Known as the “barefoot diva,” 54-year-old Cesaria Evora hails from Sao Vicente in Cape Verde–a group of islands off the coast of Senegal that were colonized by Portuguese slave traders more than 500 years ago. A bit of a late bloomer, she recorded her first album in France in 1988, and over the course of five albums she’s become a star throughout Europe. A master of Cape Verde’s indigenous morna form–gorgeous, often sad songs of longing and love–she sings with a beautifully subdued yet powerful emotional range, uncannily recalling the emotion-ridden work of Billie Holiday. Backing up her calming, fluid voice is a dense weave of contrapuntally played guitars, including the cavaquinho (a ukulelelike four-stringed instrument). But, as heard on her recent eponymous American debut (released by Nonesuch), her music also employs lovely flourishes of violin, accordion, and clarinet; the instruments hover above and gently weave through the airy tangle of guitars, making profound little interjections. (Though Evora is the country’s biggest star, Cape Verdean music is quite diverse; Portuguese and Brazilian influences predominate, especially in the music’s seductive, slinking rhythms. A collection forthcoming from David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label provides an excellent overview.) Following this short headlining tour, Evora will open on a segment of Natalie Merchant’s current tour. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ernest Collins.