Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cesária “Cize” Évora: Voz d'Amor


Cesária Évora
(1941- 2011)
Image courtesy of: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/

Widely acclaimed as one of the most influential, beloved and recognized voices in the musical genre known as "World Music," the woman who is simply known to family and friends as "Cize" and  - due to her penchant for performing barefoot on stage - dubbed as the "Barefoot Diva" by the world's press and  legions of her fans globally, was born Cesária Évora on August 27th, 1941, in the port town of Mindelo on the island of São Vicente (one of the ten-island windswept archipelago that form Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean, 570 miles west of the African coast of Senegal).

Isolated from the rest of West Africa by the Atlantic, the volcanic islands of Cape Verde - Cabo Verde - were colonized by the Portuguese in the fifteenth-century (around 1456) and their population remains an amalgamation of Portuguese and African heritage. That fusion of African-European culture is discernible in the local music known as mornas (mournful songs). Mornas are a blend of African blues and Portuguese fado, a soulful genre sung in Creole-Portuguese. And it is in this category of music, morna - accompanied by the acoustic sounds of guitar, cavaquinho, violin, accordion, and the clarinet -  that Cesária began to sing more than forty-five years ago; morna is the genre with which she is most closely identified - its sentimental folk tunes steeped in sadness and longing.
(Sources: lonelyplanet.com, 2011; africanmusic.org, 1998; nationsonline.org, 2011)

Although Cesária's destiny - and voice - would eventually lead her to great fame and fortune, life began in what can only be described as abject poverty: her mother worked as a local cook while her father, who died shortly after Cesária reached her seventh birthday, earned  his  living as a violinist; as she admitted years later, alcoholism was the likely cause of her father's death. After her father's passing, her mother, destitute and unable to properly provide for her daughter, made the painful decision  to  surrender Cesária to an orphanage. It was at the orphanage that the young Cesária began her first foray into music by singing in the orphanage choir. (Sources: africanmusic.org, 1998; rfimusic.com, 2010)

Cesária remained at the orphanage until the age of thirteen. Three years later, Cesária met and fell in love with Eduardo - a sailor - who, after Gregorio Gonsalves, was the second person to teach her the traditional coladeras (catchy songs with an upbeat tempo) and mornas (commonly referred to as Cape Verdean “national blues” that have been passed down through the generations from enslaved ancestors) of her homeland. Cape Verde, still a Portuguese colony in those years, had a thriving music scene which inspired many local musicians and singers, including Cesária. She soon launched her own singing career, performing in the local bars of Mindelo such as the famous Calypso and the Café Royal. Frequenting Mindelo's bars, the young Cesária honed and expanded her repertoire by befriending and associating with local musicians, performing for a few escudos or a couple of drinks. As her reputation on the local music scene grew, Cesária burgeoned into a national star. (Souce: rfimusic.com, 2010)

(Aged just twenty, she was already singing of romantic disappointments and the remoteness of the Cape Verde islands, expressing a remarkable melancholy that is illustrated by recordings made at the time and reissued at the end of 2008 on “Radio Mindelo.”) (Source: cesaria-evora.com, 2009)

As has already been mentioned, at the time of Cesária's appearance in Mindelo's bars, Cape Verde was still a Portuguese colony and its thriving, vibrant music scene with local musicians performing coladeras and mornas, inspired the young Cesária. By 1973, the year when Cape Verde “lost its national hero Amilcar Cabral when the famous revolutionary and morna composer was victim of a political assassination.” By then, Cesária was “well on the way to replacing Cabral as the islands' national heroine. Thanks to constant touring on the piano-bar circuit and several singles which had proved extremely popular on national radio, Cesária's charisma was beginning to win her a committed following of fans.” (Two years later, in 1975, Cape Verde finally gained its independence from Portugal.)

However, in spite of the fact that Cesária's talent began to be noticed by critics and her career was helped along by several well-placed acquaintances, Cesária never strayed away from her roots. “Poverty and alcohol were what Cesaria knew best and her songs continued to revolve around the eternal themes of suffering, melancholy and exile.” And, as half-a-million of the islands' inhabitants (over 50% of the population) were living in exile abroad - many of them in Portugal where Cesaria's career would soar in a few years - it was the theme of 'exile' in particular that struck a chord with Cape Verdean music fans.

But aside from her successful achievements and ascending star, Cesária struggled in the early days of her career and actually abandoned her music for ten years. This lost decade appears to have been largely spent “drowning her sorrows and failed love affairs in drink,” delving into the depths of “sodade” (the nostalgia for lost love and exile). To all intents and purposes, at this nadir of her career it seemed that Cesária faced a bleak and impoverished future, not far from a tragically hopeless one. Cesária's destiny, however, had not given up on her - even if she had; the future of her musical career, as it turned out, lay in a completely different direction altogether. (Quotes & source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://cartveli.blogspot.com

In 1985, ten years after her hiatus, Cesária resumed her singing career, mainly due to another legendary figure of Cape Verdean music exiled in Portugal, Bana. It was also due to Bana's efforts that, at the behest of a local women's association in Lisbon, Cesária was invited to perform a series of concerts in the Portuguese capital; while in Lisbon, the association made it possible for her to stay and record her debut album. And although the sales of this first album were modest, Cesária's sojourn in Lisbon proved to be a turning-point in her resumed career: while recording and performing in Lisbon, she met José Da Silva, “the man who not only became her producer but also her personal mentor.”
(Quote & source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

It was Da Silva, a young Frenchman with Cape Verdean roots who had formerly worked as a pointsman on the French railways, who, in 1988, persuaded Cesária to go to Paris and record a new album, “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus” (The Barefoot Diva). This pivotal album, which featured a mix of coladera and zouk rhythms, was instrumental in launching Cesária's career in France and the “Barefoot Diva” went on to perform her first Parisian concert - two years later in 1990 - at the legendary New Morning. Cesária soon found herself back in the studio, recording her second album, “Distino Di Belita” which introduced listeners to a mix of haunting acoustic mornas and jazzed-up electric coladeras. Both albums, “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus” and “Distino Di Belita,” won instant acclaim for their arrangements, which  were largely due to the work of Cesária's artistic director, the renowned composer Paulino Vieira. The modern renditions of these albums seemed to breath new life into traditional Cape Verdean rhythms and Cesária's music found instant rapport with Cape Verdean expatriats around the world.

Her next album, “Mar Azul” (1991) was Cesária's first entirely acoustic album. As with her previous albums, “Mar Azul” was an instant success, winning rave reviews in the international press in the process. Success was topped by success: “Miss Perfumado,” released in 1992, was a huge sensation in Europe, selling over 300,000 copies and, in 1993, after appearing for the first time at the legendary L'Olympia in Paris, Cesária embarked on an international tour. Then, another turning-point in Cesária's career - and personal life - came in 1994 when she signed with a major record label, BMG, and issued a compilation of her greatest hits entitled, “Sodade, Les Plus Belles Mornas De Cesária” (1994). It was also in 1994 that Cesária resolved to abstain from alcohol altogether. Simply entitled “Cesária Évora” (1995), her next album, proved to be an international success, reaching gold status in France and earning Cesária her first Grammy Award nomination in the United States. Acquiescing to demand, Cesária toured America for the first time in 1995; in 1996, with the release of a live album, “Cesária Évora À l'Olympia,” she played one hundred concerts on a tour that included Europe, America, Asia and Africa. (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Paulino Vieira was replaced by Rufino Almeida, a talented young guitarist (better known on the music scene as “Bau”), as Cesária's artistic director. Cesária's third American tour followed, in 1997, on the heel of her newly-released album, “Cabo Verde” (1997). 1998 saw Cesária back on the charts again with another compilation of her greatest hits, Best of Cesária Évora,” an album composed, for the most part, by the composer B. Leza (the man responsible for catapulting the morna to fame in the 1950s) (Cesária also favoured the composers Manuel de Novas and Teofilo Chantre.)

Café Atlantico” was released in 1999, an album that was recorded in Havana, Cuba, with a group of Cuban and Brazilian musicians. And even though “Café Atlantico” has a decidedly Cuban/Brazilian feel to it, Cesária remained faithful to her Cape Verdean morna. Towards the end of 1999 (December 7th-10th), Cesária ended her album tour with live performances at L'Olympia in Paris. By the spring of 2000, when sales of “Café Atlantico” had reached 150,000 copies sold (a year later, French sales had doubled to 300,000 copies by the beginning of 2001), Cesária set off on yet another international tour. Once she ended her tour, Cesária returned to a studio, this time in Paris and, with her musicians, worked on a new album. Released in March of 2001, “São Vicente Di Longe” was named after the island where Cesaria was born. (While a few of the tracks on “São Vicente Di Longe” were recorded in Cuba, another, “Regresso,” was recorded in Brazil at the famous Caetano Veloso. All in all, Cesária collaborated with no less than sixty musicians, producers and engineers to create “São Vicente Di Longe.”)

Cesária returned to France in 2001 to perform to a sell-out audience at Le Zénith in Paris on April the 28th. Her show featured a special line-up of Cape Verdean guest stars including Teofilo Chantre, clarinet-player Luis Morais and the singer Fantcha. Several days later, on May 9th, Cesária embarked upon a mini-tour of France, performing a few shows in various cities. By the end of 2001, her album, “São Vicente Di Longe,” had successfully sold 150,000 copies in France with an additional 320,000 in the U.S. (In the spring of 2002, Cesária toured extensively throughout Europe, beginning her tour in France.)

2003 found Cesária contributing a track to “Drop the Debt,” a compilation album featuring international stars who supported the idea of abolishing the debt crippling developing countries. Then in June of that year, Cesária released “Club Sodade,” a dance album that introduced Cesária's music to the club-going public by featuring eleven tracks remixed by popular disc-jockeys. In July of 2003, Cesária was called to Lisbon, Portugal, where she was appointed to the position of official ambassadress of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Later that year, Cesária secluded herself for six weeks in a villa in Montreuil - a suburb of Paris - to work on her ninth album, “Voz d'Amor” (2003). This fourteen-track album proved to be an international triumph; by November of 2003, “Voz d'Amor” was number 4 on the American World Music charts and winning two major awards: a prestigious Grammy Award in the U.S. (February 2004) and a Victoire de la Musique award in France. Later in 2004, Cesária was honoured by the French government when Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the French Culture Minister, made her an “Officier des Arts et des Lettres.” (Source:  rfimusic.com, 2010)

(Photograph by Bruno Bollaert)
Image courtesy of: http://www.gentblogt.be/

Recorded in studios between Mindelo, Paris and Rio de Janeiro in 2005, “Rogamar” (which translates into “pray to the sea”), a fifteen-track album, was released in March 2006 and produced by Fernando Andrade (Cesária's pianist since 1999). The majority of the compositions on this album were written by Manuel de Novas and Theofilo Chantre. In order to promote her new album, Cesária simultaneously began an extensive North American tour of Canada and the United States (from March 11th to April 13th, 2006); European dates also followed, appearing at L'Olympia once again, the legendary Paris venue, in the autumn of 2006 for three concerts in November. Then, at the end of February 2008, while on tour in Australia, Cesária suffered a minor stroke after performing at the Sydney Opera House and her tour had to be terminated in March. She was subsequently flown to France for medical treatment. (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Sometime in 2008, a series of forgotten  recordings were unearthed from the archives of Radio Barlavento by Gustavo Albuquerque, a former sound engineer. (Albuquerque happened to be reminiscing about the good old days of the Cape Verdean radio station when he remembered that Cesária had made a series of recordings for Barlavento at the start of the 1960s.) The find, twenty-two previously unreleased tracks (recorded during sessions for the local radio station in Mindelo) documented the genesis of Cesária's first tentative steps towards her singing career. Half of the songs on the album, entitled “Radio Mindelo” (released in December 2008), were written by the virtuoso Cape Verdean guitarist Gregorio Gonçalves. (Sources: rfimusic.com, 2010; calabash.typepad.com, 2009)

Early in 2009, four years after being made “Officier des Arts et des Lettres,”  Cape Verde's national and international star, Cesária Evora,  received one of France's most prestigious and highest honours: on February 9th, the French Culture Minister, Christine Albanel, presented the singer with the Légion d'Honneur. In October of that year, 2009, sixty-eight-year-old Cesária released her eleventh recorded album: “Nha Sentimiento.” The album, recorded in Paris and São Vincente in Cape Verde while Cesária was still recovering from her stroke, included more up-beat coladeiras than the usual melancholic mornas. This new production explored a Middle-Eastern influence in the form of Egyptian strings played by Fathy Salama’s Cairo Orchestra on three tracks (“Sentimento,” “Mam’Bia,” “E So Mi”) as well as the Latino accordion sounds of Colombian Henry Ortiz on “Ligereza.” (Source: rfimusic.com, 2010)

Indefatigable as ever, Cesária launched the “Nha Sentimiento” tour at the Grand Rex in Paris on the 9th and 10th of November, 2009. It then travelled to Geneva, Zurich, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem until the end of the year. A new world tour - the first major set of concerts since Cesária suffered a stroke back in 2008 - was scheduled for 2010. Then a year ago, shortly after appearing in London and while on tour in Lisbon, Portugal, Cesária suffered a “coronary problem” and had to be rushed to Paris where she underwent an emergency open-heart surgery on Monday, the 10th of May. Following the six-hour surgery, she was placed in intensive care and regained consciousness the following morning, Tuesday the 11th. The operation was a success; however, the rest of the European dates scheduled for the month of May had to be cancelled. She was also forced to cancel the remainder of her 2010 concert series which included a North American tour and late summer visits to China, Brazil and Tunisia. Cesária was obliged to rest till the end of 2010.
(Sources: rfimusic.com, 2010; Michaels, S., guardian.co.uk, May 12, 2010)

Image courtesy of: http://www.tropical-music.de/

Addendum: Towards the end of September 2011, it was announced that Cesária, on the medical adviced of her doctors, would be cancelling the remainder of her performance dates due to illness; the singer had been in declining health and suffering from serious issues for the past few years. It was a difficult joint decision for the singer and her manager, José Da Silva, but their record label, Productions LUSAFRICA, made the announcement of Évora's retirement - which essentially brought her career to an end - on the 23rd of September. In an interview with the French newspaper, Le Monde, Cesária apologized to her fans saying that she no longer had the energy and explained her need for rest: I infinitely regret having had to absent myself because of illness – I would have liked to keep giving pleasure to those who've followed me so long.” (Source & quote: Tilden, I., guardian.co.uk, Friday, 23 September, 2011)

On December 17th, 2011, Cesária “Cize” Évora passed away in a hospital in her native homeland, Cape Verde. Her death was announced by the Minister of Culture; she was seventy. (Source: france24.com, Saturday, 17 December, 2011)

Video courtesy of: chipsychaps

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The above nine videos are all courtesy of youtube.com

Image courtesy of: http://biletleader.ru/ 


  • Distino Di Belita (1990)
  • Mar Azul (1991)
  • Miss Perfumado (1992)
  • Sodade, Les Plus Belles Mornas De Cesária (1994)
  • Cesária Évora (1995)
  • Cesária Évora À l'Olympia [live album] (1996)
  • Cabo Verde (1997)
  • Best of Cesária [compilation] (1998)
  • La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (1998)
  • Café Atlantico (1999)
  • São Vicente Di Longe (2001)
  • Anthologie: Mornas e Coladeras (2002)
  • Voz D'Amor (2003)
  • Rogamar (2006)
  • Radio Mindelo (2008)
  • Nha Sentimento (2009)
  • Cesária Évora &... (2010)

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