"Rogamar" by Cesária Évora
Reviewed by Living Abroad Contributing Editor Volker Poelzl
Rogamar (released in 2006) is the most recent CD by Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora. Cesária Évora was already 47 years old when she released her first CD (La Diva Aux Pieds Nus, produced in Paris in 1988), but her background in music goes back to her childhood and her family’s enjoyment of music. She started performing publicly as a teenager, singing in bars and on local radio shows, but it was not until her visit to Paris in 1987 that she was first approached to record an album. Since then she has released a total of ten CDs and sold nearly five million albums worldwide, despite the fact that she performs all her songs in Portuguese Creole, the Portuguese dialect spoken in Cape Verde, which is even difficult to understand for native Portuguese speakers.
The fact that she came onto the international music scene so late in life is probably due to the relative isolation of her home country. Until 1975 the islands of Cabo Verde were a Portuguese colony of minor importance, and since independence the poor country has struggled with poverty and underdevelopment. It is her music that has put her home country on the global map for many music listeners and has revealed the wealth of its musical traditions. The music of Cape Verde is a unique blend of Portuguese and African influences, which distinguishes it from the music of other countries in West Africa.
Although she incorporates different musical elements into her albums and works with musicians from other parts of the world, she remains largely faithful to Cape Verde’s traditional music genres, such as Morna, Coladeira, and Funaná. Morna is a slightly melancholic type of song, whereas Coladeira is more light-hearted and playful, and Funaná has an upbeat rhythm and is mostly played on the accordion. Cape Verdean music usually centers on a singer who is accompanied by acoustic instruments such as flute, clarinet, guitar, violin, piano, cavaquinho (a small four-stringed guitar similar to the ukulele), accordion, and several percussion instruments. The songs tell about the lives and tribulations of the local people, but also about their hopes, festivals, and other celebrations.
Those who know Cesária Évora’s music will find the sound of her latest album “Rogamar” (2006) familiar, which is perhaps due to the fact that Cesária and her long-time producer José da Silva strongly relied on her old guard of songwriters, Teófilo Chantre and Manuel de Novas, among others. But she also worked with the younger generation of Cape Verdean songwriters such as Constantino Cardoso and Jon Luz, and she invited several other African musicians to join her on “Rogamar.” The title song Rogamar (Praying to the Sea) is about “the sea, the ever-present sea”, and tells of a trip in a small boat, during which the passengers invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary. São Tomé Na Equador, co-written by Congolese musician and composer Ray Lema is a song about the colonial history of Africa and talks about forced labor on the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea. One of the album’s most notable songs, Africa Nossa (Our Africa), features the participation of Senegalese singer Ismael Lo and Senegalese percussionists. It pays homage to the African people and to Africa, the “cradle of the world, fertile continent.”
Known as the “barefoot diva,” which is also the title of Cesária Évora’s first CD, because she likes to perform barefoot, her deep and soulful voice continues to enchant audiences around the globe. In 2008 she toured in Australia, but unfortunately she had to cancel several performances after she suffered a minor stroke.
For more information, check out Cesária Évora’s website: www.cesaria-evora.com.