also be found in the country’s music (morna), food and dance.
Today, Cape Verde’s economy continues to develop. Many in the Arab world and Europe see the islands as their own local “Bahamas” and investors from Dubai, Great Britain and many other countries have flocked to invest in beach developments and hotels. This economic growth helped push Cape Verde out of the category of Least Developed Countries and into the group of Middle Income Countries in January 2008. The country also recently joined the World Trade Organization.
Famous Cape Verdeans include pianist Horace Silver and singer Cesaria Evora, both of whom made invaluable contributions to international music.
Listen below for audio outtakes and interviews from the June 21st event.
Audio production and photography by Patrick Skahill and Tucker Ives.