“In the sky you are a star that does not shine,” sings Cesaria Evora of her native Cape Verde Islands – islands off the coast of Senegal that Portugal “discovered” and then populated with African slaves in the 15th century – on her eponymous 1995 album. That description might have applied as well to Evora herself until, in the late 1980s (and at the age of 48), she traveled to Paris and began to record the lilting melodies and melancholy lyrics of her homeland for an international audience. From there, her hearty voice and heartfelt delivery assured her current stature. The Cape Verdeans call this music morna; many commentators have likened it to the blues and compared Evora with Billie Holiday. But morna has much more to do with Brazil’s bossa nova – that other notable hybrid of Portuguese and African musics – and particularly the undefinable, bittersweet emotion of saudade, the “happy sadness” that plays such a large role in Brazilian music. Evora personifies this and other complicated, instantly accessible emotions with a tone that reminds one (in its lower register) of Ella Fitzgerald and a straightforward respect for melody and phrasing that slices through cultural differences like a machete. True to her nickname – “the Barefoot Diva”- Evora really does perform her music shoeless, to honor the impoverished women and children found all too readily in her native land. Not that she makes much use of her feet anyway: in Chicago last year Evora stood rooted at the microphone, utterly artless in her presentation of irresistible rhythms and narcotic harmonies. The visual impact of this scene suggested a Cape Verde garage band in rehearsal. And when Evora left the microphone during an instrumental selection and settled into an armchair facing stage right to enjoy a cigarette in the shadows, the fourth wall disappeared entirely (and charmingly) – a reminder of the fact that this music occupies a place beyond mere entertainment in Cape Verde life. But despite the ministrations of Evora’s excellent accompanists (on guitars, violin, accordion, and clarinet), morna is not a music of endless variety, and an hour or so of these briskly performed songs will probably satisfy all but the most infatuated devotees. Thursday, October 24, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Cesaria Evora by Ernest Collins.