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Date: 12/04/2013
The return of singer Cesaria Evora

Each time she went into the studio for the twenty years or so that she enjoyed international success, the late Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora and her producer and manager, José Da Silva would record more tracks than those required for each album.

(Jose Da Silva bought a lovely resale apartment in the Melia Tortuga through Cape Verde Property)

The intention was to choose a set of songs that fitted together naturally and formed a harmonious record that would delight listeners from start to finish. The songs that did not make it to the final list were left incomplete for technical reasons or because Cesaria herself decided so.

The production team gradually built up a collection of songs that had never featured on any of her albums, many of them fully orchestrated and mixed. There was no thought of turning this treasure trove of songs into an album.

However, Da Silva when was bombarded with suggestions for projects to fill the gap left by the singer’s death decided that the best idea would be to give the world a new album of songs that had never left the vaults of the studios.

Just over a year after the death of the Barefoot Diva, so named because of a habit of performing without shoes, in December 2011, the extra material that she recorded has been put together for an album of 13 songs. Mãe Carinhosa, Cape Verdean Creole meaning “Mother Affection,” is the singer’s twelfth studio album with her trademark mornas and coladeras combined with influences from Latin America.

Morna is guitar or piano based music from Cape Verde often compared to the blues that Cesaria single-handedly popularized around the world. Its derivative, the Coladeira is a more recent musical form with a faster rhythm and has been popular since the 1950s.

Soft ballad

Half the songs were already fully orchestrated and mixed when Da Silva began work on the album in the late singer’s hometown of Mindelo and Paris in August last year. However, the process was no simpler or easier than the production of the eleven albums before it. The only difference was that Cesaria Evora herself was not physically involved anymore.

Its no surprise to find songwriters on the album like Teofilo Chantre with the enchanting Latin flavored title track, B. Leza contributes two mornas, Dor di Sodade and Talves. There are also songs by others who regularly collaborated with Cesaria like Manuel de Novas, Gregorio Gonçalves and Nando da Cruz writer of Esperança (featuring Cameroonian legend Manu Dibango on marimba), and Tchon de França (Land of France). The latter, describing the melancholy of a Cape Verdean who left his village in Salamansa to settle in France and now longs for his “mar azul” (blue sea) – a common backdrop for many of Cesaria’s songs.

Besides universal themes like love, the lyrics of Cape Verdean music typically revolve around poverty, emigration, homesickness and the sea. Evora sang in Kriolu, a Creole language that mixes Portuguese with indigenous West Africa dialects.

The album opens with the soft ballad Sentimento (Feeling), first recorded in 2003 and written by legendary Cape Verdean pianist, Epifania Evora, the “Great Tututa,” one of the few women to write mornas. You can’t miss the depth of emotion as Cesaria sings lyrics that translate as: “I haven’t the words to tell you with my poor, lackluster verses but I believe I love you

Cesaria added the bolero Dos Palavras to her repertoire for the enjoyment of Spanish crews who stopped over in the Bay of Mindelo when she was still a singer in the island’s bars. Her smooth rendition of the song first performed in Mexico in 1962 by Los Bribones (The Rascals) is an absolute delight.

She sings of the suffering and distress of an unrequited love and invites her lover to “open my heart with your golden key and hear an anthem of love and affection,” on Talvez (Maybe).

Her caustic side is evident in the words of the bouncy rhythm of Quen Tem Odio inspired by an incident in the 1960s where the two carnival troops in Mindelo met to settle their scores. “He who feels hatred for us must grow up,” she sings. “We can no longer stand their slurs. He will have to admit defeat.”

Prodigal son

The songs on Mae Carinhosa are gathered from the recording sessions of various albums by the late singer, from Cabo Verde in 1997 to Rogamar in 2005. To call it a posthumous album would be missing the point; the songs were recorded with the same passion and hunger evident on the music released during her lifetime.

Jose Da Silva, a Frenchman of Cape Verdean origin and founder of the Lusafrica an independent world music record label, discovered Cesaria, singing in a restaurant in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon in 1987. He has described the day that she agreed to go to Paris with him and record the first album as “the beginning of an adventure that changed her life but also mine.”

After years of obscurity and already well into her 40s, the singer broke on to the world music scene with the songs Sodade and Angola from the renowned Miss Perfumado album setting her on the road to success. Along the way she sold six million albums, filled up venues in Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States and won a Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Contemporary World Music recording for the album Voz D’Amor. Cape Verde, the islands off the coast of West Africa, honored its most famous daughter by giving her a diplomatic passport and putting her face on its stamps.

Three months before her death in 2011, the 70-year-old singer announced her retirement from music worn down as she was by the effects of open-heart surgery the previous year. She survived a stroke in 2008 and her poor health was not helped by years of chain smoking and her affinity for a drink of rum, even while on stage.

Da Silva says Cesaria used to talk a lot about her mother and that’s why he picked a related title for the album. On Mae Carinhosa, she sings of the emotion of a prodigal son who has returned home with all his worries to the caress of a mother’s tenderness.

This is clearly not the last that the world has heard from Cesaria Evora the “Queen of Morna” who introduced the “Cape Verdean blues” to the globe. Her international success has opened the door for a host of musicians from Cape Verde, including Lura, Teofilo Chantre, Tcheka. Mario Lucio and Nancy Vieira.

Written by BILLIE ODIDI AFRICA REVIEW



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