|Cesaria Evora © Youri Lenquette / Lusafrica|
BRUSSELS - They call her the 'Barefoot Diva' because she always performs without shoes. But sitting in her dressing room before her appearance at the Palais des Beaux-Arts here, Cesaria Evora is wearing a sedate pair of black house slippers.
Everything else about her is diva-like, from the long, burgundy-coloured nails and many gold bangles, to the flowing patterned blouse. At 56, Evora is enjoying success that took a long time to come her way and she seems a little amused by all the attention she is receiving in
Evora is acknowledged to be one of the most remarkable singers from
Africa and, as Bob Marley did for reggae and , she has put the music of Jamaica firmly on the map. Marley actually was one of her favourite artists, along with Edith Piaf, Salif Keita and Manu Dibango. Cape Verde
"Singers like Marley don't come along very often," Evora says, and the same thing could be said about her. She has a voice that makes people stop and listen to her songs, even if they don't understand Portuguese or Kriolu, the local Creole language.
Critics have called the voice 'powerful', 'extraordinary', 'pure' and 'gutsy'. Whatever you call it, Evora's singing has a remarkable effect on her audience. During her concert in
, it made at least one grown man cry. Brussels
Evora's repertoire is based on the 'morna',
's national music which is characterized by sad, poetic lyrics and slow guitar- accompanied melodies. Cape Verde
Evora's uncle, Francisco Xavier da Cruz (aka B. Leza), was a renowned morna composer and her father also wrote music. She says she doesn't write her own lyrics because she considers herself foremost an 'interpreter' of both new and traditional songs. Her voice completes the poetry of the morna.
|The back cover of 'Cabo Verde' with Evora's autograph|
Evora started singing in her teens at the few bars of her hometown Mindelo, on the
. She captivated the locals and was soon the rage on the local radio station. Working with accomplished clarinetist Luis Morais, she dreamed of making a career from singing, but hardships in her personal life and the poverty of island of São Vicente got in the way and she stopped performing. Cape Verde
In 1988, however, when she was 47 years old, a French producer of
origin, Jose Da Silva, invited her to visit Cape Verdean to record an album. The album was called La Diva aux pieds nus (The Barefoot Diva), and some of the songs from it became hits in the Paris community in Cape Verdean . That October Evora gave her first performance in France before a small audience. Paris
Two years (and two albums) later, she released Miss Perfumado, to rave reviews. For many, she was a new Billie Holliday - rare voice, hard life and a passion for alcohol and cigarettes. Within months her concerts were sell-outs and the album went on to sell more than 200,000 copies in
"It all started with Miss Perfumado," she reminisced. "To have success at this age is something I never expected but it was that album that launched things."
The title song is a haunting, melancholy ballad which was composed by her uncle. Whenever she sings it, the audience remains deathly silent until long after the final note. Then the applause breaks out.
Following the release of Miss Perfumado, Evora went on a global tour, performing in
Europe, North and South America and . In Japan , famous singers such as Caetano Veloso welcomed her as one of their own. The music of Brazil has in fact influenced that of Brazil , which Evora laughingly refers to as ‘”little Cape Verde ”. Brazil
"We like Brazilian music very much," she says. "There is a lot of similarity because we use the same instruments."
|The front cover of 'Cabo Verde'|
"It's more in line with the traditional music of
," she says. "The musicians are also new and I have people who are well-known in different areas also participating, such as the clarinetist James Carter." Cape Verde
The clarinet and saxophone do play a big part in her live shows although the music is driven by strings - the guitar, bass, and the cavaquinho (a small four-stringed instrument) - complemented by the piano. (END/1997) – Alecia McKenzie.
Cesaria Evora died on
17 December 2011 in . Her music lives on. Cape Verde