Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cesária Évora

I was listening to our local public radio station (KUT/, one of the best in the country) a few weeks ago, and a song came on that was incredibly beautiful--it was so piercing and heartfelt that it really took my breath away.

And it was in a different language, so I had no idea what the song was about.

When the song was over, the program host came on and said that the singer was Cesária Évora, and she was singing about her country, Cape Verde, and its independence from Portugal. Like I said, the song was so heartfelt that it was very touching, even though I didn't understand a single word. She was singing in Criuolo (the Creole language of Cape Verde), which I think is a combination of French and Portuguese, and the only lyrics I've been able to decipher from the song are "little country, I love you."

No matter. I ordered several CD's and haven't stopped listening to her since.

I started doing some research on her life, because I couldn't believe that I hadn't heard of her before. Here's one of the first things I found:
In her expression she reminds one of Billie Holiday or Edith Piaf...

That explains why she had such an impact on me, because we must have almost every song Billie Holiday ever recorded. Who would have thought that there would be a West African versin of Billie Holiday?

That's not fair to her, really, because while her voice might evoke Billie Holiday at times, it's also unique and very striking, with no need for comparison. She's a practitioner of what is called morna, and here's the Wikipedia entry:
Morna is a genre of Cape Verdean music, related to Portuguese fado, Brazilian modinha, Argentinian tango, and Angolan lament. Lyrics are usually in Cape Verdean Creole, and instrumentation often includes cavaquinho, clarinet, accordion, violin, piano, and guitar. Morna is often compared to the blues; there is little research on the relationship between the genres, though there are interesting similarities and significant cultural connections between Cape Verde and the United States. The word morna is of disputed etymology - one suggestion is that it comes from the English verb "to mourn." Morna is widely considered the national music of Cape Verde.

I also found a nice biographical entry for her here. She was a singer on Cape Verde for almost twenty years, quit for a decade, and then was rediscovered:
In 1988 she met producer Jose da Silva, a native of Cape Verdi who grew up in Dakar and Paris. Da Silva made it his mission to make a star out of Cesaria Evora. He let her perform for the Cape Verde's exile community in Paris. Jose da Silva established the Lusafrica record company in 1988 and that same year Evora made her debut album, "La Diva Aux Pieds Nus", in Lisbon. With "Miss Perfumado" in 1992 her career took off at speed. This was her springboard into the international world of music."Miss Perfumado" sold more than 500,000 copies and earned her five gold records. In all, Cesaria Evora has released 8 original albums and won many prizes - one from UNESCO - as a leading African singer. She has also been nominated three times for an American Grammy award.

That's an amazing path to the radio in my car.

Here's the song I first heard: Petit Pays. What this version doesn't do justice to, though, is the incredible clarity of the song on CD, which you can order here.

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