The morna (pronunciation in both Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole in IPA: ['mɔɾnɐ]) is a music and dance genre from Cape Verde.
Lyrics are usually in Cape Verdean Creole, and instrumentation often includes cavaquinho, clarinet, accordion, violin, piano, and guitar. Morna is often compared to the blues; there is little research on the relationship between the genres, though there are interesting similarities and significant cultural connections between Cape Verde and the United States. Morna is widely considered the national music of Cape Verde, as is the fado for Portugal, the tango for Argentina, the rumba for Cuba, and so on.
The best internationally known morna singer is Cesária Évora. Morna and other genres of Cape Verdean music are also played in Cape Verdean immigrant communities abroad, especially in New England in the US, Portugal, the Netherlands, France, West Africa, and parts of Latin America.
As a music genre
As a music genre, the morna is characterized by having a lento tempo, a 2-beat bar (sometimes 4) and in its most traditional form by having an harmonic structure based on a cycle of fifths, while the lyrics structure is organized by musical strophes that alternate with a refrain. The morna is almost always monotonic, i.e., it is composed in just one tonality. Compositions that use more than one tonality are rare and generally they are cases of passing from a minor to major tonality or vice-versa.
As it was said before, in its most traditional form the morna
obeys to a cycle of fifths. The harmonic progression starts in a chord
) of a certain tonality, the second chord is the lower fifth (the subdominant
), the third chord is the same as the first and, at last, the fourth chord is the upper fifth (the dominant seventh
). These chords — tonic, dominant seventh, subdominant — have in Cape Verde the popular names of “primeira
” and “terceira
” (first, second and third) respectively of the tonality in question. For example, if the music is being performed in a A minor tonality, the A minor chord has the name “primeira de Lá menor
” (A minor’s first), the E 7th chord has the name of “segunda de Lá menor
” (A minor’s second) and the D minor chord has the name of “terceira de Lá menor
” (A minor’s third).
Let’s bear in mind however that this structure corresponds to the most basic and most primary harmonic sequence of the morna. First, this structure has been enriched later with the so-called passing chords (check farther in the section History). Second, this structure is by no means mandatory. Several composers (specially recent composers) employ different chord progressions.
The melodic line
of the morna
varies a lot through the song, with ascending and descending note sequences, and within a bar the notes generally do not have the same length. One frequent characteristic of the morna
is the syncopation
, more precisely, one note at the end of a bar is extended to the strong beat
of the next bar. The melody is accentuated on the first beat and the last half-beat of the bar.
The melody is structured in verses that in turn are organized in strophes. The main strophes alternate with a refrain strophe, and this alternation can have several models: ABABAB..., ABCBABCB..., ACBACB..., AABCCB..., etc. The melody of the refrain is never the same as the melody of the other strophes.
The thematic of the morna
is varied, but there are certain subjects that are approached with more frequency. Besides universal subjects like love, for instance, also typically Cape Verdean subjects are talked about, such as the departure to abroad, the come back, the saudade
, the love for the homeland, the sea, etc. One of the great responsible for this thematic was the poet/composer Eugénio Tavares
that introduced in the beginning of the XXth century the lyrism and the exploration of typical romanticism
feelings, being this lyrism in usage still today.
The main instrument associated with the morna
is the guitar
, popularly called “violão
” in Cape Verde. In its most simple form, a guitar is enough to provide the accompaniment for another soloist instrument that can be another guitar, a violin
(popularly called “rabeca
” in Cape Verde), the singer’s voice or any other melodic instrument. The specific way of strumming
the strings in a guitar is popularly called “mãozada
” in Cape Verde. The strumming of the morna
articulates a bass
(played with the thumb, marking the accentuation of the rhythm) with chords (played with the other fingers, either in an arpeggio
, either rhythmically, either in a combination of both). The morna
can also be performed on a piano
, with the left hand providing the bass and the accompaniment and the right hand providing the accompaniment and the melody.
The composition of band for playing a morna is not rigid. A medium-sized band may have (besides the aforementioned guitar) a cavaquinho (that plays the chords rhythmically), a ten or twelve string guitar (popularly called “viola” in Cape Verde, that provides an harmonic support), a soloist instrument besides the singer’s voice and some percussion instrument. A bigger band may have another guitar, an acoustic bass guitar, more than one soloist instrument (violin, clarinet, trumpet, etc.) and several percussion instruments (shaker, güiro, bongos, etc.).
From the 60’s it starts to happen the electrification of the morna, in which the percussion instruments are replaced by a drum kit and the bass / accompaniment play performed on the guitar are replaced by a bass guitar and an electric guitar. In the late 90’s there is a come back to the roots where unplugged (acoustic) performances are sought after again.
In its most traditional form, the song starts by an introduction played in the soloist instrument (having this intro generally the same melody as the refrain), and then the song develops in an alternation between the main strophes and the refrain. Approximately after the middle of the song, instead of the singed refrain, the soloist instrument performs an improvisation. Recent composers, however, do not always use this sequence.
As a dance
As a dance the morna
is a ballroom dance, danced in pairs. The performers dance with an arm embracing the partner, while with the other arm they hold hands. The dancing is made through two body swings to one side in a music’s bar, while in the next bar the swinging is made to the other side.
The history of the morna
can be divided in several periods, not always consensual among scholars:
1st period: the origins
It is not known for sure when and where the morna
appeared. The oral tradition gives it for certain that the morna appeared in the Boa Vista Island
in the 18thth century, but there are no musicological records that prove it. But when Alves dos Reis says that during the 19th century, with the invasion of polkas
, country dances
and other musical genres in Cape Verde, the morna
was not influenced, it suggests that by that time the morna
was already a fully-formed and mature musical genre.
Even so, some authors trace back the origins of the morna to a musical genre — the lundum — that would have been introduced in Cape Verde in the 18th century. There is also a relationship between the morna and another musical genre that existed already in the islands, the choros, which are plaintive songs performed in certain occasions such as the working songs and the wake songs. The morna would be, then, a cross between the choros and the lundum, with a slower tempo and a more complex harmonic structure. Some authors claim that if we speed up the tempo of some older songs from Boa Vista or even the song “Força di cretcheu” from Eugénio Tavares, we get something very close to the lundum.
From Boa Vista, this new musical genre would have gradually spread to the other islands. At that time the morna didn’t have the romantic thematic that it has today, neither the noble character that it was given later.
Musicologists cite the morna "Brada Maria" as being the composition with the longest documented provenance, composed around 1870.
The origin of the word “morna” for this musical genre is uncertain. However, there are three theories, each one with its supporters and detractors.
For some, the word comes from English “to mourn”. For others the word comes from French “morne” which is the name given to hills in the French Antilles, where the chansons des mornes are sung. But to most of the people the word “morna” would correspond to the feminine of the Portuguese word “pt:morno” (warm) clearly alluding to the sweet and plaintive character of the morna.
2nd period: Eugénio Tavares
In the beginning of the XXth century, the poet Eugénio Tavares
was one of the main responsibles for giving to the morna
the romantic character that it has until today. In the Brava island
suffered some transformation, acquiring a slower tempo than the Boa Vista morna
, the poetry became more lyricised with themes focusing mostly on love and feelings provoked by this same love.
3rd period: B. Leza
In the 30’s and the 40’s the morna
gets special characteristics in São Vicente
. The Brava style was much appreciated and cultivated in all Cape Verde by that time (there are records about E. Tavares being received in apotheosis in S. Vicente island and even the Barlavento composers wrote in Sotavento Creole
, probably because the maintenance of the unstressed vowels in Sotavento Creoles gave more musicality). But specific conditions in S. Vicente as the cosmopolitanism and ease of foreign influences influx brought some enrichment to the morna
One of the main responsibles for this enrichment was the composer Francisco Xavier da Cruz (a.k.a. B.Leza) that under Brazilian music influence introduced the so-called passing chords, popularly known as “meio-tom brasileiro” (Brazilian half-tone) in Cape Verde. Thanks to these passing chords, the harmonic structure of the morna was not restrained to the cycle of fifths, but incorporated then other chords that made the smooth transition to the main ones.
As for example, a song in a C major tonality could be enriched in this way:
| Basic chord sequence:
| Chord sequence with passing chords:
|| G7 |
Another example but in an A minor tonality:
| Basic chord sequence:
| Chord sequence with passing chords:
|| E7 |
Although it looks simple, this introduction has left its deep mark on the morna
, having this mark passed through later to the coladeira
Another innovation is that this period slightly coincides with the literary movement Claridade, and consequently the thematic was widened to include not only themes related to the Romanticism bat also related to the Realism.
4th period: the 50s to the 70s
In this period a new musical genre, the coladeira
, reached its maturity and a lot of composers trid this novelty. Therefore, the years from the 50s to the 70s didn’t bring big innovations in musical techniques to the morna
However some compositions with a “subtle and sentimental melodic trait” came up, and if movement against the Portuguese colonial policy began, in the morna it is made discretely with the thematic widening to include lyrics praising the homeland or beloved people in the homeland. The lyrics also get some inspiration in other music (bolero, samba-canção, American songs, chanson française, etc.). In the 70s there are even political songs.
In the 60s electric instruments began to be used, and the morna begins to get known internationally, either by performances abroad or records production.
5th period: the more recent years
Recent composers take advantage of more artistic freedom to give to the morna
unusual characteristics. More recent mornas
hardly follows the cycle of fifths scheme, there is a great freedom in chord sequences, the musical strophes not always have a rigid number of verses, in the melody the reminiscences of the lundum
have practically disappeared, and some composers try fusioning the morna
with other musical genres.
Variants of the morna
The Boa Vista morna
The Boa Vista morna
is the oldest variant of the morna
. It is characterized by having a quicker tempo (andante
± 96 bpm
) and a rubato
style, by being structurally simpler and the themes often talk about jokes, satires or social criticism. The melody accentuation is very close to the lundum
The Brava morna
The Brava morna
is in the origin of the most known variety of morna
today. Besides having a slower tempo than the Boa Vista morna
± 60 bpm), it has typical Romanticism characteristics, such as the use of rhymes, an accentuated lyrism and a more rigid metrics. The Brava style is still practiced by composers from Brava and Fogo.
The São Vicente morna
The São Vicente morna
is a derivative of the Brava morna
. Both have the same tempo, but in the S. Vicente morna
the chord sequences have been enriched with the passing chords. The thematic has also been widened to include not only romantic themes, and the poetry is not so rigid and neither makes usage of rhymes such as the Brava morna
Departing from the S. Vicente morna one can witness from more recent and innovative composers to some other morna variants that have not been systemized yet.
Examples of mornas
- “Rabilona”, traditional
performed by Teté Alhinho in the album “Voz” (Universal Music — 2002)
- “Força di cretcheu”, from Eugénio Tavares
performed by Celina Pereira in the album “Nôs Tradição” (? — 19??)
- “Eclipse”, from B.Leza
performed by Chico Serra in the album “Eclipse” (Ed. Sonovox, Lisboa — 1993)
- “Fidju maguadu”, from Jorge Monteiro
performed by Dany Silva in the album “Lua Vagabunda” (Ed. Valentim de Carvalho, Lisboa — 1986)
- “Biografia d’ um criol’”, from Manuel de Novas
performed by Os tubarões in the album “Djonsinho Cabral” (Ed. Os Tubarões, Ref. T-003 — 1978)
- “Nha berçu”, from Betú
performed by Ildo Lobo in the album “Nôs morna” (Ed. Lusáfrica, — 1996)