distinguished people from cape verde

4 of The Most Distinguished People From Cape Verde

Despite a population of only half a million, Cape Verde has produced more than a few distinguished people from its island shores over the years. From writers, poets, musicians, to athletes, there are too many to fit into one article, so we’ve narrowed it down to 4. Within their chosen fields, these illustrious Cape Verdeans have stood out from the rest. Their achievements fan out from the close-knit tether of the islands, reaching all parts of the globe. Below are 4 of the most distinguished people from Cape Verde, whom the world has plenty to thank for their contributions.

1. Eugénio Tavares – Poet & Composer

Eugenio Tavares on a 2000 escudos note from Cabo Verde

Eugenio Tavares on a 2000 escudos note from Cape Verde

The first on the list of 4 most distinguished people from Cape Verde is Eugénio Tavares, who was born on the island of Brava to Portuguese parents in 1867. One of the earliest composers to be published in Cape Verde, he is credited with developing the Cape Verdean form of song and dance, morna. This style of song has its lyrics written in the native Kriolu, a kind of creolized Portuguese with a bit of African stirred in. The music can be likened most to the Brazilian samba, which mixed with Portuguese and African rhythms. A typical morna band will contain foremost guitars, which are strummed in a manner known as mãozada. Morna bands vary and can also contain solo instruments, such as a violin, clarinet or trumpet. There is also usually a percussion section populated with shakers and bongos. The morna is the national music of Cape Verde, but today its rhythms are heard worldwide.

Si ka badu, ka ta biradu – if you don’t leave, you won’t return-Eugénio Tavares

Tavares brushed off traditional melancholy themes associated with the national morna. Instead, he infused his songs with more serious if not romantic ideas. He wrote about the overpowering grief of love, not only between people but for the homeland too. He once tried to get himself educated in the USA, but returned home disillusioned and yearning for his native country.

Tavares was also an acclaimed poet and drew from Cape Verdean folklore for much of his material. He would write poetry both in Kriolu as well as classical Portuguese. His works include Cancao ao Mar (Song of the Sea), Amor Que Salva (The Love That Saves) and Mornas: Cantigas Crioulas (Mornas: Creole Songs). The latter is probably his most famous work and was published after his death. Like his music, Tavares chose expressive, romantic themes for his poetry.

Eugénio Tavares died on the island he was born, Brava, on January 6th, 1932, aged 62. On May 11th, 2017, Cape Verde commemorated the 150th anniversary of his birth.

2. Marcelino Manuel da Graça – Celebrity Preacher

Also originating from Brava Island was one of the first showman preachers of the modern age. Marcelino Manuel da Graça was born on January 25, 1881, one of nine children. In his preaching days he also went by the name, Charles Manuel ‘Sweet Daddy’ Grace, often shortened to Daddy Grace.

In the early 1900s, the da Graça family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Marcelina took on a few odd jobs, the last of which was railway cook. But cooking on trains wasn’t how he imagined his life to pan out. Perhaps God had spoken to him about his true calling because in 1919 he started referring to himself as Bishop Charles Manuel Grace. After saving $39, he used it to found the United House Of Prayer in Wareham, Massachusetts in 1921. Other branches followed over the years in Charlotte, North Carolina and Newark, New Jersey.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Bishop Grace trekked across America, preaching his brand of Christian evangelism. He even ventured into the segregated South.

One of his more controversial tenets was that God only spoke to one man at a time. He referenced the Bible, pointing to Noah, Moses, and Jesus as examples.

If you sin against God, Grace can save you, but if you sin against Grace, God cannot save you.-Marcelino Manuel da Graça

Wearing brash suits and jewelry, and his hair long, Bishop Grace cut a very theatrical figure. He even grew his fingernails two inches long and painted them red, white and blue. His act is believed to have influenced James Brown’s stage performance.

Grace didn’t refrain from calling himself a faith healer and was allegedly believed to have said that the only path to salvation was through him. He would baptize hundreds of frenzied followers at a time with a fire hose, charging a dollar each for the experience.

God was certainly kind to Bishop Grace financially. He became a very wealthy preacher not only through his church but by putting his name on products from toothpaste to face powders to cookies. His real estate portfolio included 42 mansions filled with works of art. He was not averse to being chauffeured around in Cadillacs either.

The United House of Prayer continued after Bishop Grace’s death in 1960, surviving the civil rights movements of that decade. Today, according to their official website, there are 145 United House of Prayer churches in the USA alone. During his heyday, Bishop Grace was able to muster 3 million followers; today there are estimated to be no more than 50,000.

3. Cesària Évora – Singer

Ceasaria Evora during a performance.

Ceasaria Evora during a performance.

Dubbed the ‘Barefoot Diva’ because of her penchant for performing without shoes, Cesària Évora was born in Mindelo, Sao Vicente in 1941. Her father was a violinist who died when Évora was seven. Her mother, a cook, unable to raise all six children, sent her daughter to the local orphanage. Here the young Évora got her first taste of singing in the orphanage choir. When she became a teenager she would sing in the local taverns for a couple of drinks, always while holding a cigarette. Évora’s chain-smoking would later lead to health problems.

In the 1960s she took to singing on Portuguese cruise ships which would stop at Mindelo. Her specialty was to sing the native morna ballads in its Kriolu vernacular. These songs would tell of love and loss, poverty and slavery, all of which are strong Cape Verdean themes. Her voice was husky and rich in contralto, which helped emphasize a typical Cape Verdean sense of longing, or sodade, in her mornas. It has often been likened to the voice of Billie Holliday, of whom Évora was a big fan.

Her reputation soon gained momentum and she was invited to sing for Cape Verdean radio. But unable to make a living out of singing, Évora abandoned her music career in the 1970s. She did return to record on an anthology of Cape Verdean singers in Lisbon in 1985. This led to a chance break in 1988 when Cape Verdean producer, José da Silva, listened to her contribution and asked her to record an album in Paris. ‘La Diva aux Pieds Nus’, which blended morna with pop, sparked her international success.

Cesària Évora recorded and toured extensively throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Her concerts sold out in Lisbon and Paris, and she would later expand her itinerary to the rest of Europe and the Americas.

After her first two albums, Évora would return to a more traditional morna sound. She also added Cuban and Brazilian songs to her repertory. Her 2003 album, ‘Voz d’Amor’ won a Grammy for best contemporary world music album.

Évora went on to become one of Africa’s most internationally successful artists. Part of her act was to get the band to play an instrumental while she drank a cognac and smoked a cigarette. But she was no prima donna, always remembering her poor upbringing, despite achieving great wealth. She sang barefoot because her mother could not afford to buy her shoes as a child.

May God always keep us this way in peace, love and affection.-Cesaria Evora

In 2009, she became the first Cape Verdean to be made a knight of the French Legion of Honour. Her native country also recognized her by putting her image on both a stamp and a 2000 Escudos banknote. An airport in Cape Verde is named after her and also displays her statue.

Cesària Évora worked hard, recording albums every couple of years, with lengthy tours between. In 2005 her health started to decline. She suffered a heart attack in 2010, but kept on performing – and smoking right up until three months before her death in 2011 as a result of respiratory failure. In recognition of her contribution to world music, the Cape Verdean government declared two days of national mourning after her death.

4. Henrique Teixeira de Sousa – Doctor & Writer

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa depicted on a 200 Cabo Verdean escudos note.

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa depicted on a 200 Cape Verdean escudos note.

Although he trained as a medical doctor, Henrique Teixeira de Sousa is remembered best as one of Cape Verde’s foremost literary authors. He wrote four novels, as well as several short stories and essays.

Henrique was born on September 6th, 1919 on the volcanic island of Fogo. His father plied the seas between Brava Island and Fogo, eventually settling on Fogo and marrying Henrique’s mother.

At 17, while still at school, Henrique published his first short story. Titled, ‘The Rain Is Our Governor’, and written in Crioulo, it’s regarded as a thinly veiled protest against the Portuguese colonial rule of the time.

Shortly after, Henrique went on to study medicine in Portugal, graduating with a medical degree in 1945. After an initial stint practicing in East Timor, Indonesia, he returned as a doctor to his native island of Fogo in 1950. Later he would practice medicine in Sao Vicente, where he also became mayor of Mindelo in the 1960s.

Henrique Teixeira de Sousa worked conscientiously as a doctor, but he was also a gifted writer and devoted himself to this passion too. He finished writing his first novel, ‘Isle of Contention’, on the eve of the overthrow of the colonial regime. By then Teixeira de Sousa was already an immigrant in Lisbon, where he would remain until his death in 2006. This debut novel dealt with the gradual decline of Cape Verde’s European landed gentry. His second novel, ‘Captain of Sea and Land’, published in 1984, addressed Cape Verdeans’ deep association with the sea.

Teixeira de Sousa reversed a traditional theme of escaping the archipelago’s economic adversities in his third novel. The Xaguate Hotel, published in 1988, dealt with emigrants returning home to Cape Verde. His last novel, Djunga, published a year later, is often regarded as the great Cape Verdean novel, set after independence from colonial rule.

To this day Henrique Teixeira de Sousa remains one of Cape Verdes’ greatest literary icons. He is read throughout the Portuguese-speaking world.

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