Cesária Évora, Beloved Singer from Cape Verde, Dies at 70

Though not strictly “Caribbean” news, we all share in our regret at the news of the death of Césaria Évora, from the sister archipelago of Cape Verde. Here she sings one of my favorite songs, “Sodade”. The video is followed by the obituary from The New York Times and Agence France Presse’s report of her funeral today.


Césaria Évora, who brought the music of the tiny Cape Verde islands off Senegal to a worldwide audience, died on Saturday in Mindelo, on São Vicente, her native island in Cape Verde. She was 70, as Jon Pareles reports in this obituary for The New York Times.

Her death was announced by her managers. She had a stroke in 2008 and a heart attack in 2010. After another stroke this year, she announced her retirement.

Ms. Évora’s music was in a style called morna, which is sung in taverns on the Cape Verde islands: slow, pensive ballads with an underlying lilt, suffused with sodade, the Cape Verdean creole term for a nostalgic longing that pervades music across Portugal (where the word is saudade) and its former empire.

Ms. Évora sang about love, sorrow and history, including slavery, in a husky, dignified, unhurried contralto that brought warmth and gravity to songs by Cape Verde’s leading poets. She also sang in her country’s more upbeat styles, coladeira and funaná, but her serenely sorrowful mornas were her legacy.

She always performed barefoot, a gesture of solidarity with poor women. A concert review in The New York Times described her as “a Yoda of melancholy” onstage.

Ms. Évora was born in 1941, grew up in a poor family and was reared in an orphanage after her father died when she was 7. She began performing as a teenager at sailors’ taverns and on the ships that stopped at the harbor in Mindelo. Her local reputation spread; she performed on Cape Verdean radio, and two of her broadcast concerts were released as albums in Europe in the 1960s. Ms. Évora abandoned music in the 1970s, unable to make a living. But in 1985 she re-emerged on an anthology of Cape Verdean singers recorded in Lisbon.

In 1988 a Cape Verdean producer based in France, José da Silva, brought Ms. Évora to Paris to make an album. Her studio debut was “La Diva aux Pieds Nus” (“The Barefoot Diva”), which fused morna and coladeira with Caribbean, Brazilian and European pop. Ms. Évora drew a following among Cape Verdean expatriates in Europe, but it was not until she returned to unembellished morna with her third album, “Mar Azúl” (“Blue Ocean”) — a 1991 collection recorded with acoustic instruments — that her music began to reach a broader audience.

French listeners and radio stations embraced her music’s kinship to cabaret chansons. She performed at theaters and festivals to growing audiences. Reports of her fondness for cigarettes and Cognac burnished her reputation; a few years later, she would give up drinking but not smoking.

Her 1992 album, “Miss Perfumado,” sold an impressive 300,000 copies in France alone. Concerts at large theaters in Lisbon and Paris were sold out, and her touring circuit expanded across Europe and into the Americas.

Her 1995 album, “Cesária,” was released internationally and brought Ms. Évora her first Grammy nomination. Her album “Cabo Verde” won four Kora awards, a pan-African prize, and was also nominated for a Grammy, as was “Miss Perfumado,” belatedly released in the United States in 1998. In 2003 Ms. Évora’s “Voz d’Amor” won the Grammy Award for best contemporary world music album.

Ms. Évora toured the world through the 1990s and 2000s, expanding her repertory with Cuban and Brazilian songs on “Café Atlántico” in 1999, and collaborating with Bonnie Raitt, Caetano Veloso and the Cuban musicians Chucho Valdés and the Orquesta Aragón on her 2001 album “São Vicente di Longe.” Her final studio album, “Nha Sentimento” in 2009, introduced tinges of Arabic pop to her music from the Egyptian composer and arranger Fathy Salama.

With Ms. Évora’s prominence, a younger generation of Cape Verdean musicians embraced morna and performed it internationally. Ms. Évora was a direct mentor to Fantcha, who toured the United States with her in the late 1980s, and an indelible influence on Lura, Mayra Andrade and Sara Tavares.

When Ms. Évora announced her retirement this year, she told the French newspaper Le Monde: “I have no strength, no energy. I’m sorry, but now I must rest.”

She is survived by her children, Eduardo and Fernanda, and two grandchildren. The government in Cape Verde declared two days of national mourning in her honor.

For the original obituary go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/arts/music/cesaria-evora-morna-singer-from-cape-verde-dies.html?_r=1&src=tp&smid=fb-share

Today, thousands of mourning fans, from ordinary people to national leaders, gathered Tuesday for the funeral of Cape Verde’s legendary singer Césaria Évora, AFP reports.

The beloved “barefoot diva” died Saturday at age 70 on her native island of Sao Vicente and her body was taken from the hospital Tuesday to her family’s home in Mindelo.

Her fans, many in tears and singing her songs, lined the streets to see her casket pass, accompanied by 30 honour guards from the army of Cape Verde, an archipelago in the Atlantic off the west coast of Africa.

“She sang and enchanted all the continents… she lit up the world,” said President Jorge Carlos Fonseca during an official ceremony.

The head of state was joined by Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves, and Culture Minister Mario Lucio Sousa, himself a singer and Evora’s friend, along with other famous locals from the worlds of politics and entertainment.

“With Cesaria, the world discovered our soul,” Sousa told his fellow mourners. “Cape Verde became richer with the heritage of Cesaria Evora.”

A funeral mass was held in Mindelo where she will be buried in the city cemetery.

The singer, who won international acclaim for her sultry voice and melancholy ballads, retired three months ago due to ill health, having undergone open heart surgery in May last year.

“I infinitely regret having to stop because of illness, I would have wanted to give more pleasure to those who have followed me for so long,” she said in an interview with Le Monde when she retired.

Evora has sung the blues-influenced “saudade” of her native Cape Verde since a young age, but came to world fame late in life in 1992 after three decades performing in the bars of Mindelo.

Her third album Miss Perfumado, which came out that year, was a worldwide hit selling more than 300,000 copies to date.

For the original AFP report go to http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle08.asp?xfile=data/entertainment/2011/December/entertainment_December81.xml&section=entertainment

2 thoughts on “Cesária Évora, Beloved Singer from Cape Verde, Dies at 70

  1. Hi Lisa. So nice to see this ‘non-Caribbean’ item in memory of Cesária. When popular/famous people die, we see that they are suddenly claimed by a large extended family. Beyond her native Cabo Verde, Cesária seems to be claimed by Africa, Portugal, and Brazil. So I guess we in the Caribbean can also join in and claim her?! Certainly she has many ‘connections’ to Curaçao: Cabo Verdeano (the creole language) is very, very similar to Papiamentu and while she may rightly be called THE barefoot diva, Curaçao also has A barefoot diva in the world-music catogory: Izaline Calister. One of Haitian President Michel Martelly’s greatest hits as a (former) kompas musician is “Pa Manyen”, which is an adaptation of Ramiro Mendes’ Cape Verdean anthem “Angola”, a song first recorded and made famous internationally by Cesária. And Puerto Rican-born, US-based Sandra Guzman, former editor of Latina magazine and author of The New Latina’s Bible (Seal Press, 2011) writes on her blog, http://www.sandraguzman.com: “[Cesária] reminds me so much of the women in my father’s small lush Caribbean town filled with Africa’s scattered children. Her homeland, Cape Verde, a string of islands off the coast of Africa colonized by Portugal, is in many ways just like the string of islands of the Caribbean colonized by Europeans of all sorts. Many people on these islands share one thing: a unique African expression that transcends language, time and generations. My three aunts . . . are black women who love to sing and sing with love. They could be Cesaria. Cesaria was them.” Q.E.P.D.


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