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buzio

aerophone

This buzio - Creole for conch - was gifted to the mim by the Cape Verdean musician and Minister for Culture Mario Lucio Sousa in 2012. This wind instrument represents old cultural traditions of the southern islands of the West-African archipelago.  

A conch is made by breaking off the narrow tip of the spire of a large (gastropod) shell or by drilling a little hole in the sidewall. The spiral-shaped entrance serves as the air channel. The musician blows into the 'mouthpiece' as if blowing a trumpet. Though the number of notes is limited, the deep, penetrating drone sounds make this instrument special.

Conches are attested to as musical instruments in Crete, Cyprus and the Levant as long ago as the third millennium BC. The conch features in many traditional cultures as a signal and ritual instrument. In rituals in Hindu temples in India the sounds of the instrument are regarded as mediations by the gods. The Mexicans play conches on feast days for the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Korea the conch is played in military processions, in Oman it is used during healing rituals and in the Czech Republic it used to be blown to ward off thunderstorms. The inhabitants of the small, remote islands of Micronesia use them as a signal instrument. In Jamaica a conch provides rhythmic support for collective manual work. On the Antilles it is played during harvest festivals. In some regions of Iraq conches are blown during exorcism rituals. Indonesia has ensembles of twenty conches. In Nepal the instrument is played by Brahmin priests, in Yemen by fishermen, in Japan by Buddhist monks. In Haiti the conch symbolizes uprisings by slaves. Vivaldi wrote a concerto conca. In his day it was believed that the conch's deep tones warded off storms and sailors used it as a foghorn. In Lord of the Flies, the famous allegorical novel written by Nobel prize-winner William Golding in 1954, the conch is a symbol of democracy. 

In Cape Verde the buzio is mainly associated with the old tabanka festival: one day a year slaves were allowed to parade through the streets dressed as kings, ministers, princesses, lackeys, fools and thieves. Figures from local colonial society were presented and ridiculed in these parades. Cape Verde, an archipelago off the west coast of Africa, was a Portuguese colony until 1975. In the middle of the fifteenth century Portuguese came and settled on the uninhabited island and shipped in West-African slaves as workers. The majority of the population is Creole, whose ancestry is a mix of Portuguese colonialists and African slaves. 

Though the tradition of the tabanka is dying out, on certain saints' days members of brotherhoods still dress up and make their way through the city in a spectacle that lasts a few days. The theme is still the same: a thief steals the statue of St John and after much commotion the thief is seized, the statue placed back on its plinth and carried in the procession. This spectacle is really a pretext to parody local figures (often those in authority) and to criticize the political system. Tabankas are celebrated by the poorest sections in society. They have often been banned.   

The tabankas celebrate the beginning of the summer, and usually take place in May and June, and above all around St John's Day (June 24th). The parades are accompanied by noisy ensembles of drums, flutes and buzios, which play repetitive, improvized music.

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way of playing the buzio
tabanka with buzio players
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