The music of São Tomé and Príncipe tells the story of its history. It’s highly rooted in musical traditions of various regions of Africa, but it’s also mixed with Portuguese styles as well. And to add to this, they developed their own rhythms and styles on top of all of this.
Rhythm is at the heart of most African music. In São Tomé, the ússua and socopé rhythms dominate much of their traditional-style music. However, the musicians on Príncipe are known for their creation of the dêxa beat. Other African styles, especially from other Portuguese-speaking countries like Angola, are equally as popular in the islands. Kizomba (related to zouk music) is like an Angolan-style pop music that’s often heard here.
Several kinds of dances are integrated into music and theatre. Two types that combine these elements are tchiloli and danço-congo. While both may seem similar, tchiloli typically tells a story (most commonly, a dramatic one). The Portuguese introduced ballroom dancing to the islanders here, which may have also played a part in their musical development of their own rhythms and styles to match some of the movements in the dances.
During the 1960s, other musical styles infiltrated São Toméan music: Cuban, American, Congolese, and others. Musicians here borrowed from all of these styles to create something new. Today there are several of these musicians who are now based out of Lisbon. I did find a few musicians listed on Spotify. One group I listened to is Africa Negra. To me, their sound has a very distinctive African sound to it, carried by whatever you call that higher-pitched guitar. Some of their rhythms remind me of certain Caribbean rhythms as well.
Camilo Domingos is another musician I sampled. What I like is that there are rich blended harmonies that accent the melody lines. Although there is certainly a pull from African and local rhythms and musical styles, they also merge it with some modern Western styles as well. Traditionally, his music incorporates zouk, kizomba, and rumba styles. Some place him as one of the most prominent musicians of the islands.
Another musician I listened to is Filipe Santo. The music I sampled has somewhat of a softer, more melodic side to it at times, I think. With the way he carries the melody line, I can see why he’s also often considered one of the greatest musicians from São Tomé and Príncipe.
I think there’s probably a smaller, more independent rap scene in São Tomé and Príncipe. When searching YouTube, I found a couple of pretty good videos, and it’s evident that, for the most part, there are some talented people here with an unfortunate seemingly limited exposure. This is a video by Edsong Key Money.
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