Cesaria Evora (Elektra Nonesuch)
by Jeff Kaliss
The string of
soulful song which connects the fado of Portugal to the choro of Brazil
also extends to the morna and other musical forms of the formerly
Portuguese colonial islands of Cape Verde,
off the northwest coast of Africa.
Now a whiskey-drinking, cigarette-puffing grandmother, Cesaria
Evora has succeeded in exporting her tiny nation's sounds to Europe
and the U.S, in recordings and live performances. You won't guess
her habits or her age from her voice, soft and engaging as a large
cloud in a sunny sky. And you'd be only slightly more successful
in guessing the source of musical influences on these recordings,
aside from the Portuguese.
Fado seems present in the opening track, "Petit
Pays", where French touches the
title and a portion of the lyrics, which are mostly in the Portuguese
patois of Evora's native island of Sao Vincente. Likewise, you might
think of the mainland legend Amalia Rodrigues when you listen to
"Rotcha 'Scribida", though Evora's conveyance of longing is more
accessible and credible, possibly because it doesn't use the throaty
power of a Rodrigues. This and several of the songs were written
by Amandio Cabral, now a resident of the Bay Area and much admired
in jazz circles.
Others of the songs seem to take you across the Atlantic to Brazil.
In its minor-major modulations and upbeat tempo, "Xandinha" is evocative
of forro, while the tearful sentiment and hovering sustained notes
of "Tudo Tem Se Limite" are closer to the ballads of choro. The
airy, playful instrumental combo of reed, violin, and guitar backing
the singer's "D'nhirim Reforma" would find itself at home beside
Brazilian barroom pagode. These similarities, though, are more likely
due to coincidence of parallel evolution than to intentional mimickry.
And there are so many nice surprises that you'll find yourself listening
repeatedly to find new treasures such as the ticklish rolling piano
on "Oriundina", the decorative guitar work suggestive of country-and-western
virtuosos on "Tudo Dia E Dia", or the humming and children's chorus
on "Flor Na Paul", a French-sounding waltz from a grandmother's
memory, complete with accordion.
As you become familiar with the songs, you'll begin to recognize
the integrity of the Cape Verdean pastiche and probably fall in
love with it. The predominance of strings, particularly guitar and
cavaquinho, are reminders of the Portuguese connection, but the
lacey rhythms underneath seem born of the shifting air and light
of the islands. Don't overlook the translations of the enchanting
lyrics, filled with nostalgia and unforgettable images such as "walking
alone/with the breaking sea/crying at our separate fates".