Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Nov 10th 2009 2:00PM by Steve Hochman
This new teaming is a reach of musical hands across North Africa, linked perhaps by the entwined Arabic-Andalusian cultures and arguably long overdue, given that Evora's expressive voice and iconic status both in her country and in bringing her culture to the world has earned comparisons to the queen of modern Egyptian music, the late Oum Kalthoum. Evora had long collaborated with international artists, Brazilians and Cubans in particular. Those, though, shared the Afro-European cultural lineages of Cape Verde with its history as a Portuguese colony. Egypt is something quite different.
Funny thing, though, about the three torchy mornas that resulted from the Evora-Salama collaboration and are highlights of the singer's new 'Nha Sentimento' album.
"If you don't know that there are Egyptian musicians, you can't know that it's another kind of music [than the rest of the album]."
That's Evora herself, talking from her Paris home, with manager Julieta Maya Lopes translating. Now, Evora is known for her unflappable nature, the grandmother who didn't start a real singing career until she was in her 40s. Onstage, such as in a Los Angeles concert covered last year in Around the World, she can at times seem blasé, sitting to smoke a cigarette while her band members take solos. There's deep emotion in her music -- born of the hardships of her earlier life and the checkered, often brutal existence of her native island country off the northwest coast of Africa. But she herself seems to not get too excited one way or another, a stoicism befitting someone who has seen so much -- among the latest, suffering a stroke last year while on tour in Australia, slowing down her schedule but not much, it seems. Still, you'd think she'd have some desire for people to notice the cross-cultural experiment engaged in here.
"For me it's quite the same as my other CDs, other albums," she says. "If someone who doesn't know there are Egyptian musicians that are playing on this CD, they can say it's Cape Verdean."
This was a lot of effort to get something that doesn't really sound different than the rest of the album's tracks. Which raises the question: What's the point?
Well, judge for yourself. The song 'Sentimento' might be the most Egyptian-leaning in the arrangements, a few spiky turns in the strings partway through the song giving some new angles and textures to the expected mix of sounds from Africa and Portugal, as well as the slightly modern European aspects reflecting her years in Paris:
Césaria Evora, 'Sentimento'
Oh, and maybe this is a good time to mention that Evora and Salama have never actually met.
"I didn't go to Egypt," Evora says. "When the recordings were ready, my producer [Jose de Silva] went to Egypt and put on the sound of Egypt."
That, says Salama in an e-mail interview, was the biggest challenge of the effort and, one could assume, a personal disappointment. He's been entranced with Evora's voice since first hearing it 15 years ago, struck immediately by its "warmth, originality, sentiment and relaxing mood" in a way that reminded him of no less than Kalthoum.
It was to this voice that he deferred in his approach to the project as he set the arrangements for his versatile Cairo Orchestra.
"I do not have a format that I use all the time: Every song is different," he says. "But especially with Césaria's beautiful, full sentimental voice I would not use any harsh sounds like the Egyptian mesmar, a very loud double-reed instrument."
Meaningful comparisons to his work with Youssou N'Dour on 'Egypt' can't be made, he says, and not simply because that featured a common ground of Sufi themes.
"With Youssou, it was a longer experience, some 10 years, including tours and visiting Senegal," he says. "With Césaria, it is still in the beginning. So I had to fit the mood of Césaria's music, add shades and colors carefully, while I created a totally new style for Youssou."
And Evora notes that those shades here had to blend smoothly with others on the album -- as well as with her signature aesthetics that run through all her work. 'Nha Sentimento' is particularly rooted in her origins on São Vicente Island, with six of its 14 songs written by Manuel de Novas, her friend since they were children and a frequent collaborator. That took on extra import with de Novas' death in September following a stroke.
Asked about the role the Egyptian side trip played on the album, Evora cited her previous collaborations with Brazilian and Cuban artists and mentioned that this one includes on the song 'Ligereza' accordion by Colombian musician Henry Ortiz recorded in Bogotá. It's all kind of the same to her, music that came into her life whether via the sailors that brought songs to Cape Verde when she was young or the radio or the ideas of de Silva -- who had been wanting to include Arabic musicians on her recordings for years. The Egyptian music may not be the normal for her, but she hardly views it as exotic.
"I can't say that I have any Arabic CDs at home," she says. "But in Cape Verde, on the radio we listened to all kinds of music, music from around the world. So it's normal that I listened to Arabic music."
Does any of that matter?
"You know, my dream is that we can have united one people that live in peace, and I hope that music can be a way to see all the people united in peace and love," Evora says. "I always say that music has no frontier. Music is universal. Music is as one language."
That's the point.