Cesária Évora

🏷 Singer from Cape Verde

"Sodade" by Cesária Évora

If there were ever a voice that embodied that of a siren, a voice that could seduce, sadden and soothe with its elegance, it was Cesária Évora's. It was the voice that lifted Cape Verde's little-known blues, morna, beyond the island and into the international world of music.

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She sang in Kriolu, which draws from West African dialects and Portuguese — the language of Cape Verde's former colonizer. Évora had a gift for elevating morna ballads, a style of song whose lyrics address poverty, longing, and most deeply, partings: of both the physical and emotional kind. Her melodic voice conjured the beauty and struggle, melancholy and yearning of life in Cape Verde. Performing without shoes, Évora was often paid with drinks and trivial tips as she performed for the sailors who arrived on the Portuguese cruise ships that docked at Mindelo. Yet her languid vocals and blasé glamour were unforgettable. She would eventually be known as the "barefoot diva" and the queen of morna, both names capturing the humble majesty she evoked.

Decades before seasoned artists such as Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley reached world-wide fame at ages where most musicians had long retired or given up, Évora was "discovered" at the age of 47 by producer José Da Silva while singing in Lisbon. Bana, a Cape Verdean singer (known as the "king of morna") who had found success off the island, wanted to expose Évora, and morna, to a larger audience. So he invited Évora to perform in Portugal. That fateful trip would change her life. But as with much of her career, rightful acclaim would come later: four albums in, to be exact, with 1992's Miss Perfumado. That album made her an international star, and went on to sell 300,000 copies worldwide.

📄 Chaka V. Grier/NPR Music
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