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THE BREATHTAKING VOICE OF CESARIO EVORA

Saturday/Sunday, February 3, 2008.

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

"Morna is like the blues because it is a way to express life’s suffering in music."


Born on August 27, 1941, in the small port of Mindelo on the beautiful Cape Verde island of Sao Vicente, Cesario Evora is an internationally-lauded folk hero of the small collection of islands that comprise Cape Verde. Although she has recorded in France and in Cuba, her music remains firmly rooted in the culture of Lusophone in West Africa.

According to official government figures, the population is estimated at 423,613 but slightly more than a half million Cape Verdeans live outside of Cape Verde—it really is a diasporan country.

Much like parts of South Africa, there is a claim by Europeans that the islands were uninhabited when the invaders arrived. The population is mostly creoles (mainly African/Portuguese, 71%) with about a quarter of the population native African (28%) and an extremely small percentage 1%) of Portuguese and other Europeans.

The language is Portuguese-based Creole, the style of music is “morna,” “coladeras,” and other traditional rhythms and genres, but Cape Verdean’s “sodade” evokes the familiar sadness that is the blues.

Cesarie is the master of “morna.” If she were to sing “Happy Birthday” , it could make you cry, thinking about all of the suffering you have seen in life and simultaneously encourage you to wipe away the tears and go on living - after all suffering is a given, happiness is the thing we must struggle to grasp.
 
Cesaria comes by her morna legitimately; her father died when she was seven and she spent time in an orphanage where she first learned to sing in the choir. Cesaria sang in bars and hotels, eventually becoming well known in the islands but without attracting any international attention. After knocking around for a number of years, Ms. Evora gave up singing for ten years.

Through the intercession of Bana, a fellow Cape Verdean who was in exile in Portugal, arrangements were made for her to perform at the invitation of a women’s organization. Subsequently she received an invitation from Jose Da Silva to record in Paris.

The result was La Diva aux Pieds Nus (The Barefoot Diva) in 1988, an album that garnered critical acclaim. The 1992 album Miss Perfumado brought Cesaria international touring, awards and a revived recording career.
 
What I find most amazing is how inventive Cesaria is in using traditional West African music. Although there is a remix album of some of her major songs, her heart-felt, acoustically accompanied songs are simultaneously elegant and elegiac, mournful and hopeful, melancholy and uplifting.

The opening track, Africa Nossa,” is a joyful celebration of our tormented motherland. The feet that yesterday were shackled, today dance into the future.

 

Whether singing traditional songs composed by major Cape Verdean songwriters or re-interpreting standards from across the sea (“Besame Mucho”), Cesaria Evora is sure footed and steady, offering us deeply rooted intonations.

 

The featured track, "Negue," a duet with Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes, exemplifies the artistry and deep feeling of this aged angel of sorrow songs.


 

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com


P.S. These selections are drawn from eight different albums. My recommendation is a double-CD best of compilation: Anthologie: Mornas & Coladeras [IMPORT]. This covers the years 1988 to 2001. After that let your ears be your guide.

 

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