Cesaria Evora, the world’s most famous singer from Africa’s Cape Verde, had open heart surgery last night (Monday, May 10, 2010) in a Paris hospital. The surgery was in response to a coronary problem that occurred this past weekend. She was admitted to the hospital Monday morning and the surgery, which started at 8:00 p.m., concluded early this morning at 2:00 a.m. The operating surgeon reported that things went as well as possible. Cesaria was then admitted into intensive care where she awoke around 11.00 this morning. Cesaria is suspending all activities until the end of the year. As a result, June 2010 concerts in Washington, DC, New York City, Boston, Toronto, and Montreal have been cancelled.
This week’s surgery follows an amazing return by Cesaria following a stroke in April 2008. Summer 2010 was meant to mark a return to North American stages. Three months after the stroke, she was ready to start rehearsing and working on her new album, Nha Sentimento (Lusafrica). “She hates rehearsing,” said producer and manager José da Silva in an interview earlier this month. “But she had a strong will to return to singing. The stroke made it harder for her to remember the words of new songs. She worked harder on this album than any other we have made,” says da Silva, who is staying at Cesaria’s side in the hospital. Music critics noticed that Cesaria’s voice had changed on the new album, yet she retained the essence of who she is. “I think the stroke scared her and she is now open to doing more things,” da Silva said before this week’s heart surgery.
Nha Sentimento explores the Middle Eastern and Arab influences of Cape Verdean music and culture, territory rarely explored before. The album features collaborator and admirer Fathy Salama, a former conductor of the Cairo Orchestra known for his work with Youssou N’Dour, and who arranged three mornas on Cesaria’s new album. Nha Sentimento will be re-released shortly featuring a bonus track of “Moda Bo,” Cesaria’s duet with Cape Verde’s up-and-coming singer and starlet, Lura, considered by some to be Cesaria’s heir apparent. The duet’s live debut was to take place during the June North American tour, for which Lura was set to be the opening act.
Meanwhile, the world waits and hopes for a speedy and full recovery of Cape Verde’s leading heroine of song, Cesaria Evora.
Press Release Before Tour Cancellation:
Lifting Up a Shot of Pure Grain Cesaria: The Music of Cape Verde’s Billie Holiday, Survives a Stroke, Goes to Cairo, & Comes to North America
Cesaria Evora has overcome poverty, a revolution, and even a recent stroke to become a national treasure of Cape Verde and uphold her reputation as an increasingly adventurous icon of world music. On her latest album, Nha Sentimento and on her June 2010 North American tour, Cesaria ventures further afield than ever before, rebounding from her stroke with a newfound tenacity, and twisting Arabic musical traditions into bluesy, sinuous compositions from some of Cape Verde’s best songwriters.
Having survived a stroke in April of 2008, summer 2010 marks Cesaria’s first return to North American stages since her brush with near-death. Three months after the stroke, she was ready to start rehearsing and working on the new album. “She hates rehearsing,” says producer and manager José da Silva. “But she had a strong will to return to singing. The stroke made it harder for her to remember the words of new songs. She worked harder on this album than any other we have made,” says da Silva. European critics noticed that Cesaria’s voice had changed, yet she retained the essence of who she is. “I think the stroke scared her and she is now open to doing more things. More than ever before, she is starting to do more duets with other Cape Verdeans.”
North American audiences will see the live performance debut of her duet with Lura, Cape Verde’s up and coming singer and starlet, considered by some to be Cesaria’s heir apparent. Their duet, “Moda Bo,” will be included as a bonus track on new editions of Nha Sentimento. The duet is a symbolic passing of the torch. Cesaria’s live North American performances, which will all be opened by Lura, take place in Washington, DC (6/24), New York City (6/25), Boston (6/26), Toronto (6/28), and Montreal (6/30), a significantly reduced tour than her typical forays here.
For Nha Sentimento, forty-five years since she began her career, this unassumingly matronly and weathered woman with a crinkly, lopsided grin found her music in a studio in downtown Cairo. Cesaria and her crew had been waiting for the right collaborator to come along, to crystallize Cape Verde’s threads of Middle Eastern influence.
“The first slaves that were brought to Cape Verde were Muslim,” explains da Silva. “They brought a Middle Eastern singing form of music that you can still hear in the morna. Even in the Cape Verdean Creole language we find words from Arabic, like olim, which means ‘here I come.’ Sodade—the unachievable longing that is woven into the fabric of Cape Verdean music and culture—has a lot to do with Arabic and Andalusian influence. There was even a Jewish wave from the Middle East to Cape Verde’s three islands of Sao Nicolào, Santo Antào, and Fogo. Tourists can still visit the synagogues, which are still standing. This is more evidence of the Middle Eastern influence on Cape Verde. We were looking for the right moment to put this aspect forward.”
Cesaria found a collaborator and an admirer in Fathy Salama, a former conductor of the Cairo Orchestra who arranged the three mornas on Nha Sentimento. Fathy—who came to light afterworking on Youssou N’Dour’s Egypt album—brought Egyptian instrumentalists into his studio in downtown Cairo to add a new texture to the music, largely written by fellow Cape Verdeans Manuel de Novas, Cesaria’s friend since childhood, and Teofilo Chantre. The music of Cape Verde is diverse and New World-y, incorporating guitar, violin, and the soprano saxophone into its Latin scales and rhythms. Egypt’s reedy pipes, edgy percussion, lush strings, and the crystalline sound of the kanun (Arabic zither) feel right at home. Cesaria and Fathy’s efforts paid off on the album, which boasts hybrid arrangements that sound both Egyptian and Cape Verdean, yet as classic and visceral as Depression-era jazz.
On some tracks, the musical traditions are in a dialogue. On “Sentimento,” a Verdean blues where the Egyptian flute wails in a mournful, ululating call-and-response with Cesaria and her understated questions. Elsewhere, Fathy’s arrangements lay a bed of dynamic tension beneath her effortlessly direct delivery. On “Vento de Sueste” and “Mam’Bia É So Mi,” there is no question who is in charge: Cesaria Evora stands before the footlights with the posture of a defiant dandelion, projecting the light of the sun, and when she opens her mouth, the world turns to listen.
It was this vocal “texture” that first intrigued Fathy Salama over fifteen years ago. Cesaria Evora’s voice is hot chocolate and brandy – on the very first sip, the bite of liquor that fills your nose provides a warmer feeling than hot milk ever could. From the very first track, “Serpentina,” it is clear that Cesaria’s voice has aged well, that her sugars have fermented into something adult. Her joy is never saccharine, and the sound of experience and age nudges her blues into memory. “Zinha” was named for an old girlfriend of writer Manuel de Novas. Years ago, her father had disapproved of their relationship. This song records Manuel’s attempts to comfort her. With decades of hindsight on his side, Manuel wrote this as a playful, danceable song, but Cesaria sings as a young Manuel, taking it right back to that day when he told her not to worry, not to cry. Evora’s voice has a peculiar range that makes her as credible as a young suitor as she is as a respected matron of song.
This worldliness was born of the tight-knit community of Cape Verde, a melting pot on a Bunsen burner. “Mine is a normal life of a Cape Verdean,” claims Cesaria, permitting a rare and telling smile. This album, named for the “feeling” that Cape Verdeans share, celebrates the islands at their best. “Verde Cabo di Nhas Odjos,” the sprightly, slinky second track, walks through a Cape Verde turned a rare shade of real green. Asked about the track, Cesaria intones, “Green is life, green is dreams, green is hope, green is all.”
On this album, Manuel de Novas cast the net that connected Cesaria to that world of common experience. Tragically, he passed away in the Fall of 2009, before the world could hear Nha Sentimento. Cesaria Evora and Manuel de Novas had known each other since they were children, since the days when their mothers were like sisters. “He was a great friend, a very good composer,” recalls Cesaria. “We were always laughing whenever we were with Manuel.” In a late interview, Manuel praised not just Cesaria’s considerable talent, but her dedication and artistry, observing with more than a little admiration that “She lives the music not just with her voice but with her deep soul.” Pressed for comment, Cesaria bluntly explains her “method”: “I listen to the songs, and they have to move me. If I don’t feel the words, I don’t sing.”
Cesaria tempers and channels her feeling and movement with incredible vocal skill. On “Verde Cabo di Nhas Odjos,” Cesaria slings her phrases deftly about like comets tossed over her shoulder, hitting a target with every casual gesture. The same is true of “Ligereza,” featuring accordion tracks recorded by Henry Ortiz in Bogotá. Here, the instruments and Cesaria’s carelessly precise voice brush lightly against each other, building a mad spontaneous circle dance of static tension. Cesaria’s background shows through: as a young woman performing for local audiences, she learned a tradition and a genre inside-out. Cape Verdean music is local music, music for entertainment and art, and music that was long blind to the global market. Over the years, Cesaria’s voice, sometimes compared to Billie Holiday’s, became a sensual thing with a timeless and serene character, so refined and sophisticated an instrument as to seem impossible here on Earth.
Yet, Cesaria Evora is a worldwide star with globetrotting credentials and shows no sign of stopping. “This time it was from Egypt,” she relates, with an enigmatic eye already trained on future projects, “but it can be from anywhere.” “We cross other borders to achieve other styles,” explains da Silva. “We recorded a disk with Cuban musicians and also with Brazilian musicians. The previous album involved African musicians, and now we have taken new inspiration from Arabic music. This makes us open-minded to other cultures.” The result is music as cosmopolitan and potent as a cocktail: a dozen exotic potables swirl in Brownian motion, lifting up a shot of pure grain Cesaria.