Thursday, September 23, 2004:

Miss Perfumado

Cesaria Evora -- Miss Pefumado
Cesaria Evora -- Sodade
This song strikes me as one I'd hear in an opulent early 1900s cabaret--Moulin Rouge, maybe--all velvet draperies and Chinese rugs, wineglasses and cigarette holders, some man with a Van Dyke and a monocle smoking a cigar, peering lasciviously at the singer onstage. And she's too enraptured in her performance to notice.

Cesaria Evora did spend some time performing in piano bars in Cape Verde; she didn't get rich off it but the career was profitable enough until Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and the upper-class started moving elsewhere: to France, to New England, to Portugal. Then in 1985 she met José da Silva in Portugal; they arranged a band and recorded The Barefoot Diva, which was released in 1988. The album was named after Evora: she's famous for her disdain for shoes; she's also, luckily enough, become famous for her music. Her voice is mournful but strong; and she often puts it to use on mornas, typically mixing guitar, cavaquinho (picture a classical guitar with only four strings, tuned to open G), and lyrics about loss or nostalgia. But she's equally good at coladeras, infectious uptempo songs that go straight past your brain to your feet, urging you to jump up and cut a rug.

"Sodade" is still nostalgic, but quite different. The liner notes give some of the lyrics: "If you write me, I will write you. ... If you forget me, I will forget you." The performance is skillful but both longing and weary; listening to it now, I understand the frequent comparisons to Billie Holiday.

The song is arranged with guitar, cavaquinho, bongos, and a slow, deep, drum. The first time I heard it was on Luaka Bop's best-of collection; I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, exhausted from work, and by the time this song came on I had nearly dozed off. Suddenly I noticed that I could feel my pulse in my neck, and then I noticed that it was in time with those low drums. I lay there listening, now awake more than I wanted to be, thinking it was interesting but I wouldn't get up. Then when the song was over I got up anyway and put the song on repeat, hoping to have that level of attunement happen again. It didn't. But the song is beautiful: a measured statement from a woman whose heart can't be broken many more times.

I'll probably post more Cesaria Evora as time goes by; I think she's very talented and hasn't yet had the attention she deserves.
brief BBC bio


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