CAPE VERDE: Volcano Video Report

Cape Verde’s Fogo island is one massive stratovolcano – and it’s still active

The island was in fact even bigger – what we’re standing on above is just one part that remained after a devastating partial collapse 73,000 years ago saw one side of the volcano slide in an vast avalanche of rocks down into the Atlantic. That seismic event caused a megatsunami more than 150m high that dredged boulders from the sea floor and deposited them up into the inland hills of next-door Santiago island, Cape Verde’s biggest and home to the current capital, Praia.

Pico do Fogo

Looking into Pico do Fogo’s crater

The climb from the crater, at 1800m, up a kilometre to the top of the island chain at 2829m, took us about three hours, tramping through ash and scrabbling up sharp rock. From the top, wide Atlantic views ranged out in every direction and Fogo island itself spread out below us, as you can see in the video above.

Casa Marisa is built on top of the most recent lava flows

From there we also noticed the new dwellings being built on the lava flows from 2014, as you can see in the photo. Ingeniously, this gives Casa Marisa (pictured above), a costless way of providing hot water and underfloor heating as it simply runs the pipes through the warm rocks the buildings stand on.

One house swallowed by the 2014 eruption

This is what the people of Chã das Caldeiras had to contend with four years ago, as the eruption poured out rivers of lava that careered into the houses in the crater. The building in the photo above would have stood a storey-high before the eruption but now the road runs right past its roof. Some houses were crushed entirely; solidified bubbles of black rock ooze out of the windows of others. There were no deaths in 2014 as small earthquakes before the eruption gave warning of what was to come.

But the villagers have come back, and they are a special people who feel removed from the other Fogo islanders living in the main towns or on the outer slopes of the volcano. They live up in the astounding, dusty beauty of the caldeira, under some of the darkest skies in the world, their roof of a billion stars and the perfect, looming cone of Pico do Fogo.

Older lava flows on the southern sides of the volcano. The village is hidden deep behind the crater walls in the centre of the photo and Pico do Fogo  stands out on the right

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PORTUGAL – Video Report on Portuguese Speakers

The rise of Portuguese as one of the world’s major languages

Although it is not one of the six flagship languages of the United Nations, Portuguese carries enough weight by itself to rank alongside double-lingo groups like Hindi-Urdu and Indonesian-Malay in terms of number of speakers.

The states which do speak Portuguese on some level form the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries or CPLP, which is introduced in the video above. The organisation lists nine official member nations, from mighty Brazil to tiny São Tome e Principe, but even within these countries Portuguese is not always the go-to tongue for residents.

The language of government and newspapers in Cape Verde maybe o português but the word on the street, at the bus stops and in homes across the islands is Cape Verdean Creole, a mixture of Portuguese, English, French and several native West African languages.

In East Timor it is Tetum that dominates as the main means of communication. After that there are at least 15 native languages that are spoken, with only a small fraction of the population using either of the colonial tongues: Indonesian and Portuguese.

In spite of this, the CPLP pushes ahead with its aims and objectives, which include  wide-ranging inter-governmental policies such as co-operation on education, health and public security but also the specific aim of working on projects that promote and increase the use of Portuguese.

 

 

Brightening up the Baia

A small village in Cape Verde benefits from Brazilian-inspired street art

Baia de Norte looks out quietly on the Atlantic waves washing into the bay below, with the brown gravel slopes of Monte Verde running away above.  Chickens hop along the walls and dogs jog around the corners and we are welcomed by the squealing of a couple of pigs in breeze-block pens.

Bright blues and reds, sharp lines of green and blasts of yellow shout across the dirt roads and bring to life the simple walls of the village.

A group of artists from fellow Portuguese-speaking Brazil have come to Baia de Norte over the last couple of years, using their artistic skills to bring the warmth and optimism of colour and light to the humble houses.

The co-operative have shown off their thoughtful designs throughout the small settlement, which overlooks Baia das Gatas on the northern coast of the island of Sao Vicente.

It is rich art with a range of work that often incorporates the existing windows and pipes on the village houses into the paintings.

On one house, pink boats and yellow anchors call to mind the surrounding open Atlantic, which laps the shores of both countries.

Large palm trees and quirky houses adorn one wall, with ravenous animals on another.

There are fishermen and different figures, there are bold blocks and intricate facial details. There are also less obvious spray-strokes such as someone’s polka-dot washing hanging on a line. It is brilliant art splashed against the grey walls.

There is also a fish portraying the international connections with its head of Brazilian green, yellow and blue as it drifts through the sky and sea blues of Cape Verde.

The islands’ villages are often brightly coloured, with big bands of orange, teal and crimson shining in the streets. Here in Baia de Norte the artists bring that brilliance to a less fortunate corner of what is a beautiful archipelago.

Islands in the sun

An Atlantic archipelago is making waves among small, African nations

Cape Verde calls holiday-makers to its pristine beaches, adventurers to its active volcano and scientists to study its unique ecosystems and endemic wildlife.

 

Maio (turismo.cv)

Off the west coast of Africa, more than 500km out into the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Verde has a deep and speckled history and is hoping for a bright future.

The islands’ geographical isolation from the mainland means that they have not been tainted by the political thrills and spills in other West African countries.

It enjoys a relatively stable democracy, with peaceful transfers of power between different parties at free elections. There has not been one coup d’état since independence in 1975.

Its unique location in the Atlantic between Africa and South America first saw the Portuguese establish a slave-trading exchange between Brazil and Lisbon’s western African colonies.

Mindelo (turismo.cv)

Then the American whaling ships swung by on their way to the hunting grounds to pick up supplies and young men looking for a life at sea away from the volcanic rocks. After that saw the construction of coal stations built by the British for cross-ocean steamers.

The islands have a population of 520,000 but thousands more claim Cape Verdean heritage in a well-established diaspora built upon the sea-faring traditions and international connections of the islanders.

To that end, remittances from overseas nationals provide a substantial boost to the economy, though tourism is easily the biggest source of income. Thousands of visitors come each year to while away hours on the white-sand beaches of the eastern islands, get lost in the canyons in the north, or take in the active volcanic island of Fogo.

And it is on that island that wine is famously produced on the lava of the islands’ highest point, Pico de Fogo. Aside from that though, the agriculture sector has been hard to develop on the windswept rocky islands. Some fruits are grown – but about 90% of food is imported.

Praia (turismo.cv)

Life expectancy of approximately 73.5 years is the highest in sub-Saharan Africa and the literacy rate is around 87%.

The World Bank sees the next steps for the archipelago’s economy as being to diversify ‘within and beyond’ the tourism sector, building a more flexible labour market and refining the investment climate. Additionally, there are hopes of improvements to the infrastructure links between the islands (some are just a few kilometres on a ferry apart; others are an hour’s flight away).

Morna, the melancholic genre of lilting music whose most famous exponent was Cesaria Evora, has been a major cultural export success. Indeed, music is part of the national DNA from the gyrating passion of the batuko to the anti-imperialist beat-surge of the funana.

All this reaches its climax in the run-up to Lent (this year just around the corner from 10-14 February) with the Cape Verde Carnival, when the islands will sway and stomp to a riot of kaleidoscopic dancers, floats and bands with a party to rival any that their Brazilian friends across the ocean could offer.

This blog will report from Cape Verde next month

El Búho’s ‘Balance’ – review

Balance opens like a springtime morning, with “Coro del Amanecer” nudging the door ajar to let in the light of birdsong.

It moves gently to add layered beats, the coming or going of footsteps, the tinkle of water and Veronica Valerio’s echoing voice. By the time we get three minutes into the song, we are up to full strength, but this is a soft power which fades to end.

The record is El Búho’s first full-length offering and, going by this example, there will be many people chomping at the bit for even more.

El Búho (‘The Owl’) is Robin Perkins, a British producer who has become something of a sensation in the folktronica scene. He has now moved back to Europe after a productive spell in Mexico, where he explored the country’s indigenous music, traditional instruments and – especially through the rivers, forests and sounds of the deep south – the overwhelmingly natural beauty.

It is the integration of natural elements into his work that makes El Búho stands out. This is not any old hip-shaking and rum-swilling Latin music (as enticing as that can be): this is organic electronica.

It is borne from simple ingredrients: the wash of waves, the calls of birds, the sounds of sunshine glinting through a million trees.

On “Tlacotlan” we hear the chirps of songbirds and the croaks of crows whilst “Ynglingtal” calls to mind sand through your toes against spilling breakers on the beach.

He demonstrates his depth of skill on “Papan” with the layered keys, strings and beats clipping together with nods to glitch-notes here and there.

Three-quarters of the songs are collaborations and El Búho reaches far and wide for his featured artists, from the madness of Cairo, to the floating airs and hills of Bolivia, via Mexican poetry.

The warbling on “Madre Tierra” may not be for everybody and “Brigantes” doesn’t really feel as though it goes anywhere as a piece but overall this is a beautiful record.

Balance is his first album and it drops just as he completes his move from Mexico City to Paris. We spoke to him before he left Mexico and we spoke to him again to find out a little more about Balance and the effect of Mexico on his music.

What’s the next stage for your music? What can you learn from this album?

I have a hundred ideas floating around in my head, going back to music inspired by birds, to music inspired by the folklore of my own country (the UK), making some EPs inspired by the places I have lived, another album. The other thing I would love to do is release a “tapes” or “beats” album of all the many, many unreleased tracks I have sitting on my hard drive! I think I learnt that an album should represent a period in your music growth or in your life. So much time passes between actually making the tracks and releasing them that to you they sound old even though no-one else has heard them! You have to just get to the point of accepting it and being happy with it representing a period of your life but I really think as a music producer you never stop learning and challenging yourself to improve.

Now that you have come back to Europe, which countries are you hoping to take your tunes to next?

Well, I played in Berlin for the first time recently and it was one of the best gigs I have played in a long time. Such an incredible, open-minded, approachable, respectable crowd of beautiful people dancing the night away to 80BPM music! It doesn’t happen everywhere. I will be playing in Spain soon and hopefully the UK for the first time soon as well (kind of crazy!)

And what’s your sense reflecting on the influence that Mexico had on you?

I think it was quite profound actually, going back to Latin America and understanding the incredibly different, complex and diverse context of Mexico, musically but also socially and politically. For my music it definitely opened me up to new ideas, to new histories, to new styles and genres and showed me, yet again, just how diverse Latin America is.

There was a bunch of music I made there on the Tamoanchan and Chinampa EPs and I feel it is pretty different, you can’t put your finger on it. I also always forget that Cenotes, which I kind of see as my breakthrough EP, was written in Mexico as well as most of tracks on the album! I think the other thing was the incredible reception I received in Mexico at shows. I felt a bit like an adopted Mexican to be honest and I’d love to go back and play soon.

What does the future hold for Shika Shika, the collective you run with Argentinian producer Barrio Lindo?

We are astounded by the incredible music that surrounds us. We just put out three beautiful edits of South American folk by our friend, the Argentinian producer Barda, and in a few weeks we are going to release our third compilation to celebrate our two-year anniversary! It is called Eco and it has some absolutely beautiful, killer, slow, deep, textured global sounds on it.

This article first appeared on Sounds and Colours.

A mountain view for Catalonia

Could a Pyrenean principality be a blueprint for an independent Catalonia?

CREDIT: visitandorra.com

A free and sovereign nation-state, where Catalan is the official language and the euro is the currency.

Whilst that may be a dream for many people across Catalonia – it is the reality for the 80,000 citizens of the principality of Andorra.

Could the tiny mountain nation be a model for a future Catalonia if they region were to break free from Spain?

Andorra is sandwiched between France and Spain, unique in that it is the only country governed by a co-monarchy. One head of state is the president of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell (a town in Spain just to the south of Andorra).

The heads of state act in concert with the elected government. Winter skiing and summer hiking provide a substantial tourist income.

Andorra has a lot of cultural affinity with Catalonia through music, literature, and dance.

A breakaway Catalonia would have several other similarities.

Like Andorra, it would not be in the European Union, it would use the euro, and, of course, it would be a Catalan-speaking country.

But there are no guarantees that Andorrans would rush to embrace their separatist brethren across the mountains.

They might very well like to see another Catalan-speaking nation.

But Andorra could find itself having to choose between being the first country to recognise an independent Catalonia or preferring the stability of the wider region and hoping that the integrity of Spain is preserved.

CREDIT: britannica.com

There is also the example of the little-known enclave of Llivia.

A part of Spain surrounded by France, Llivia is a relic of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, when Spain ceded a group of villages to France.

But rather than a village, Llivia had been designated a town, and so it remained part of Spain. As every village to the north, south, east and west integrated into France, Llivia was left as an inland island of Spain.

In truth, it is more an island of Catalonia.

The Catalan estelada flag flies from the balconies, Catalan is spoken and it is part of the Catalan province of Gerona. Llivia also voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the banned referendum on 1 October.

The enclave offers an intriguing viewpoint of a part of Spain that is already physically separate from the mother country.

And Andorra, too, provides a fascinating and unique example of a Catalanaphone nation-state.

For pro-independence Catalans who have been suffering from nightmares over the last week after their leader fled to Belgium and Spain withdrew some of Catalonia’s devolved powers, they could perhaps settle on a more pleasant dream if they turn their gaze northwards to the Pyrenees and the thoughts of what the future could yet bring.

What’s the key to ‘scorpion journalism’?

“The media in Mexico is tremendously sick but will not die”

The words of YouTuber Chumel Torres, who joined Honduran journalist Graco Pérez for this event at London’s Canning House, the UK-Iberia & UK-Latin America foundation.

Mr Pérez opened in a determined fashion: “a more informed press leads to a more informed population”. He acknowledged that Honduras was a developing country and admitted obstacles to progress.

He said that many reporters practise self-censorship over fears from organised crime, government interference and societal corruption.

He went into detail over the more serious issues facing journalists in Honduras as well, including an “alarming level of violence and lack of protective mechanisms”.

In spite of this, Mr Pérez insisted that press freedom as a whole has been managing to grow through social networks and the space they provide.

Chumel Torres declared early on that he had no journalism background but rather came circuitously into presenting what is his wildly successful online political and cultural satire show, ‘El Pulso de la Republica’.

Alongside what is rapidly becoming regularised violence against reporters, he laid out what he sees as the problems facing the media in Mexico.

Torres noted that “the public sees the press as government puppets” and that the media have “lost their strength”.

His prescribed medicine for the press was the need to “try to be reborn”.

During the question-and-answer session with the audience that followed, Torres touched on the role of the media in the run-up to next year’s general election in Mexico, lamenting threats made against radio, print and TV journalists but finding gold in the dust with a message of hope: “[there’s] a bright path just behind the curtain”.

Graco Pérez said that the media can build up wider networks of trust and influence but must do so whilst understanding the need for meticulous research and extreme caution. He admitted that the environment online, on mobile and in print is still volatile in many parts of Honduras when it comes to threats to reporters.

This blog pondered the rise of citizen journalism and the immediate coverage of breaking news offered by the public through their phones.

The room agreed with the notion that the “internet never forgets” and both speakers agreed that millennials are pushing the pace and breadth of news and the different platforms for consumption.

The two speakers didn’t think that traditional media should worry too much about the explosion in citizen journalism and that there would still be the need for questions, analysis and follow-up enquiries by ‘traditional’ journalists.

Chumel Torres had the last word, calling for a return to what he called “scorpion journalism” – achieved through: regaining trust; rethinking how you are working and what you are working on; and challenging yourself as well as challenging power.

Moscow on manoeuvres

While playing openly on the world stage, Russia holds onto a more subtle influence in Europe

Vladimir Putin has been holding court on the international scene in recent months.

Laughing off US investigations into election meddling, championing the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s civil war efforts, and reining in Western powers’ determined punishment of North Korea.

It waves its veto whenever a Syria resolution is brought before the United Nations, and only gives the green light to sanctions on North Korea that ensure the secretive state does hold onto some wriggle room.

But as all this global drama plays out, Russia also has ongoing geopolitical interests in hidden corners of Europe.

Moldova sits on the shoulder of Romania, jutting into Ukraine. It is an often-overlooked nation – except, perhaps, by European football fans on unique away-days.

It is the poorest country in the region. Economic output last year was $6.8bn, according to the World Bank. Comparable in population size, income status and geography, Albania saw GDP of $11bn, with a much higher life expectancy.

Moldova also has a breakaway, Russian-leaning region.

Transnistria comprises a sliver of land to the east of the River Dniper up to the nearby border with Ukraine.

It has declared independence but is only recognised by other breakaway, Russophile regions, namely Abkhazia and South Ossetia (both parts of Georgia now controlled by Moscow).

Russian is the local lingo, the hammer and sickle is on the flag and citizens buy their shopping with a version of the ruble.

So could Transnistria rejoin the Moscow motherland?

It is not without precedent.

The Russian state of Tuva, now an integral part of the country, is a southern province off the south-east border with Mongolia. And in 1944 it requested incorporation into the Soviet Union. Tuvans enjoyed a 23-year-long independence before calling off their self-governing statehood.

But if Transnistria were to re-incorporate into Russia, then it would be cut off from the mainland. It would be stranded in Europe, surrounded by independent countries wary of Russia.

That, too, would not be anything new.

Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad is a constituent part of Russia, but an exclave with no direct land connection to the mainland.

Annexed by the Soviet Union after World War Two, when the USSR broke up in 1989, the former Communist Poland and the former Soviet Lithuania declared independence, encircling Kaliningrad, which remained part of Russia.

It may have lost a number of its territories when the Soviet Union collapsed, but there remain several pockets of peoples across Europe who want to break free of their European Union-leaning governments and look to Moscow for their futures.

And if we are looking for a sad illustration of when these disputes turn to war, then there is also an example for this: the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, where Russophile rebels are fighting the government in the east of the country.