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Mário Marta, a living love letter to Cape Verde

PAM met Mário Marta for the 2022 Atlantic Music Expo in Praia, Cape Verde where the singer performed his contagiously positive new album Ser de Luz and wowed us with his jubilant personality.

Mário Marta is tall, round and handsome. He’s the type of artist that writes love songs to elu­sive whales us­ing their mat­ing calls and sings with a vo­cal range that is as wide as his con­ta­gious smile. Embodying the form of a happy Buddha, he received a prophecy of an early death as a child but laughs it off with uncanny zen. A healer of the feet of Cape Verde’s barefooted diva; Mário is the kind of character books are made for. Af­ter a chat he’ll give you a solemn look and wave you in for a big-hearted hug that lasts a full 60 sec­onds. “When’s the last time you’ve had a hug like that?” He asks after releasing me. Before I could an­swer, he pokes a plump fin­ger into my chest and says, “the an­swer is nev­er!” followed, of course, by his joy­ous chor­tle.

Born to a Guinea-Bis­sau father and a Cape Verdean mother, Mário’s mu­si­cal­i­ty was a given. From un­cles to cousins, mu­sic was al­ways around. The lu­so­phone dirges of An­go­la and Brazil, Guinea-Bis­sau and Cape Verde were the sound­track to his child­hood. “We need to re­dis­cov­er this music” he declares nostalgically. Mário cer­tain­ly hasn’t for­gotten. He’s ded­i­cat­ed his craft to bring­ing new life to coladeira, batuku, morna, funaná and the rest of Cape Verde’s musical patrimony. A part time cake design­er, Mário is hop­ing that his new mu­si­cal projects can help him fo­cus on this mis­sion full time. 

Though Mário’s mu­sic doesn’t have the typical maudlin hue of Cape Verde’s fa­mous mor­nas. His mu­sic is joy­ous and op­ti­mistic, an is­land groove that sways in the sun-tint­ed breeze of the At­lantic Ocean. “We are all cat­alyz­ers, like ra­dios, we can sync up to the fre­quen­cy we choose.” Mário ex­plains, “and I chose joy.” The ra­di­ant look on his face is in itself con­vinc­ing. His happy sway onstage and jubilant fans in the crowd are more evidence of his ebullient synchronization. Not to mention tracks like “Pé Di Campo” off his 2021 album Ser de Luz that pull at lip’s end for even the gloomiest listener. Or the cheekier award winning single “Boa” from 2020. 

Mário Marta – Boa (Music Video)

Ser de Luz itself translates to “Being of Light”.  Not only does Mário see himself as a custodian of Cape Verde’s musical legacy, but as a “curador”, or healer, with a duty to heal those in need. “When I see some­one who is sad, I have the instinct to go and touch them,” he explains, placing his round hand on my knee as an example. Strangely, there is a comfort in the weighty touch of Mário’s good intent. His healing was also applied to the late great Césaria Evora, Cape Verdean icon and morna legend. 

Mário describes the period in his life when Césaria stayed at his family home in Sao Vicente. “It was an extraordinary moment. Today I know, but back then I didn’t realize it,” he says, always smiling. Mário describes how he and his cousin would heal her wounded feet and try to bring light to her darker moments. This was a time before Mário knew he wanted to be a professional singer. Césaria, perhaps knowing something he didn’t, brought him into the fold. “There were a lot of moments where I’d be sleeping and she would come and tap me” Mário pantomimes, “to wake me up and sing with her.” 

Now Mário is working with UNESCO on a tour across Europe to perform a capella mornas as a preservation project. If successful, Mário hopes to expand the effort to the other genres he’s picked up from his heritage. “I want to eternalize it, bring it to today,” Mário says. Hoping specifically to find a new place in the hearts of young people across the world. In Mário’s eyes everyone is this being of light he describes, and this music is his way of shining. Moving about Mário appears the perfect ambassador for the job, a walking love letter to Cape Verde. 

Listen to Ser de Luz out now.