In 2017, Madonna thought she was moving to Portugal to “be a soccer mom,” but instead, the 61-year-old icon found inspiration for her then-upcoming album, Madame X, thanks to a friend she calls her “musical plug,” Dino d’Santiago. One night, the Cape Verde-born, Lisbon-based singer — who coached Madonna on how to speak Portuguese and sing in Portuguese and Creole — had arranged a concert for her by Batukadeiras Orquesta, a group of female drummers specializing in batuka, a rhythmic call-and-response style created in Cape Verde during the early days of the slave trade. “I’d never seen anything like it, never heard anything like it. So of course, I couldn’t get it out of my head,” says Madonna.
She invited several members of the collective to perform on her album and even brought some to the United States for her intimate Madame X tour that began last September in New York. (Its final two dates were canceled due to the pandemic.) “I thought about [my manager] Guy Oseary’s response to the cost of taking 22 women on the road with us,” says Madonna. (They ended up taking 14.) But her goal was set: “I wanted the audience to get a glimpse of [their] history.”
How did you discover the Orquesta Batukadeiras?
I discovered them once I met Dino d'Santiago, who I call my musical plug. He understood that I wanted to meet musicians and experience all the different traditions and genres that Portugal had to offer. He called me one day and said that he had something very special for me, but he couldn't tell me what -- he just said to show up at this place, at this time. At this point, he had already introduced me to some amazing musicians and brought me to some really cool places, clubs, etc. So, I went to this place -- it's hard to describe -- it was like a bar that hadn't been open in a while. They had opened it expressly for me. There was Abstract art on the wall and a few deer -- you know, antlers. It was filled with people. There was a DJ playing electro-African-house music, and a girl singing in a silver lamé suit, and I thought, "Oh this can't be what he asked me to come here for." Dino said, "No, this is not what I want you to hear. It's coming up." There were some people dancing and eventually the music stopped -- the crowds parted and on the other side of the room was a group of women sitting in a semi-circle in chairs, exactly as you saw them on my stage, but there were a lot more of them. They started playing their drums, drums that they held in their laps, and they started beating out these rhythms, and then they started singing and taking turns getting up and dancing. I was drawn to them and we walked closer and closer to them. It was wild – the way they played and the organic way they got up and took turns dancing together and singing solos. I asked Dino what language they were singing in. They were singing in Cape Verdean Creole.
It didn't seem terribly rehearsed; it seemed like second nature to them. They were like a family, a community of women. I marveled at the age range of the women -- from teenage girls to women who looked like they could be grandmothers. It was an amazing, immersive, musical, familial, matriarchal experience. The music was mesmerizing and hypnotizing and it blew me away. We just sat there, stood there, with our mouths hanging open. I'd never seen anything like it before. They were joyous and enthusiastic. There was an abandonment, for lack of a better word.
Afterwards, Dino said, "This style of music is called batuka, this is the Batukadeiras Orquesta." I met some of the women, not all of them. Dino told me they had to rush out as they all came on buses from far outside of town, especially to play for me. I was extremely moved that they made such an effort and even more so that they were so amazing.
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