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July 18, 2008

Tcheka's New Spin on the Cape Verde Sound

Tcheka
Tcheka in "island country" mode.
Photo: chazz.eu

by John Oseid

In this corner, Cape Verde. In that corner, Cuba.

Cuba has 30 times the population of Cape Verde, but in a musical matchup, the tiny Atlantic archipelago nation packs a punch as hard as the Caribbean island powerhouse. Even the most casual of music fans has heard of the superstar singer Cesaria Evora. Of late, though, a new generation of CVs are touring the world, eclipsing Cubans as the darlings of the worldwide music scene. (I'll share a few of the hottest ones with you over time.)

Last weekend, the up-and-coming artist Tcheka performed for the first time at the intimate Joe's Pub, which just celebrated its tenth year as the New York City venue for international stars. In a soft voice, he sang his own Portuguese Kriolu ballads, which reflect the rural roots of his homeland--call it island country. The handsome performer also invents rhythms that depart from the melancholic morna style of music that made the Cape Verde sound famous. His mean acoustic guitar work gives some tunes a folk rock attitude.

On his new album Lonji, Tcheka adds jazzy brass elements that lift up the gorgeous song "Sabu," and the accordion on "Tuti Santiagu" lends a cabaret touch. His 2006 album Nu Monda comes with a concert DVD filmed in Lisbon. Tcheka has some lovely videos uploaded on his MySpace page, and a brief text explains the African percussive influences in his music.

Lastly, a quick shout out to Tcheka's label Times Square Records, which has impressed me for years. Each of the dozen or so international performers on its roster is a major artist in his/her respective genre.

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