Cesaria Evora, Rogamar (RCA Victor, 2006)

Reviewed by Rachel Wifall

I love Cesaria Evora, and have for some time. Although she has had quite a long musical career and has been prolific, releasing sixteen albums so far, her music was first introduced to the United States only ten years ago. Nominated six times for a Grammy Award, she finally won one for her 2003 album Voz D'Amor, under the category of Best Contemporary World Music Album. Her latest effort Rogamar was released in March of 2006, selections of which can be heard at http://www.myspace.com/cesariaevora.

Evora hails from Cape Verde, a group of islands off the coast of West Africa, settled by the Portuguese in the late 16th century and used as a center for the African slave trade. The country, populated by a mix of people who speak a Portuguese Creole, gained its independence in 1975. Its traditional music accordingly takes its influences from various sources. A typical Cesaria Evora album consists of various morna interspersed with a couple of upbeat dance numbers. Morna are moody and sensuous songs of a style related to Portuguese fado, Brazilian modinha, Argentinian tango, and Angolan lament. It is usually sung in Cape Verdean Creole and its instrumentation often includes cavaquinho (a small guitar-like the ukulele), clarinet, accordion, violin, and guitar. It is often compared to the blues, and one theory behind the word “morna” is that it comes from the English word “to mourn.”

As with many seaside communities, the music of Cape Verde is preoccupied with the ocean and all its implications: beauty, travel, parting, danger. The songs Evora chooses to sing, composed by multiple songwriters, are largely concerned with the water as well, and this is reflected even in the titles of her albums: Rogamar means “praise the sea”; Mar Azul, or “Blue Sea” is the title of Evora’s 1991 album; and her 1999 release is entitled Café Atlantico . While her sultry music often deals with hardship and longing and her vocals are rich, her singing is notably understated, making her songs simultaneously pensive and enjoyable. In order to feel the full effect of her songs, one should read the translations of her lyrics.

Evora grew up in poverty and only achieved widespread artistic recognition after she began recording in Paris in the late 1980’s, when she was in her late 40’s. In her days of singing at Cape Verdean bars she acquired a reputation for loving cognac and cigars; she is also known as the “barefoot diva” because of her propensity to appear on stage in her bare feet in support of the homeless and poor women and children of Africa. Although she’s in her 60’s, she still performs on tour; while it’s not every day that Cesaria comes around, one can still hope. Information about her musical releases and tours can be acquired at www.cesaria-evora.com.
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