Monday, December 26, 2011

In Memoriam: Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora: Sodade


The Cape Verde Islands are a chain of ten volcanic islands off the coast of Senegal. Much of the land is desert, there is a live volcano on one island, and the area has a particular kind of hurricane named after it. So it really isn’t that surprising that the islands were uninhabited until the fifteenth century. At that time, Portugal established an outpost there to service their slave trade. The Cape Verde Islands remained a Portugese colony until independence came in 1975. Since the end of the slave trade, the country has been an important port in the Atlantic shipping lanes. As such, the people of Cape Verde come in frequent contact with people from many lands, and singing for the sailors is a viable way to make a living. It was what Cesaria Evora did for thirty years, starting in the 1950s.

In 1985, a friend took Evora to Paris. It was the first time she had ever left her homeland, and it led to the making of her first album three years later. Worldbeat was all the rage then in world music, and Evora’s first two albums set her singing against a backdrop of heavy electronic beats. Her third album, 1991’s Mar Azul, was the first to feature her voice in an acoustic setting like the one she had always used at home. The album would prove to be her breakthrough.

Evora’s style is called Morna. The instrumental part of the music features Portugese rhythms, but influences from jazz, west African music, and all of the cultures that have passed through Cape Verde are in the mix as well. But the feature of this music is the voice. Evora sang of history, of love, of course, and of justice for poor people like she had been. Evora insisted on performing bearfoot, in solidarity with the poor. In her voice, you can hear a land buffeted by the whims of nature, but also the determination of her people. Her words are in Kriola, the native creole version of Portugese. Not many people know the language, but her meaning is completely clear. Morna is first of all music of the heart, and no one who sang it had more heart than Cesaria Evora.

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