Feasting on world music and Portuguese food

Hugh Masekala, the bald, charismatic, multi-instrumentalist septuagenarian with the wizened face and playful eyes, has just finished demanding a more just and peaceful world for all humanity, where people of all colour and races will no longer run from police and from governments. In beautiful, cadenced English, thick with a Soweto accent, the poetic rhythms of his spoken word captivate the crowd like a modern day prophet. It is no wonder this talented and inspired musician was one of the leading voices in the fight against apartheid. The crowd cheers its approval, but the praise is clearly not sufficient to Masekala’s ears. “Sines”, he intones into the microphone, “why you playing cool? You don’t have to be cool”. A toothy mischievous grin suddenly extends across his round face. “What you need to do is scream! It will make you feel better. If you’ve never screamed before, at this festival, at your lover, or in bed with your lover, then I am now giving you a free opportunity to scream”. The crowd erupts with screams and whistles. This time the noise is thunderous as the cheers and applause reverberate off the majestic walls of the mediaeval castle that is the enchanting setting for the Sines World Music Festival.

Portugal Sines

Held over two long weekends in July, and set against the backdrop of the historic castle’s imposing hilltop ruins, as well as in other seaside venues throughout the town, the Festival Musicos do Mundo (FMM Sines) is Portugal’s premier world music festival. It is also by far the biggest cultural event of the year in Sines, and brings this otherwise relatively sedate fishing village and port alive. The programme is varied and spirited. A particular highlight is the spellbinding sounds of Tunisian jazz fusion outfit, the Dhafer Youssef Quartet. The melancholy melodies that emanate from Youssef’s silken voice are simply pure joy to behold, while the smooth strains of his ancient oud hypnotic under the starry night’s sky. Then in a feat of miraculous vocal ability, his slow deep tenor rises to an eerie and enchanting solo falsetto. The crowd is held utterly entranced. The energy and power of the moment are palpable. Then just as the tension of his lilting soprano tremolo can extend no longer, his band breaks out in full funky jazz riff and the crowded castle courtyard roars with appreciation.

Dhafer Youssef Quartet

Indeed, the acts at this year’s festival truly span the globe. From the hip-hop inspired Slavic folk of the Dubioza Kolektiv, to Tony Allen’s afrobeat funk, to the ethereal wailings of traditional Norwegian Sami songstress Mari Boine, to the desperate heart-breaking drama of of Astilerro’s Argentinian tangos, or the high energy African rock beats of Mali diva Fatoumata Diawara, there is a musical offering for every taste. And like all good festivals the festival goers themselves are just as diverse and eclectic as the music. Local youngsters and twenty-somethings mingle with older couples, artist-types and families. Surfers intersperse with dolled-up teenage day-trippers from Lisbon, while dread-locked hippies dance freely at the front of the stage as their wayward dogs chase each other through the audience. Then, of course, there is also the odd tourist or two, grooving to the music and savouring the party atmosphere.

And there’s nothing like a healthy dose of dancing to whet the appetite. But while the festival music is positively global the festival food is as local as it gets: fresh from the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese are a sea-faring nation, and nowhere is this more evident than in their regional fare. And with more than twenty stalls selling a variety of culinary delights, there simply is no excuse for not sampling the best of Portuguese cuisine. Choco frito (deep fried cuttlefish), arroz de polvo (octopus rice), Açorda de Gambas (bread stew with prawns), caracois (snails), ensalada mixto (seafood salad), and of course the national dish, Bacalhua (salted cod), served a myriad of ways each more elaborate (and saltier!) than the next.

Choco frito

The festival program kicks off each night at 6pm. During the day, there are market stalls to stroll through and for those wanting to expand their cultural horizons, there is a parallel program of world cinema, theatre, discussion and art. Alternatively, for those wishing to simply lie on a beach and stare at the horizon, then the scalloped Alentejo coastline offers a multitude of possibilities. In fact, Sines’ wide bay, with its busy marina and flotilla of fishing boats and water toys, pales in comparison to the beauty of the surrounding beaches. Thankfully, it’s just a short drive to explore some of the more scenic shores, such as the picturesque Zambujeira do Mar, or the locals’ favourite, Porto Covo, where a dip in the chilly clear Atlantic waters offers the perfect remedy to recover from the previous nights’ festivities.

Zambujeira do Mar

Festival Musicos do Mundo, is a lively festival that is friendly, youthful and energetic. This year the final act, Congolese band Jupiter & Okwess International, embodied this feeling like no other. Their furiously fast-paced African rhythms and on-stage exuberance infected the wildly dancing crowd. Half-way through their set, fireworks suddenly explode above the stage and burst from the tops of castle walls, enhancing the carnival atmosphere of the night. Surrounded by hundreds of happy revellers, I dance along to the music well into the night. This festival has been the perfect way to discover and enjoy not only fabulous world music but also the wonderful people and culture of Portugal.

Jupiter & Okwess International

 

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