These days, vocalist Cesaria Évora spends much of her time touring, performing for foreign audiences in regions as remote as Siberia. Yet she always returns home to her native Cape Verde.
"You won't see gold or diamonds or anything like that," Évora says through a translator. "But you will see the pure, tropical beauty: wonderful weather, gorgeous beaches, and just wonderful and warm people."
Évora's music draws deep from the hybrid musical traditions of the verdant island country, where African and European styles blend freely. Her rich, full voice commands lushly orchestrated ballads, drifting between breezy melodies and nostalgic plaints in equal measure.
The 65-year-old chanteuse is on tour to support her tenth studio album, Rogamar. She took a few moments to speak with Melissa Block about her home country, her latest CD, and her life in music.
Évora began her professional career at the age of 16, singing in a Cape Verdean ensemble that was otherwise all-male. "They actually told me that I had a good voice, that my voice was very pleasant," she says. "And from that moment on, I didn't stop."
Her talent brought her multiple performance opportunities throughout the islands: local bars, private parties, government functions, and the like. After a 10-year period in which financial constraints forced her off the stage, Évora relaunched her singing career in the mid-1980s. This time, much wider exposure led to international stardom. A series of critically acclaimed releases began in 1988, and in 2004, Évora won a Grammy for her album Voz d'Amor.
Her latest album, Rogamar, translates roughly as "prayer for the sea." Évora rhapsodizes about the ever-present Atlantic Ocean surrounding Cape Verde. Ironically, she never sets foot in the water.
"True, I do not go in the water only because I don't know how to swim," she says. "I never took the time to learn, but I appreciate [the sea]. I was afraid of the waves."
In her travels, though, Évora has crossed many seas, traversing the globe to crowds captivated by her voice. The songs she performs are stories about the lives of Cape Verdeans — from the clamor of Carnaval to the daily routine — and tales of immigration and diaspora.
"Most of the Cape Verdeans are not actually in Cape Verde," Évora says. "People go out to look for a better life, but they are always longing to go home."
Évora might be able to consider herself among that category. But as far as she strays, her music and her message is still rooted in her home.
"The first thing, when I get to the airport [in São Vicente], is to say Hallelujah! I am home," Évora says.
Video: "Africa Nossa":
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