Monday, December 19, 2011

CESARIA EVORA: 1941-2011

Cesaria Evora's 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.

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.

Évora was born on 27 August 1941 in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde. When she was seven years old her father died, and at age ten she was placed in an orphanage, as her mother could not raise all six children. In the 1960s, she started singing on Portuguese cruise ships stopping at Mindelo as well as on the local radio. It was only in 1985 when at the invitation of Cape Verdean singer Bana she went to perform in Portugal. In 1988 a Cape Verdean producer based in France, José da Silva, brought Ms. Évora to Paris to make an album. She 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.

Évora's international success came only in 1988 with the release of her first studio album La Dive Aux Pieds Nus recorded in France, which fused morna and coladeira with Caribbean, Brazilian and European pop.  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 — a 1991 collection recorded with acoustic instruments — that her music began to reach a broader audience. Her 1992 album Miss Perfumado sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. Her 1995 album Cesaria brought her broader international success and the first Grammy Award nomination. In 1997, she won the KORA All African Music Awards in three categories: Best Artist of West Africa, Best Album and Merit of the Jury. In 2004, her album Voz d’Amour was awarded a Grammy in the world music category.

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.

When 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 died on December 17th at the age of 70, and 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.

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