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'Music brings people together'

By Robert Haddocks, Standard-Times staff writer
   WASHINGTON -- There was a message in their music, Mike Antunes said after an energized performance that rocked the more than 700 people who squeezed in under the huge white tent on Tuesday, the last day of the historic festival featuring the island nation of Cape Verde.
   The message was simple: happiness, love and unity. And the message was heeded as the entire crowd -- crossing the entire racial and ethnic spectrum -- joined hands, swaying, dancing, jumping to the music of Brockton's Mendes Brothers in a stirring, powerful and harmonious close to the ceremonies.
   "The music is what brings people together," said Mr. Antunes, a New Bedford native known for his recordings with the Beaver Brown Band. "It's brought people together and different cultures together from all over the world."
   As Mr. Antunes played under the tent with New Bedford residents -- cousin David Antunes, Joli Gonsalves, Feliciano "Flash" Viera, and Joseph Silva of Marion -- Pettina Bell, a woman from the D.C area, danced and hopped around with her niece, Elizabeth Gosnell.

   "I had heard of the location of Cape Verde, but had no idea of the culture, and it is beautiful," she said. "One of the things I'm enjoying is how responsive the audience is. People seem so gloriously open to the music. We walked by and just had to start dancing."
   Many previously unfamiliar with the culture have been turned on to coladera, funana, batuka and bandera, various styles from the islands.
   Joao Mendes, a Cape Verdean who co-owns a record label with his brother, Ramiro, typically plays the more upbeat styles, including bandera, which incorporates American hip-hop flavor and Caribbean rhythms. New Bedford-based band Tropical Lightning also plays a similar brand of music.
   Mr. Mendes hopes the blending of music will lead to a blending of cultures.
   "This is the biggest event in our long-term history," he said. "There's a lot of cultural exchange, a cross between other people. There's a miscegenation taking place, and it's good for Cape Verde.
   "A lot of people are being introduced to Cape Verdean music and this eventually will give us a bigger audience. By experiencing just this part of our culture, Cape Verde on the whole will be left in their ears and I think that's very important."
   Mr. Mendes, who has artists from Portugal, France and the United States on his label, MB Records, said the traditional music of Cape Verde is dying, but hopes the new bandera style will "give it more life."
   He wants to see the new style take off, much like reggae has, particularly in the big cities.
   "We're not there yet," he said. "We need a style that's going to revolutionize our music, and bandera might be the style to do it. We have to bridge this gap and that's a tough thing to do."