Should a true fairy tales always start with hardship? Must a heroine overcome great odds?
Our Barefoot Diva certainly answers to the demands of the genre.
Born on August 27th, 1941 in Mindelo, a port city on the island of São Vicente, Cesária Évora’s father dies when she is only seven. By the age of ten, she is orphaned as her mother fails to take care of all six of her children.
When Cise (as she is known) is 16 she meets a good looking guitarist who persuades her to sing for sailors in local bars. She develops a taste for cognac and chain-smoking cigarettes and a predilection for performing without her shoes and a belief that anything of importance might ever change for her.
In her twenties, she is singing on Portuguese cruise ships stopping at Mindelo and appearing on the local radio. During the late ’60s, two of her radio tapes were released as albums in the Netherlands and Portugal without stirring any excitement. Évora gives up singing by the mid-seventies.
At the age of 45, she decided to return to music. Fellow Cape Verdean singer Bana and a Cape Verde women’s association invites her to perform in Portugal. Again, no producer is interested in the barefoot singer.
Cesária is 47 when she is discovered by producer José da Silva and invited to record in Paris. Too old to be starstruck she agrees as she has never been to Paris.
La Diva aux Pieds Nus
A major hit in Cape Verde and she gives her first gig at the New Morning Club in Paris in front of a small crowd.
Distino di Belita
Her second album includes acoustic mornas and electric coladeras. As its release remained confidential, her label decided to switch to an unplugged album.
The world as we know it is changed forever. The tiny country of Cape Verde’s tiny national music genre of Morna has found the world’s stage and barefoot, chain-smoking Évora is an international phenomena. And luckily, for all her adoring fans, the lady found fame far too late to change any part of her personality.
The eponymous album sees her glamorous vocals paired with the opulence of guitars, percussion and violin. There is also a celebratory edge to this Morna. A definite pleasure that is acknowledged with a Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album in 1996.
Tours follow to Europe, Africa, Brazil, and Canada, with stops in the United States.
São Vicente di Longe
This album features numerous collaborations including appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Orquesta Aragón and Caetano Veloso. Cesária appears on the David Letterman Show and Live in Paris.
and she wins a Grammy in 2004 for Voz d’Amor.
In 2008 Évora suffers a stroke in Australia.
Her final album is recorded in Mindelo and Paris by José da Silva. The same year she is made a knightess of the French Legion of Honour by the French French Minister of Culture and Communications Christine Albanel, the first Cape Verdean who became one.
Her last concert takes place in Lisbon on 8 May 2010. Two days later, after a heart attack, she undergoes surgery at a local hospital in Paris. On the morning of 11 May 2010 she is taken off artificial pulmonary ventilation, and on 16 May she is discharged from the intensive-care unit and transported to a clinic for further treatment.
That September 2010, Évora’s agent announces that she is ending her career due to poor health.
On 17 December 2011, aged 70, Évora dies in São Vicente, Cape Verde, from respiratory failure and hypertension. In a Spanish newspaper, we read that she was still smoking and receiving people at her popular home in Mindelo right before her death
It is a perfect footnote that an airport is named after the woman who spent her life transporting the culture of her home, the previously almost unknown Morna blues, into the international sphere.
Where, what, how, Morna
The very specific music genre that was strongly associated with the islands combines West African percussion with Portuguese fados, Brazilian modhinas, and British sea shanties.
It is believed that Morna was first played in the Boa Vista Island in the 18th Century. Even with the influx of new musical genres in Cape Verde in the 19th Century, the style remained unchanged.
Some musicologists think the Morna owes its existence to the Lundum (also introduced to Cape Verde’s in the 18th Century) or the Choros – plaintive songs performed on particular occasions. It is very likely that the Morna was the result of a marriage between the choros and the lundun. A child with a slower tempo and more complex harmonic structure.
Regardless of its origin, the style gradually spread to other islands.
The origin of the name is also lost in the mists of time. Some believe it is linked to the English word ‘mourn’ others from the ‘morne’ hills in the French Antilles but most think it comes from the Portuguese ‘morno’ which means warm.
The Morna ballads speak of poverty, longing, and parting and there is no need to understand either the Portuguese or Cape Verde Creole to find yourself fully immersed in every song carried along Cesária’s languid vocals and blasé glamour. Évora somehow always manages that trick of conjuring nostalgia without saccharine affectation.
Her music maintains a laser focus on what is truly important. Spinning like a vortex around her voice, carrying the stories of her culture in a language that is perfectly understandable even though you might not know a single word.
Cesária Évora blazed the way for others such as the Buena Vista Social Club
And brought a little slice of Africa and incredible happiness to humans all over the world.