Cesaria Evora (her friends called her Cize) was born on August 27th, 1941 in Mindelo, Cape Verde. At the age of 16 she started to sing in a low voice the tunes played by a man on the violin. The man looked at her and encouraged her to sing louder. His name was Iduardo. After that, she started to sing at bars and ships, always standing and wearing down her legs. Mindelo has a large bay and ships arrived frequently bringing all kinds of goods, creating a lively atmosphere.
After Cape Verde gained its independence from Portugal, things didn’t go so well. There were less ships arriving to the ports and the once green archipelago suffered a sever drought that forced many of the island’s inhabitants to emigrate to mainland Africa, Portugal, the United States and France. Cesaria stayed in her hometown until 1985, when Bana, a musician friend, and a Cape Verde women’s association encouraged her to travel to Lisbon (Portugal) to showcase her talent. Unfortunately, none of the Portuguese producers showed any interest.
In 1988, a Cape Verdean producer living in France, José Da Silva, offered her to travel to Paris to record an album. She was 47 at the time and had nothing to loose, she had never been to Paris before, so she agreed. In Paris, Cesaria’s performances of Cape Verdean styles such as morna and coladeira gained a large following among the immigrant community. After the release of her fourth album, Miss Perfumado, she received great reviews and became popular with French, Belgian and German audiences and later with other international audiences. She recorded in Creole and Spanish. Worldwide tours followed.
Cesaria normally toured with fellow Cape Verdean singer Bau and his band: Jacinto Pereira (cavaquinho), José Paris (bass), Luis Ramos (guitars), Nando Andrade (piano), Totinho (saxophones and percussion), and Bau (guitars, cavaquinho, violin).
In recent times, things have improved in Cape Verde. Some immigrants have returned and opened businesses, while others come for the summer. Cesaria also returned to the island, bringing with her a blue Ford that she owned in Paris. The lady with the bare feet, as she was also known, had difficulty walking so she used a driver.
Even if she was internationally known, – her album Cafe Atlantico sold more than 300.000 copies in France -, Cesaria Evora never forgot her origins, a life that included fighting and difficulties. The bare-footed diva stayed loyal to her identity, preserving her enormous tenderness.
Released in 2003, Voz d’Amor was recorded in Paris during breaks in Evora’s busy touring schedule. “Whenever I have time off from my tours, I like going into the studio to record one or two songs to prepare for my next album,” she said. “Because there always seems to be so little time, over the years I have learned this is the best way for me to do a recording.”
The lead-off song on Voz d’Amor, Isolada (Isolated), was written by her uncle, Cape Verdean poet B. Leza. It tells the story of a young girl longing to be free and features guitar and mandolin instrumental support. “That’s a very old morna,” said Evora. “I’ve been singing this for a long time.” The title track was a new morna, written by one of Cesaria’s favorite songwriters, Teofilo Chantre. Voz D’Amor was a moving number that featured support artists from Cuba, Madagascar and Brazil along with Evora’s stage band led by pianist Fernando (Nando) Andrade. With passion, she sang about “a deep-rooted ache of the heart,” while also voicing hope: “But a song will be born again to give us a reason to believe.”
In addition to the slow, mournful numbers, Cesaria accelerated the tempo for several tunes. The highlights included Velocidade (Velocity) and Pomba (The Dove). The former is highlighted by a vocal choir and a lyrical clarinet line. It was written by composer Luis Morais, the father of modern Cape Verdean music who died in September 2002. “Luis gave me this song and asked me to sing it,” Evora recalled. “I wanted to sing [it] to honor him and his music. It?s a shame he died because he was a clarinetist. It would have been perfect if he could have recorded this with me.”
In 2004, Voz d’Amor won the Grammy for best contemporary world music recording. That same year, Club Sodade: Cesaria Evora came out. It was the first-ever remix collection from the enduring Grammy winning artist. Club Sodade paired the internationally renowned Cape Verdean vocalist with an assemblage of contemporary dance / electronic music pioneers from around the globe, who re-envisioned selections from The Barefoot Diva’s catalog of timeless songs.
Cesaria Evora died on December 17, 2011 in São Vicente, Cape Verde.
La Diva aux Pieds Nus (Lusafrica, 1988)
Distino di Belita (Lusafrica, 1990)
Mar Azul (Lusafrica, 1991)
Miss Perfumado (Lusafrica, 1992)
Cesária (Lusafrica, 1995)
Cabo Verde (Lusafrica, 1997)
Café Atlantico (Lusafrica, 1999)
São Vicente di Longe (Lusafrica, 2001)
Voz d’Amor (Lusafrica, 2003)
Rogamar (Lusafrica, 2006)
Nha Sentimento (Lusafrica, 2009)