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World Music Features

Tété Alhinho

By j. poet
Published July 19, 2006

Tété Alhinho lives in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, on the tiny island of Santiago. Alhinho says the sea has influenced her life and her music as long as she can remember.

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