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joyous songs of sadness

cesaria evora features at womadelaide


Cesaria Evora Cesaria Evora
THE LABEL ‘FOLKSINGER’ SOMETIMES APPLIED TO CAPE VERDE’S “BAREFOOT DIVA”, CESARIA EVORA, SEEMS INADEQUATE, PERHAPS BECAUSE THE FORM SHE HAS INHERITED AND DEVELOPED, MORNA (SONGS OF SADNESS WITH LYRICS IN THE AFRICAN-PORTUGUESE CAPE VERDEAN CREOLE), IS A SUBTLE, SOPHISTICATED HYBRID, DRAWING ON ANGOLAN LANDU (LAMENT), PORTUGUESE FADO AND BRAZILIAN MODINHA WITH A TOUCH, POSSIBLY, OF ARGENTINIAN TANGO. EVORA’S DISTINCTIVE SOULFUL LYRICISM AND HER ACUTE SENSE OF PHRASING LEAVE MANY A JAZZ SINGER IN THE SHADE.

Cape Verde is a volcanic archipelago 500km off Senegal in western Africa. Breaking from Portugal it became an independent state in 1975. Evora was born on the island of Sao Vincente in 1941, her father a musician, her uncle a morna composer, but she didn’t become a star until 1988, and thanks then to French patronage.

Morna is most often described as soulful, the songs focusing on separation, homesickness and lost love. They have been composed by many hands, the topics often quite local and frequently idiosyncratic—a wasted salary (“Oh little Theresa/ The money from Angola is gone/ I do not have a penny left/ to spend with you”), the decline of the city of Mindelo, getting drunk (“There were three of us/ Drinking rum punch/ We emerged/ Quite out of control /and walked like/ ‘Crooked’ Mr Antoine”), while others are more broadly romantic, even nostalgic. But the mood is never depressed, rarely dark, certainly often sad and yearning but always with a supple buoyancy that suggests reflection and even stoicism.

The classic lilting morna accompaniment comprises guitar, cavaquinho (a small four-stringed Portuguese guitar), violin, clarinet and accordion, but Evora uses a wide range of instrumentation album to album while maintaining a distinctive morna feel or invigorating the sexy dancerliness of the other Cape Verde musical idiom, coladera. Cesaria Evora is a major figure, much more than a World Music icon. Her appearance at WOMADelaide 2008 should be one to relish and treasure. RT


WOMADelaide, Botanic Park, Adelaide, March 7-9, 2008, www.womadelaide.com.au

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 41

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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