Photo by Sydney Brown

Shauna Barbosa's 'Cape Verdean Blues' Is a Poetic Exploration Of Movement & Cultural Inheritance

We spoke with the Cape Verdean-American author about the experiences that helped shape her stunning literary debut.

The reason we are where we are now is due to the movement of those who came before us.

For children of immigrants, movement—or the act of leaving one place for another—is the root of our cultural identities; the sole reason why some of us identify as Liberian-American, British-Ugandan and for others, Swedish-Eritrean. Shauna Barbosa, a poet born in Boston to an African-American mother and Cape Verdean father, captures the journeys of her parents and the unique upbringing which came about as a result in her stunning literary debut, Cape Verdean Blues.

Growing up in Boston she was physically surrounded by the culture and customs of each of her parents—her extended family on both sides lived on different floors of the same townhouse. These ultraspecific, yet familiar childhood experiences fostered her knack for writing at an early age. Each experience surfacing once again in Cape Verdean Blues.

The introspective poems explore the nature of leaving—channeling the very essence of movement, as it fluidly runs through universal themes of familial love, relationships, sexuality, community, escapism and even social media obsession. All of that means, that though her poems are deeply nuanced and personal, they have the power to resonate with someone who might wear some other hyphenated cultural identifier other than Cape Verdean-American, just as poignantly. "This book is for everybody," says the author.

We spoke with Barbosa about her childhood, transitioning from journalist to author, her love for hip hop—made obvious by poems named after famous Juvenile lyrics, and DMX cuts—and what she wants readers to take away from her work. Read our conversation below.

Photo by Sydney Brown

This interview has been shortened and condensed for clarity.

Can you tell us more about your Cape Verdean American upbringing and what initially drew you to become a writer?

Okay, yeah so my upbringing was pretty interesting. My mom and dad actually met in the '80s. They met at Polaroid. And Polaroid, I don't know if it was headquartered in Boston at this time, something like that. It was like a few years after my dad had come to America from Cape Verde. They met, they had me and eventually, in Boston, there are like three story homes. And they lived in a three story house and it was like my dad and my grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins on the third floor. On the second floor, aunt, uncle, cousins. First floor was my mom, my sister, and me.

My mom is African American and my dad is African and I always felt like I was between these two worlds. I feel like I had the best of both worlds, the best of both cultures. My mom making Sunday dinner and then my grandmother upstairs making katchupa, which is a traditional Cape Verdean dish. But I feel like, of course, anytime you're in the middle of something as a kid you grow up and you try to figure out who you are and where you belong and who your friends are, so that happened really early on for me. I took to writing. I feel like it happened really organically. I remember my mom found my diaries and I just used to write some crazy shit.

I was always writing in high school. I used to write a lot of poems, but I can honestly say, I never thought I'd be a poet. I never thought that I'd be labeled a poet. I just never thought that.

How does it feel to be an author? That's a huge deal, making that transition from being a journalist to an author.

It's still all surreal. My cousin she teases me. She'll text me 'hey author, what's up.' And I'm like it's still a weird thing because I feel like I'm still in this very new phase. All of this just happened and I'm really just letting it sink in. But it feels good and it feels good because from what my family tells me, I've always said, I'm going to move to New York, even when I was like ten, I was just like I'm going to move to new York and I'm going to move to California and I'm going to be writing or something. I said this when I was like ten, and I lived in New York for five years and now I'm in California. So life really does come full circle and like all the cliche things that you hear growing up from people, it's real.

Yeah, so it feels good. I have younger siblings one 17, one about to be 13, and one 27. I have an older sibling and it just feels good because they see you can do whatever you want.

Photo by Sydney Brown

I want to know why you titled it Cape Verdean Blues. Why Blues?

There are so many different layers to that. But initially, the book was titled "The Genetics of Leaving." There's actually a poem in the book called The Genetics of Leaving it's about that initial time when an African, when any foreigner, when my grandmother left Cape Verde to come to America and start this life. There's a lot of leaving and there's a lot of going back and forth and there's a lot of reaching over these seas for people that you love and even just longing and reaching to stay connected to a culture that you know you can call yours, and making sure that you bring that with you.

After I started putting my poems together, I'm like oh my god, I write a lot about identity, about my black experience, my Cape Verdean experience, it was just all there and I just felt like there's an inherited trauma. I believe that there's inherited leaving.

I really feel attached to Cape Verdean culture and yeah, the blues of leaving, and I started reading Cape Verdean poets once I discovered them, and this one Jorge Barbosa—who I'm not related to by the way—he writes a lot about this land and just wanting to leave and how the sea can either help you or destroy you and it holds all of your dreams. There's just so much music there and then there's also Horace Silver, a jazz musician, the book is named after his album, The Cape Verdean Blues.

Everything really came together in the most organic way and that's something that I just feel really fortunate to have—something that really just came together.

Are there any other Cape Verdean themes or references in the book that someone who is not familiar with the culture wouldn't have picked up on, particularly the idea of sodade.

The book actually opens up with this poem called "Let" it just goes into Cape Verdean references right off the bat. The second line is "Or Cesaria Évora's voice on Christmas with Sodade on her lips." Cesaria Evora, she's a Cape Verdean singer and one of her most popular songs is "Sodade."

Then there's an Amílcar Cabral reference, who was a revolutionary for Cape Verde. One of my favorite ones is a poem called "Taking over for the 99 and the 2000," and that's something I think Boston Cape Verdeans will read and be like "wow." They'll know it, and hopefully they will feel it. It's really just about growing up on the street I grew up on and just how the dreams of our parents kind of transformed into an Instagram like. I feel like parents have these ideas and they come here and they want the best for their children—and this is not saying that we're not doing our best—but there's this thing that we are caught up in life. That poem is not just for Cape Verdeans, it's really about surveillance and [examining] the people that we grow into and the people that don't get to grow up from where we're from.

"It's really just about growing up on the street I grew up on and just how the dreams of our parents kind of transformed into an Instagram like."

Okay, so I'm not sure if you've put much thought into this, but was there a poem in particular that was like the hardest to write?

No. It's weird because I don't go to poetry first to work through something. I have before in the past. The first few times that I've taken workshops, if I was going through something, there was something I felt strongly about that went straight to the page.

I wanted to be able to see my feelings and situations, or someone else's. I wanted to be able to see it through a different lens and kind of think of different images that these feelings can convey and can represent. By the time I write a poem, it's not hard for me. It's hardened into me. It's writing. I'm still like working it through, but emotionally it doesn't weigh on me. But it's still difficult to write a poem.

Which is your favorite line or poem from Cape Verdean Blues? Or I can tell you one of my favorites and you can just expand on it if that helps.

Okay, I will riff off of your favorite.

It's called: "There's something so deeply gratifying about welcoming your mother into your home and offering her a meal as nourishment and thanks."

Okay, can I just tell you I got teary eyed. The story of this poem is really lame. This poem is definitely one of my favorites but was difficult to write. I was at this Residency on Martha's Vineyard. I took the title actually from a friend, it was her Facebook status one day. She's also a writer, her name is Leah Veaudry.

I think that in terms of the mother in the poem, and in terms of having parents who come from a different generation, you sometimes learn more than them. You learn differently and your palette is different from theirs. I feel like with a lot of my poems, it really just comes back to the body and image, which then comes down to identity.

I also feel that with a lot of my poems, there's always a mother lurking. That poem reminds me of "Strology: Gemini." With [that poem], maybe the speaker's questioning the mother and the mother is the beginning—Africa is the beginning. The sea is also the beginning for a lot of people. I think that is what really what shaped the book organically.

I just feel blessed to have been able to gather all of these different images and ideas to tell a story. We all want to tell a story.

Photo by Sydney Brown

Another part that struck me from your book were the poems with the title "This Is Not For English Speakers" What's the main idea? What's the message behind that?

Okay, so maybe almost two years ago, Manuel Da Luz Goncalves my god brother's father and I so we're basically family. He wrote the first Cape Verdean Creole to English dictionary. It was monumental on so many levels.

I remember sitting down with it and reading all of these words that I knew, some that I didn't, and some that I would hear my family speak that I had a different definition of. I think sometimes when you're second generation and you don't speak the language fluently, you hear things differently. So [the poems] "This Is Not For English Speakers" were inspired by that, by reading that dictionary. But also, thinking about growing up, or even now if I'm listening to a Cape Verdean song and someone is like "what does that mean in English?" But when you translate it in English it makes no sense.

So say you want to refer a book to someone and you say "oh, I want you to read this book by so and so, but Harry's translation is better than Shauna's," or [vise versa]. [The beauty of that] is something I'm really interested in and that was where that idea came from. And I'm actually working on more poems from that [perspective].

I saw so many other hip hop references in the book as well, like "How Is It Going Down," that's a reference to DMX song. I feel like a lot of the times rappers are considered poets. What lyricists or songwriters do you look to for inspiration?

I would say Nas, Frank Ocean, Amy Winehouse and Andre 3000 are my go to. Amy Winehouse's writing is incredible. I like to listen to the way she can tell a story from something that seems so simple and minute, I want to be able to take moments like that, and that's what I did with this book.

I'm not Cape Verdean, but as a black woman I identified with a lot of the things you said in the book. Who is this book for, who is your intended audience?

I never set out to write this book only for Cape Verdean. I want everyone to be able to go to it and be open to it. I'm a black woman, so it's just about or culture. I think it's layered in may different ways. If you find something in there, it's yours.


Purchase Cape Verdean Blues here and follow Shauna Barbosa via her website and on Instagram and Twitter.


This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!


Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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