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World Music Legends

Césaria Evora

By Morton Marks
Published March 2005
CAPE VERDE

Morna

Now a global figure, Césaria Évora sings in the best venues of the cosmopolitan capitals, and she may be the closest we have to a universal voice. Her 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.

As the first Creole culture, Cape Verde, a group of islands off the west coast of Africa, set the pattern for what’s developed on our side of the Atlantic. For a nation of only 400,000 inhabitants, it has produced a staggering variety of musical genres of African, European and mixed origin, each stylistically broad. This in itself seems distinctively “Caribbean” and “Creole.” Both morna and coladera, the foundations of Évora’s repertoire, are strongly marked by New World influences. They also reflect the circulation of music in the South Atlantic sphere of Portuguese-speaking countries that includes Angola, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé on the African side and Brazil on the American side. For centuries musical styles have crossed and re-crossed the Atlantic, and Cape Verde has always been in the middle of them all.

Morna is part of a musical family that includes Brazilian modinha and Portuguese fado, which according to one theory originated in Afro-Brazilian lundu. Exactly what influenced what is still not completely clear. Similarly, Cape Verdean coladera often sounds like Brazilian samba, which in turn came from Angolan semba. “Growing up in Mindelo,” explained Évora, “I was exposed to music from everywhere: Billie Holiday, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Amália Rodrigues, Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Caetano Veloso and Ángela Maria.” 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.

Given Mindelo’s place on international sea lanes, it’s not surprising that both B. Leza and fellow composer Luis Rendall were influenced by music from Latin America, particularly Brazilian samba and Argentine ta

Recommended Recordings

 

Cabo Verde (Windham Hill, 2002 [re-release])

Miss Perfumado (Windham Hill, 2002 [re-release of 1992 original on Mélodie/Lusafrica])

The Very Best Of Césaria Evora (RCA, 2002)