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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La Diva Aux Pied Nus

Cesaria Evora or Barefoot Diva (because of her style of performing without shoes) brought the sounds of Cabo Verde to Budapest two evenings ago in a great concert. She sang for almost two hours non-stop--no chit-chats with the audience, no attempts to collect brownie points by trying to say something in the local language.

There was just one instrumental sometime into the last third of the concert and that was when she could sit and rest for a few moments. This is no small feat, given that this woman is almost seventy years old and has been touring the world intensively for the past decade. And what a voice she has! A strong contra-alto, very deep but somehow warm. There was no single false note, and not a moment of faltering of that formidable voice (and no smoking Cuban cigars and drinking whiskey, which she is also famous for doing in concerts--it seems that she is trying to quit alcohol on the verge of her 8th decade :)

I didn't know until yesterday, when I started reading about her life, that she was only discovered when she was almost 50 years old (similar to the Buena Vista cohort). Before that she lived in poverty and obscurity, singing in bars to feed her family, fighting alcoholism and depression. She had even stopped singing for a whole decade at some point in her life, out of despair.

Her music--the music of Cabo Verde, a small island off the west coast of Africa--can be very rhythmic and joyous, but there is also the blues (morna), similar to the Portuguese fado, only a bit lighter. I like this description of her music that I found in an article published in 2003:

The predominant style of her singing is morna, and in fact Evora has been called the queen of morna. Morna, usually known as "the blues of Cape Verde," is an acoustic style, heavy on guitar and cavaquinho and often backed up by violin, accordeon, clarinet and piano but very light on percussion. Soulful and sentimental, morna is injected with nostalgia and homesickness, longing and separation, love and desire.

Very similar in both sound and theme to its Portuguese cousin fado, it shares with fado the themes of longing for some other place, the search for roots, the pain of love, sensuality and internal gravitation. Morna, however, has a more overt injection of African rhythm and a Latin American connection to tango. Like the sensuously bohème nocturnal lifestyle of genuine, hardcore Argentine tango, Cesaria Evora can sometimes remind you of an intimate, smokefilled dance room or bar like the ones she got her start in.

And here is one of her most famous, and best songs, "Sodades":


Merisi said...

Music certainly seems like a fountain of youth! Beautiful.

I_am_Tulsa said...

I so envy you! I used to do a world music show on the radio and I loved playing her songs! She is an extraordinary woman isn't she? BTW, this is my first time here, you have an excellent site!

Jelica said...

She really is extraordinary.

I_am_Tulsa: world music show on the radio sounds like a dream job to me! I also used to work on a radio but only in news production (boring). Thanks for visiting :)

I_am_Tulsa said...

It was a dream job! I hope to do one again but I've been away from directing radio shows for awhile now...working 24-7 was getting too hard for me!
We gathered news from different parts of the world too, so when I hear "news production" I think "argh, difficult!"

Thank YOU for visiting too!

Jelica said...

I definitely don't miss the night shifts (god, that was tough!) and working every bloody weekend but I still have a soft spot for radio. Few things can beat that adrenalin rush of going live :)))

French Fancy said...

Thank you so much for uploading that fantastic clip. I'd never heard of her, it is unlikely she will put in an appearance in Brittany but at least I know who she is now.

Jelica said...

French Fancy, she performs in some bizarre places (small towns in Russia I have never heard of) so it is not quite improbable that she will come to Bretagne one day. I think she has a soft spot for France as the country where she first found international success.