Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Oct 14th 2008 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
As she took a break to let the band do an instrumental showcase and -- as anyone who knows anything of her expected -- took a seat at a little table, pulled out a cigarette, lit it up and wagged it tauntingly at the smoke-free California crowd, it was clear that she's simply one of a kind.
Another Cape Verde citizen reports that the impact of Évora goes well beyond music. "I'm 23, but when I was younger and people would ask me where I came from, I said Cape Verde and then it was like I put on a CD every time and have to explain: 'It's an archipelago of 10 islands off the west coast of Africa' " says Mayra Andrade. "I'm very grateful. Now I don't need to do that most of the time. Because of her, we exist in the world. It's very strange to come from a country with so strong culture and not to exist for people in other countries. Because of Césaria's success, this has really changed. I can only be admiring and grateful because the things she did for Cape Verde nobody did until now. This is a big woman."
Well, not literally. Évora is tiny. Even if her unadorned feet were put in six-inch stilettos she'd still be towered over by the members of her band. But it's she who towers over all other musicians from Cape Verde that they have to be at once inspired and intimidated of following her.
Andrade knows about that, too. If anyone is poised to follow Évora's path from Cape Verde to the world, it may be her. A debut album, 'Navega,' released in France in 2006 but recently given worldwide distribution by the respected Africa-centric Stern's Music label, spurred the young singer to be chosen the BBC Radio 3 World Music newcomer award winner this past summer, establishing her as the leading figure in a new generation of Cape Verdean musicians eying the doors that Évora opened.
Not that she's in any way imitating Évora as an artist. Both chronicle the Cape Verdean sound -- its West African proximity and Portuguese colonial history giving elements often similar to Brazilian music -- and Cape Verdean life. Évora's most recent album, 2006's 'Rogomar,' is an expression of an island culture's relationship with the water, which both gives life and takes it away (the title translates as "pray to the sea" or "praise the sea"). Some of that is echoed in 'Navega,' such as with the song 'Poc li dente é thceu,' which pleads for people to stay home and make life better, despite the lack of work and the forces that tear families apart. But Andrade also gets explicitly political in ways Évora generally does not, in particular the opening song 'Dimokransa' -- "lopsided democracy" -- written in the local criola language by Cape Verde musician/poet Kaka Barboza in 1990, looking at how democracy served to further reveal inequities in the local society. In some ways, it's a strange choice to lead off her debut, but it's a tribute to the history behind her.
"Barboza has his own political way, a very particular style of poetry and he knows how to use irony," she says. "It talks about important people in our society and our culture."
And if not directly dealt with in the song, Évora's presence is felt.
"She always made part of my musical panorama," Andrade says by phone from her current home on an entirely different island, Île Saint-Louis in Paris. "I can't say that she was a direct influence. She made parts of a whole musical background I grew up with. There are many other Cape Verdeans, a very strong group."
Like Evora, who had to go to Lisbon (Portugal is the former colonial ruler of Cape Verde) and then Paris to get a boost to attention beyond her home, Andrade has launched via French success. Unlike Évora, she has spent much of her life outside Cape Verde. She was born in Cuba, grew up in Senegal, Angola and Germany as well as Cape Verde and moved to Paris in 2003. And keep in mind that Evora was close to twice Andrade's age -- and a grandmother -- before her career even really kicked in. As such, any comparisons can only go so far.
"Traveling so much since I'm 6 years old really prepared me for the life I have today," Andrade says. "It also influenced my way of seeing life and the world and likely influenced my way of doing music. I'm very permeable to other cultures and sounds. What I'm trying to do is my music, not only Cape Verdean music. What I am today is the result of all my richness. I have to put it in the music."
And for that, though, there's no better example she could follow than Évora. Watching the musical matriarch at UCLA, what came through most strongly was her singularity, her sense of self, her supreme confidence and comfort. Standing center stage with microphone in hand, she's remarkable for the absence of artifice. You can't exactly describe her vocal style as nonchalant, but there is a matter-of-factness to her delivery -- no dramatization, no pathos, no acting and no need to, even when her dusky mornos approach the deep sorrow and heartbreak of Portugal's related fado.
As she picked up he smokes and headed offstage, one might have wondered if we'd ever see her again. But then she came back for an encore. And anyway, Andrade's off to a good start, but she's got quite a challenge ahead if she wants to stand as tall, artistically and culturally, as Évora. She's got 44 years to figure it out.