About a year ago, the Cape Verdean government decided to set up a day celebrating Batuku, on July 31st, the same day as African Women’s Day. Less famous on the international scene than the emblematic Funana, and the Morna of Cesaria Evora, Batuku is nevertheless probably the oldest genre of Cape Verdean music.
Let’s find out what is Batuku ?
According to local stories, Batuku was born with the arrival of the first African slaves on the Cape Verde islands and more particularly on the island of Santiago, the closest to the mainland coast and probably the one where African influence is felt most strongly.
Women being less solicited at work than men, they found in Batuku not only a pastime, but also a means of expression beyond the repression suffered. Seated together, they all beat in rhythm on a cloth placed between their thighs thus creating this rhythm coming from their souls. Batuku is performed in a rhythm of time binary but with a ternary division, marked by the percussion of the «xabetas» and «palmas» accompanied by the monochord «cimboa», to which a group of women sings and dances «ku tornu» with their waist and hips.
B De Bela Vista - Nha Marido
However, this practice was quickly prohibited by the Portuguese during all the colonial period, because it was considered contrary to the Portuguese Christian values and as a sensual provocation of the women towards the men.
Yet the Batuku has secretly continued to live through the Cape Verdean people and their souls, under the oppression. Indeed, as soon as the country became independent in 1975, people and mostly women began to play batuku again. At a time when there was neither television nor electricity everywhere, especially among rural people, Batuku became a moment of sociability on the scale of a small village or a neighborhood. Most of the time, it was played between women in front of their homes. Elders and youngers were all gathered playing, singing, and dancing a scarf tied at the waist. Contrary to the sexualized idea of the Portuguese settlers, this scarf at the waist is the same one used by women to carry their children on their backs and to cover their hair when they were working. It symbolizes modesty, hard work, and courage of the Cape Verdean woman, values that are still convicted in Batuku music nowadays.
The social force of Batuku is also found in the texts sung to the rhythm and in the group itself. It is a true mirror of Cape Verdean society and women’s life. Indeed, the songs are about family, emigrant family, daily life, nostalgia for the «Tempo Antigo» (old times), the different steps of life, relationships, politics, and Cape Verdean identity.
As Cape Verdean, when we listen to it we can all feel those feelings of sacrifice, struggle, and solidarity that never disappeared from the Batukadeiras souls. Organized in a group, they each have a specific role. The seated women play the Xabeta, one or more other women dance, and the leader of the group, the one who declaims meaningful texts, stands in the center.
Today Batuku has gone beyond the borders of the villages, even if it obviously remains anchored there. Some of these groups have become professional singers and musicians such as Balila and Bibinha Cabral two of the oldest singers. Tradison di Terra and its magnificent singer Tareza Fernades is also one of the most famous.
Tareza Fernades - Tradison di Terra
Also, the Batuku was popularized abroad by one of the greatest Cape Verdean artists Gil Semedo, with the title Maria Julia which has become a true national anthem, or even with Madonna who collaborated in 2020 with a group of Batukadeiras living in Portugal.
Gil Semedo - Maria Julia
Therefore it was obvious that a national tribute should be paid to this art born in the roots of the country. And what better occasion than the African Women’s Day for that celebration. Indeed, valuing Batuku means the valorization of the strong women of our country.
Crédit photo : Ben do Rosario
The author :
Marry Correia Semedo is an 18 year old student at Sciences Po Paris in the Europe-Africa program. She is interested in international relations, foreign cultures and especially African ones. She is passionate about writing, literature, debate and music. Being very curious since childhood and steeped in Franco-Cape Verdean culture, music has always been present in her life. She chose to write about “Batuku” because it is a symbolic music in her culture. Despite its prohibition during colonization, Cape Verdean women managed to preserve it, and this article pays homage to this music.
This article is the result of a collaborative project between #AuxSons and Alejandro Abbud Torres Torija, professor at Sciences Po Paris Campus Reims, and regular contributor to #AuxSons. As part of the course «Sounds of the world: music as a mirror of intimacy and the collective», international students from Sciences Po Paris Campus Reims looked at the links between music from the four corners of the world and sociopolitical issues.