Cap Verde Islands



15th April 2004


The French Cultural Centre of Praia (on the island of Santiago)has invited us to the Cape Verde Islands. Initially the trip was to extend to Mauritius and Senegal, but in the end this didn't work out.

So it's the first time that we have travelled so far to perform just once. The cost of the travel plus expenses must be about 5 times more than what we are actually being paid.The travel time was 19 hours while our show lasts just 90 minutes. It's infuriating, and I feel a bit ashamed about the disproportionate costs, but at the same time we couldn't turn down work given the current economic climate. Especially work in a place as beautiful as the Cape Verde Islands !

On arrival we are warmly welcomed by the Centre's director, Jean-Marie Hay, and the organisation is impeccable.The little town of Praia is an explosion of colour, and its market is teeming with life. Walking through the streets on the first day there are so many people and so much hustle and bustle that I feel positively nauseous. How on earth will we be able to perform in such conditions ? Street theatre as we know it has never made it this far and what's more, we will be the first westerners to perform in the streets. The only Cultural Centre in Cape Verde is this French-run one. We're starting to feel the weight of expectation...

We are programmed to play at 4 o'clock in one of the big squares in town. We've never performed in a country as poor as this. How will the locals react ? It's kind of paradoxical that we are white people performing in servants' (bellboys') costumes for Africans !

From the start of the show a crowd of youths tags along with us and won't leave us alone. The older members of the audience stay further back leaving the youngsters at the front. Everything we do is accompanied by a running commentary from the crowd. We have to blow hard into our instruments just to be heard. Every time we move to another place for a scene-change we are accompanied by an indescribable cacophony of noise. It's almost impossible to sing or speak audibly because of the ambient noise. Around 200-300 people are watching the show.

We take an old lady from the audience to play along with us, but she is so embarassed she ends up crying.

We can sense that people are surprised and intrigued by our presence.

As we make our way through the small streets of the town huge crowds build up and block every exit. The show is meant to finish inside the Centre, but there are so many people in the street that the director prefers that we stay outside.

I'll remember the buzz of these African streets for a long time to come. For a small brass band like ours it's hard to rise above that. It's been tough not to have been simply flattened by the energy and the sheer vitality of these colouful streets full of over-excited children. But we've kept going, and have been taught a good lesson: in the street it's important to always give 300% if you want to win through.

The Cape Verde experience has led to something else... we've decided to work with classes in an Educational Priority Area (ZEP) in the 17th arrondisement of Paris from September 2004 (children aged between 9-11). We are going to prepare a little show with them which will be presented on the 30th and 31st of October 2004 during the festival 'Itinérance Rue'.