Imagine that during the last week of December around 1600, a Portuguese vessel leaves Goa, the magnificent capital of the Portuguese Asian empire located 350 miles south of Bombay, for the six-month return to Lisbon. The bottom two layers of the four-deck ship are devoted to storing spices – mainly pepper, but the return cargo also includes cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, indigo and Chinese silk bought from Moorish traders. With the remaining two decks reserved for official cabins and the storage of privately owned chests, little room is left for the 100 sailors and a chicken coop. Crossing the Indian Ocean during the most pleasant time of the year, the ship docks briefly at the Portuguese possession of Mozambique (settled 1507) and arrives a month later at the Cape of Good Hope. But instead of rounding the Cape and sailing north up the coast of West Africa, past the Portuguese settlements of Benin (1485), the Congo (c. 1480), Sierra Leone (1460), the archipelago of São Tomé (c. 1471), and the Cabo Verde islands (1444), which lie along the route that brought them to India, the Portuguese crew sails due west into the heart of the Atlantic bringing the ship almost within sight of the Brazilian coast before its sails catch the easterly winds that will allow it to tack north towards the Azores, the last stop of the over 10,000-mile round trip before reaching Lisbon. Along the way, descriptions and opinions of native instruments and musical styles are logged into diaries: a Congolese lute, xylophones from Mozambique, cymbals, drums and bells, and reed instruments.
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