Seeing her on stage, you would never know that Portuguese singer Lura is a down-home country girl. “I’m proud of my heritage,” declares the performer. “My father and mother were born and grew up in the countryside of Cape Verde.” Her poised and beguiling performances are worthy of a cosmopolitan diva but her new album M'bem di Fora (I Come from Far Away) on Times Square/4Q Records March 27, 2007, draws on her family’s rural roots while revealing a side of Cape Verdean music that is new to most North American audiences. She throws in a little R&B as a nod to her own generation.
The songs on Lura’s second North American release trace a journey through rural Cape Verdean life. “The place my family came from is a recent discovery for me and I fell in love with the islands. It is very important to have someone sing our thoughts… we are rich in music, culture, rhythms. I try to sing the little things of the daily routine, the beautiful things, the simple things.”
Music is an essential part of daily life, marking a variety of occasions with different flavors for each island. “There are many rhythms that drive the music in Cape Verde: funana, batuku, mazurka. There are ten different islands here, all with their different, unique rhythms. I wasn’t from one single island, my parents came from Santiago and Sao Vicente, and so I take the freedom to explore all the rhythms!”
The title song draws on the funana beat of these people from the countryside. “They’re simple, normal folk, who are clear in thought and say what they think, without a lot of unnecessary, beautiful words.”
“Bida Mariadu” reflects on the limitations of living on a semi-arid string of islands hundreds of miles from the mainland of Africa. “It sometimes seems that there are no opportunities to study, to go out and find a better living… the people are trying to better themselves, trying to work, trying to find money… it can be very difficult.”
The fortune of the islands is directly tied to what is usually considered a harbinger of gloom: the rainy day. In “As-Água,” Lura sings of the people waiting for the rain to return. “There is a time in June when you prepare the ground to receive the rain in August. This song is about an August with no rain… people are waiting for rain, but it does not come. With rain, everyone is happy, working in the earth, there is food. When there is no rain, everyone is sad. There are fish (we’re surrounded by ocean), but nothing can grow from the ground without agua.”
It’s not all cloudless skies with gloom in Cape Verde. Midsummer’s Day is marked every June 24th with rituals and celebrations. “Romaria” embodies the ambience of a huge street party, where there’s singing, dancing, and lots of food. “Everyone is looking forward to the growing season that’s coming,” explains Lura.
Parties can bring out the wild side of anyone and on “Fitiço di Funana” Lura sings of the magic that can happen with a dance. “When a very sensual woman is dancing funana to seduce a man, she maybe has a fitiço in her body,” says Lura. “A kind of voodoo magic.” Anyone who has seen Lura dance knows what she is saying.
That magic may not be exactly what mom and dad hoped for if they have dreams of their child marrying well and leaving Cape Verde for a better life. “’Ponciana’ is about a girl whose future seems compromised. Her mother raised her to marry an immigrant so that she could move to Europe and a better life,” explains Lura. “But the girl fell in love with a very poor man in Cape Verde. There’s no rich husband, but the daughter and her Cape Verdean lover are very happy! The lesson is that love wins every time.”
Dreams can take a route unplanned and what may seem like a diversion can be your true path. Lura was studying to be a teacher, but she longed to be a dancer. “At age 17, I was going into sports education to teach swimming. There was this very good African dancer in Lisbon, Juka. He gave dance lessons near my home and I joined his class. He invited me to sing, because he was working on his first album and was searching for backing singers. I had never sung before, in school choir… nothing. Singing backup with him became a duet. The duet was very popular, and I was a backup singer and dancer with him in Portugal and Angola. Other African singers asked me to sing with them and then I realized I could be a dancer and singer, showing the world the Cape Verdean melodies and rhythms I was growing to love.”
If the prosperity of the islands hangs on the whims of the weather, the true treasure of Cape Verde is solidly the artistry of the people living there. “Cape Verde may be very poor but we have a very full and rich culture,” says Lura. “On ‘No Bem Falá’, the important people of Cape Verde are named. The many poets, singers, and songwriters who make our culture heard around the world.”
Lura has toured extensively in the States and Europe, sharing the music of the island countryside she calls home. “I wasn’t sure how the US would receive the music from Cape Verde that I sing. American music is inspiring… they have the best music in the world. But they gave me love and wanted to know more about me and my music.” Europe has also embraced Lura’s sound and in 2006 she was nominated for BBC Radio’s Planet Awards in the categories of Best African Artist and Best Newcomer.
The history of Cape Verde is one of immigration and return. In spite of her family’s search for better fortune in another country, Lura’s own journey brought her right back to the people and rhythms of the land they left. Now Cape Verde’s rising star brings her island roots to world stages reaffirming to the world the archipelago’s unexpected rich musical heritage.