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.
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.