‘Space Echo’: How a Shipwreck Full of Synthesizers Birthed a ‘Cosmic Sound’ in 1970s Africa

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As the generalization of “World” and “African” music begins to fade, and the diversity of sounds found across the African continent begin to rightfully establish their individuality, there has never been a better time to explore the plethora of sounds from the cradle of civilization. One might even go so far as to describe the re-discovery of decades-old futuristic sounds from Africa as a full-blown trend.

One such example of a home to a distinct regional sound is Cabo Verde, a 10-island archipelago and former Portuguese colony sitting 350 miles off the coast of West Africa. Equally influenced culturally by both Africa and Europe, it’s status as a key port in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and its successors make it fertile ground for the blending of disparate cultures that often make revolutionary art.

From early on in the 20th centry, the oppressive colonial Portuguese government was only mildly fascist; The “Estado Novo,” the corporatist authoritarian regime that ended in 1968, was militarily inspired by Mussolini’s Italy. But it was particularly censorious of non-religious art and culture, especially that which could be considered inherently African. Independence from Portugal in 1975 brought an explosion of new music, and with the reigns of colonial oppression finally shed, new voices and sounds could finally have room to breathe and grow.

One such voice, Paulino Vieira, was a master arranger and composer who led the Voz De CaboVerde band, one of the definitive groups of the island nation. The story of how he and his contemporaries expanded their palates to make some of the most distinctive space age music ever made—sounds that feel futuristic even 40 years later—is one that rivals even the most fantastical of myths.

According to the German label Analog Africa, the story of Cabo Verde’s musical renaissance starts in the spring of 1968, when a cargo ship full of instruments made by the top companies in the nascent market for electronic instruments—Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond, and Korg—embarked on a journey from Baltimore to Rio De Janeiro, where the Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico Exhibition was soon to take place. The expo was a new event, where the leading companies went to showcase their newest synthesizers and musical gadgets to a burgeoning South American market. But the ship never made it to Rio; it was lost at sea, only turn up 8km inland on the Sao Nicolau island of Cabo Verde, absent any crew, but filled with boxes and boxes of brand-new, top-of the line electronic instruments. In their telling of the island’s lore, Analog Africa credits anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral with the equal distribution of the instruments across the country in places with electricity, which placed many of them in schools, and in the hands of curious children.

Paulino Vieira was one of those children, and would go on to develop and proselytize the vibes now known as “The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde.” Eight of the 15 songs presented in Space Echo: The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed, Analog Africa’s latest compilation, were recorded with Vieira’s Voz de CaboVerde as the backing band. This collection spans the years in the late ’70s and early ’80s when synthesizers facilitated the modernization of local styles and rhythms such as Mornas, Coladeras and Funaná—which had been specifically banned by the Estada Novo until 1975, supposedly due to its “sensuality.”

Sonically, most of the songs on the compilation are built on repetitive rhythm sections that give freedom for wildness from disco guitars, space synthesizers, and rapid-fire minor percussion. It’s at once spiritual and easy to dance to. The highlight is the compilation’s opener, António Sanches’ “Pinta Manta,” which builds on a simple but relentless guitar riff with a soaring synth melody that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Gary Numan record. Unlike the last Analog Africa release, the incredible Senegal 70 , some of these songs have already been released (“Pinta Manta” in particular), but the quality of this pressing is impeccable and therefore can be deemed quite necessary.

Space Echo: The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed drops today; you can preview it here. The CD includes 44-page booklet with extensive liner notes. A purchase grants the present of basking in the sounds of a future past.