Tété Alhinho lives in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, on the tiny island of Santiago. The bedroom she shares with her husband has a view of the sea, an actual and mythological sea that surrounds her and permeates everything she does. Alhinho says the sea has influenced her life and her music as long as she can remember.
“I was born in Mindelo, a small, poor seaside town, on the island of Saint Vincent, with the sound of the sea all around me. Mindelo is the most culturally diverse town in Cape Verde. Because of its bay, it is a popular port and draws a lot of people from other countries. The population is very open-minded and they have a very sensual and unique musical sensibility. Growing up there, I inherited this rhythm and feeling of the sea. The sound of the sea gives me this enormous sense of freedom that I express in my music.
“My father was a Portuguese man who fell in love with these islands and my mother, a Cape Verdean woman with a big heart and a generous spirit. My mother has always been a very musical and lively woman. She sang and danced [her children] around the house since they were one month old, so we got that swing and balance in our bodies at an early age. I always say that I was singing since the day I was born. My mother sang mornas and coladeras to and with me; sometimes I would play the piano with her. I took some lessons when I was young, but mostly I play by ear.
“My father didn’t play an instrument but he used to sing folk songs from Alentejo (a Portuguese province). Our house was crowded. I have 15 brothers and sisters who loved music and played piano, so as you can imagine, there was always music and dance present. I remember myself when I was five years old being awake late in the night, while everybody was asleep. I would stand behind the window listening to a group in the street playing with acoustic instruments: contra bass, violins, cello and guitars. This was a special moment in my life. I knew then I was meant to become a singer and a musician.”
Alhinho first went onstage at the age of eight, in primary school. In high school she studied German, English and science and sang with two popular bands: A Voz de Cabo Verde and Os Tubarões. It was the mid ’70s and these bands played at almost every cultural and political event that took place during Cape Verde’s struggle for independence. After independence, Alhinho went to university in Cuba on a scholarship. She also began singing at festivals and peñas and soaking up the Cuban and Latin influences that give her vocal style such depth.
“Cuba is a very rich country with all its rhythms,” Alhinho says, “although it was not absolutely new to me, because in Cap Vert we used to play and sing Latin American music. Cap Vert was a meeting point between Africa, Europe and America during the slavery time. Slaves and masters passed through as well as other people from different countries, so we exported and imported musical influences from one side to the other. It’s why we have such a mixed and universal culture. The contact with other cultures leaves impressions and nuances in our music.”
Alhinho left Cuba for Mexico, where she married and had three children. She did some performing there, including a regular radio show on which she sang and played guitar, but it wasn’t until her return to Portugal in 1989 that she began her career in earnest. She made Mares do Sul with producer Paulino Vieira and performed all over Europe to support the album. She also founded A Sonora de Lisboa, which became one of Portugal’s most popular salsa bands.
In 1991 Alhinho and her family returned to Cape Verde and settled in Praia, where she met Mário Lúcio, who<