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By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

Friday, February 03, 2011.

I’ve yet to figure out how the two small countries of Cape Verde and Cuba produce so many talented musicians. Now along comes Mayra Andrade to further complicate things. Mayra was born 1985 in Havana, Cuba to parents from Cape Verde. After a divorce, her mother married a man who was a member of the Cape Verdean independence movement and subsequently became an ambassador. Although Mayra would spend a month or two in Cape Verde every year or so, Mayra grew up in Senegal, Angola and Germany. She currently resides in Paris.

In a sense she is quintessential Cape Verdean—a large majority of Cape Verdeans live outside of Cape Verde, thereby making Cape Verde virtually a nation in Diaspora. Mayra is fluent in three languages (Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole, and French, and is also conversant in English). The first music she remembers singing was Brazilian and her current band includes Brazilian musicians. She is more urbane, more sophisticated than ninety percent of native born Cape Verdeans yet Cape Verdean roots music is her foundation.

In one interview, she said she wanted to create music that looked like her, which begs the question what does she look like? She is an example of the African Diaspora that defies easy categorization along old fault lines. She’s not simply black as opposed to white. She is not rural in upbringing or in education. If anything she is what most socially conscious, post-colonial Africans in the Diaspora are, and this is especially true of the Cape Verdeans: a mix of world-wide influences on the one hand, and fiercely dedicated to her people and culture on the other hand.

It can be disconcerting for those who look for simple certainties. She doesn’t sound old, her voice is clearly young but her style respects and represents traditions that were old before she was born. I could name at least five other, young, female vocalists who intimately identify with Cape Verde (Sara Tavares, Lura, Carmen Souza, Maria de Barros, Nancy Vieira) and in all of them there is this same charming nostalgia at the center of their sound, this longing for an embrace of what, for them as individuals, never existed, i.e. their physical oneness with Cape Verde.

They mostly live outside of Cape Verde. They all bring other forms to their music, including other instruments and other musicians to sing their expansive repertoire of songs that celebrate their intimacy with a distant heritage that is an essential element of their being.

Listening to them is such a quiet ecstasy. Their sound makes your heart smile. It is like receiving a delicious kiss in your sleep: was it a dream or did love really visit your lips?

The music is rarely loud but it reverberates, shaking our consciousness, slow caressing our jaded minds, awakening us to the possibility of tenderness in modern life, a possibility which our minds tell us is either rare or not possible because the world is so, well, is so harsh. But for the moment while listening to Mayra we really believe in the strength of softness in helping us to live a better life.

Mayra has produced three albums thus far. Her debut album Navega was a quickly produced, acoustic set that was worked out in the studio as they recorded. Navega was critically well received. What most people respond to is the spontaneous gentleness that seems to imbue almost every track, sort of like fingertips tracing your shoulder line or brushing quickly down your forearm, remarkably subtle and at the same time hugely arousing.

Her second album Storia, Storia was an international project overseen by Brazilian producer Alê Siqueira and recorded in France, Brazil and Cuba, with musicians from Cape Verde, Cuba, Brazil, and Cameroon, along with a plethora of guest appearances which are wonderfully integrated into the sonic fabric, resulting in a unique and unified sound. The album never sounds like a pastiche of thrown together elements; rather this is a colorful tapestry that melds a wide palette of aural colors into a subtle and entrancing sonic montage floating over a cornucopia of string instruments including kora, cello, guitars of all sorts, and firmly resting on a bed of hand played percussion instruments.

For her most recent offering, Studio 105, Mayra simply recorded a small performance featuring selections from her previous albums along with a few new interpretations. The supporting musicians are Munir Hossn on guitars, Rafel Paseiro on bass, and Zé Luís do Nascimento on drums.

This quiet music is easy to mistake for merely pleasant but in truth there is an intricate intimacy at work in Mayra Andrade’s creations. Whether softly playing a lilting rhythm with a knife blade caressing a metal scrapper resting on the front of her shoulder, or wordlessly humming as one of her musicians solos, the music feels like a lover whispering in your ear: this is how my day went, how was it with you? How does my tongue tip taste in your inner ear? The moon wants to know what shall we do with the rest of this balmy night?

Humphrey Bogart had the right idea: play it again!

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

mayra andrade cover 01.jpg 
01 “Mana”
02 “Domicransa”
03 “Lua”
04 “Regasu”
05 “Dispidida”

mayra andrade cover 02.jpg
Stória Stória
06 “Stória Stória”
07 “Juána”
08 “Konsiénsia”
09 “Badiu Si"
10 “Morena, Menina Linda”

mayra andrade cover 03.jpg
Studio 105
11 “Tchapu Na Bandera”
12 “Storia, Storia”
13 “Seu”
14 “Dispidida”
15 “Tunuka”
16 “Lapidu Na Bo”

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

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