An analysis of the global array of ocean island volcanics shows that carbonatites only form in those hotspots that have the lowest Si- and highest alkali-contents among their primitive melts, such as the Cape Verde and Canary (Islands) hotspots. Fractionated melts from these two hotspots reach, at any given SiO2, several wt% higher total alkali contents than for ocean islands without carbonatites. This is because their strongly silica-undersaturated primitive melts fractionate at low SiO2 to high alkali contents, driving the evolving melt into the silicate-carbonatite miscibility gap. Instead, moderately alkaline magmas fractionate toward the alkali-feldspar thermal divide and do not reach liquid immiscibility. Low SiO2 and high alkalis are the combined result of comparatively deep and low-degree mantle melting, the latter is corroborated by the highest high-field-strength and rare earth element concentrations in the Cape Verde and Canary primitive melts. CO2 in the source facilitates low melt SiO2, but enrichment in CO2 relative to other hotspots is not required. The oceanic hotspots with carbonatites are among those with the thickest thermal lithosphere supporting a deep origin of their asthenospheric parent melts, an argument that could be expanded to continental hotspot settings.