National Geographic : 2004 Jun
PAWTUCKET, RHODE ISLAND A simple love song, perhaps, but it's part of a larger, more complicated romance: the bittersweet nostalgia of self-imposed exile. Sodadi, Cape Verdeans call it longing. Or triste alegria-sadhappiness. Economic necessity may have driven them from their home and keeps them from moving back, but their hearts remain in the islands. "It's wanting to stay but having to go," Galvao says. "It's sad because you're leaving, but happy because you're going to opportunity." Cape Verdeans have been coming to Pawtucket in increasing numbers since U.S. immigration quotas were raised in the 1960s, drawn by manufacturing jobs and affordable rents. Most of Pawtucket's Cape Verdeans work in factories housed in 19th-century textile mills, live near by in clapboard homes erected for earlier generations of immigrants, and grow flower and vegetable gardens as an echo of the family plots they left behind. If they can afford the airfare, they return home in the summer. If they can't, they return through music you hear every where in the neighborhood: The melody of a live guitar, or tunes on a Cape Verdean radio program, drifting out of a kitchen window; drumbeats as members of the Sons of Brava social club grind corn for a festival honoring Sao Joao Baptista, Brava's patron saint; CDs of songs recorded locally, then sold worldwide. Pulonga'l Bita and his band, Amigos para Sempre, lounge on an old sofa in a cramped basement studio after recording traditional African-influenced roots music called batuqueand funana.It's the music of poor country people, so unvarnished it was forbidden in pre independence Cape Verde. "If you played that in the city, the Portuguese was going to put you in jail," says accor dionist Zito'l Code, who performs to the metallic beat of a ferinhu-aniron bar tapped and scraped with a butter knife. Bita, who looks a little like a hip-hop star-with his earrings, backward baseball cap, and upside down sun glasses-describes batuque on his home island of Sao Tiago. "The people go like that," he says, alternately slapping one thigh and then the other to produce a muf fled snap that resembles the canter of a far-off horse. "And they dance all night." Bita has turned batuque to contemporary themes in a series of songs about a Cape Verdean immigrant who is rejected by a girl because of Faith and family unite in a first Communion celebration for seven year-old Alicia Almeida. She dresses with her mother, then touches the gold necklace of her grandmother, who taught her Kriolu and gave her the traditional "black ball" charm that many Cape Verd eans believe wards off evil. Solemn in her Catholic procession, Alicia later skips home to feast on kanja, a favored island soup.