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African Legends

Césaria Évora

By Morton Marks
Published November 14, 2006

Césaria Évora’s art is a personal distillation of a wealth of elements, and the highest expression of the sensibility of the Cape Verdean people, inventors of what we’ve come to call Creole culture.

For audiences around the world, Évora’s voice resonates on many levels: we hear blues, Brazilian pop, Portuguese fado, French chanson and Cuban habanera echoing on and on. Both morna and coladera, the foundations of Évora’s repertoire, are strongly marked by New World influences. For centuries musical styles have crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic, and Cape Verde has always been in the middle of them all.

Since her early childhood, however, Évora’s strongest influence has been her father’s cousin, B. Leza (a pun on beleza, meaning “beauty”), a nickname for composer Francisco Xavier da Cruz, who extended morna’s harmonic language in a way that’s endured for decades. His songs appear on most of Évora’s albums, and at home his works are considered standards.

Not that Évora only sings mornas and coladeras; she’s expanded into the musical area loosely labeled “folklore,” which in Cape Verde can get pretty close to the African end of the spectrum.

Évora’s ascent has been prodigious, never a sure thing, indeed unlikely. She stayed in Mindelo when many of her generation left after the port became moribund. She stuck to her acoustic guns when Cape Verdean music turned electric. She survived years of obscurity before meeting producer José da Silva. And then, suddenly, success in France and international fame.

Maybe Césaria Évora was thinking that if not for da Silva and the French, she’d still be on the Lisbon-Praia-New England circuit, singing at a VFW Hall in Pawtucket. She’d sing with the same feeling anywhere, the feeling she got when she was still playing the piano bars in Mindelo.

Recommended Recordings

Cabo Verde (Windham Hill, 2002 [re-release])
Miss Perfumado (Windham Hill, 2002 [re-release of 1992 original on
The Very Best Of Césaria Evora (RCA, 2002)