“I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: forgive me, but now I need to rest.” – Cesária Évora, the Barefoot Diva (Aug 27, 1941 – Dec 17, 2011)
Cesária Évora was a Grammy Award winning singer from Cape Verde who is globally acknowledged as the Queen of Morna, a genre considered as the national music of the West African Island country.
Known to her close friends as Cize, Cesária Évora was born in Mindelo, São Vincente in Cape Verde to a part-time musician father and mother who worked as a cook on the 27th of August 1941. She was placed in the local orphanage at the age of ten where she learnt to sing. Cesária’s father had died when she was seven and the burden of raising seven children became too much for her mother.
While doing piecework as a seamstress at the age of 16, a friend persuaded Cesária Évora to sing at one of the sailors’ taverns in her Mindelo, and thus began her singing career. However, she never got paid, even as her popularity grew and she was often rowed out into the bay to sing on anchored ships. Rather all she got was free drinks.
“My songs are about loss and longing, love, politics, immigration – and reality. We sing about our land, about the sun, about the rain that never comes, about poverty and problems: how the people on Cape Verde lives.”
Cesária took up the haunting sounds of morna as her genre of music. Morna is derived from the verb ‘to mourn’ and the root goes back to the time when Cape Verde was an important station in the slave trade era. After decades of singing unrecognized, she got her break at 47 when she was invited to Paris in 1988 by Jose Da Silva.
Back in 1985, Cesária had been invited to perform in Lisbon, Portugal, but no one took notice of her talent. However, she recorded “La Diva Aux Pied Nus” (1988) in Paris to launch her international career, and became known as ‘Barefoot Diva’ because she liked to perform barefoot as a symbolic salute to the poor of Cape Verde.
The album “Miss Perfumado” which includes one of her most celebrated songs “Sodade” was released in October 1992 and sold over 300,000 copies worldwide, while “Cesária” which was released in 1995 earned her first Grammy nomination. Cesária later won the Grammy in the World Music category with her 2003 album “Voz d’Amor.”
By the end of the ‘90s Cesária Évora’s life had undergone a transformation. She had a car with a young relation of her as chauffeur. She also rebuilt her childhood home in Mindelo, turning it into a grandiose 10-bedroom house where family and friends often stayed over, especially at Christmas which she always made sure she was at home for.
At the KORA All African Music Awards in 1997, Cesária Évora won in the Best Artist (West Africa), Best Album, and Merit of the Jury categories. She was decorated with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest national award by French president, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.
“I saw with my own eyes how food attracted children to school. We need to educate our children if we want our continent to prosper, but they can’t learn if they go to school hungry.”
For a long while, Cesária Évora refused to have her name associated with any humanitarian body as an endorsement, but after witnessing in Cape Verde the impact of the School Feeding Programme of the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2003, she agreed to being named as an Ambassador against hunger for the UN body. Thus becoming the first African artiste to assume the role.
“I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: forgive me, but now I need to rest. I infinitely regret having to stop because of illness. I would have wanted to give more pleasure to those who have followed me for so long.”
Cesária Évora suffered a stroke in 2008 after a concert in Melbourne, Australia, but she still managed to record her 2009 release, “Nha Sentimento” after recuperating at her Paris base. Often compared to the great American singer Billie Holliday, Cesária underwent an open heart surgery in May 2010, and had to end her career in September 2011 after suffering another stroke.
On December 17, 2011, Cesária Évora died from respiratory failure and hypertension. Her passage was announced by the Minister of Culture of Cape Verde, Mario Lucio Sousa. She had three children and was a grandmother. Two days of national mourning was declared by the government. On 22nd of December 2014, the government introduced a new 2000escudos note with her face on it.
Afro Tourism salutes the memory of this amazing woman, internationally acclaimed singing sensation, great African heroine, and national icon: Ms. Cesária Évora!
Cesária Évora on the Marble:
- Our music is a lot of things. Some say it’s like the blues, or Jazz. Others say it’s like Brazilian or African music, but no one really knows. Not even the old ones. – on Morna
- Cape Verde is green in our hearts. Full of love, our hands will make the land grow green. – from her song “Jardim Prometido”
- I always was (in demand). They just never paid me before. – on her popularity and being in demand
- I brought my family and friends and there was no table for them, so I left. There was a Portuguese TV crew there to film me, and they were pretty mad, but what have they ever done for me? – on abandoning a show
- I never studied… I just sing naturally, from the heart.
What Others Say About Cesária Évora:
- …one of the major cultural references of Cape Verde – President of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca
- She belongs to the aristocracy of bar singers. (She has) …a voice to melt the soul. – Le Monde newspapers (1991)
- (Cesária Évora made) …invaluable contribution to the greatness of our nation and our pride. – Prime Minister of Cape Verde, Jose Maria Neves
- Cesária Évora became the universally translation of the words ‘Cape Verde.’ – Mario Lucio Sousa, Culture Minister of Cape Verde
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