London's annual Atlantic Waves Festival of "exploratory music from Portugal and beyond" seems to be widening the "beyond" part of its brief even more than usual. This November's programme includes encounters between Portuguese artists and those as far afield as Korea, but this gig looked to Africa.
Opening the bill was local Madagascan expat Modeste Hughes and his usual two accompanists, plus an extra percussionist. Madagascar wasn't a Portuguese colony, but it's not far from Mozambique, and Hughes's dancing acoustic guitar grooves have the same outward-looking island vibe as those of Tcheka, a rising star from the Cape Verde islands.
In the early Nineties, Cesaria Evora put the archipelago west of Senegal on the world music map, but while she hails from the island of Sao Vicente, Tcheka grew up on the "most African" island, Santiago. He's part of a younger generation of Cape Verdeans uncovering the rich store of folk rhythms that until recently were overshadowed by the barefoot diva's gentle morna ballads.
Tcheka showcased these folk rhythms with his six strings, a high, urgent voice that sometimes broke into falsetto and an intense stage presence. He kicked off solo with "Satanaz", from his recent second album Nu Monda, setting the scene for the others to join him on "Agonia". The Cape Verdeans in the house offered encouragement, while second acoustic guitarist and arranger Hernani Almeida embroidered a deft counterpoint to Tcheka's more muscular guitar.
Acoustic bass player Lucio Veira and drummer Marcos Alves were only on their second show with the established half of the band, but it didn't show: the way the band reined in the rhythms on "Talulu" was masterful. Hughes's warm-up set, however, was pleasant, but lacked variety. Likewise, though his guitar riffs were undeniably hypnotic, he didn't have Tcheka's charisma.
The bands joined forces on an experimental encore. The two guitarists boogied gently as they played, finding a lovely unforced chemistry. It was a new career high for one and a confident, stylish debut for the other.