Paris — The "barefoot diva" died on Saturday 17 December at the age of 70.
Cesaria Evora, the famous Cape Verdean singer, had been suffering from health problems that had obliged her to put a stop to her career three months ago. Her homeland archipelago and numerous fans are mourning a distinctive artist who introduced the morna, or "Cape Verdean blues" to the whole world.
She sang out the sound of the small island of Cape Verde like no one else, with a deep-seated love that earned her a global reputation. She generally performed barefoot with a sense of solidarity for the poor women and children in her country. Cesaria Evora died in a hospital on her home island at 70 years old. She had started to slow down the rhythm of her concerts several years ago because of her age and the stroke she suffered in 2008. In 2011, she officially called her career to an end.
The woman who sang in Miss Perfumado, one of her biggest hits, "Let me die dreaming / Like a dove in its nest" can now lie in peace.
The uncontested ambassador of the morna, the emblematic Cape Verdean music that is close to the Portuguese fado, Cesaria Evora found fame late in life. She was born on 27 August 1941 in Mindeo, the second largest town on the archipelago of Cape Verde, in the red-light district of Lombo. Her mother was a cook for "whites" (rich people), and her father was a musician. When she was seven her father died and her mother sent her to live with her grandmother, then to an orphanage run by nuns, which gave her a hatred for moral stricture, but taught her to sing.
It was when she reached 16 and met her first great love, Eduardo, that she learned to interpret traditional mornas and coladeiros and started her singing career in the bars of Mindelo. Cesaria Evora would perform for a few escudos and alcoholic drinks. She sang of suffering, sadness and the melancholy of a world made up of beaches, salt and exile (half of the archipelago's inhabitants had emigrated abroad). During that period, the diva started to forge her forceful, obstinate character. At the time Cape Verde became independent in 1975 she was known all over the island, but her existence still consisted in poverty and alcohol.
Discouraged, she put a stop to her career for ten years.
First record at 50
At the end of the 1980s, a friend persuaded her to go and play in Lisbon to entertain the Cape Verdean community. In a restaurant in the Portuguese capital she met her mentor and future producer, José Da Silva. At the end of 1987, he invited her to record a record in Paris.
Cesaria was nearing fifty, but she had nothing to lose and threw herself into the adventure. Entitled La Diva aux pieds nus, her first record coined her legendary stage name. Even though the production involved the cream of Cape Verdean musicians, it received a lukewarm reception among the island's community.
To take care of her two children and near-blind mother, Cesaria Evora carried on performing in bars back home. But José Da Silva was persuaded of her singing talent, and didn't give up, encouraging her to record a second album in 1990. Distino di Belita was not a huge hit either, but it did get the singer noticed by Christian Mousset, the director of Angoulême's Festival Musiques Métisses, and by François Post, the press officer, who convinced Da Silva to get Cesaria to record an acoustic album. The idea was inspired, and the release of Miss Perfumado in 1992 finally brought the singer fame.
The album, her best known, found her international success. The press wrote prolifically about her hard life. The Cesaria legend was finally born, and in 1993 she played to a full house at the Olympia several days in a row, then embarked on a long international tour. The next year she decided to put a stop to her destructive addiction to alcohol. Shortly afterwards, Cesaria was nominated at the Grammy Awards for her album Cesaria and embarked on her first tour of the United States. She then took on the whole world in 1996, covering Europe, Asia, Africa and the United States. With fame came wealth, and Cesaria had an enormous house built for herself in her hometown of Mindelo, which she nicknamed "happiness house". She systematically invited her friends, family and neighbours and freely distributed her money without the worry of an uncertain future.
She produced a string of albums: Café Atlantico, Sao Vicente de Longe, Voz Di Amo In July 2003, she was named ambassador for the UN food programme, the WFP. In February 2004, she won both a Grammy Award and a Victoire de la Musique and ended the year with the prestigious title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, decorated by the French culture minister of the time, Jean-Jacques Aillagon.
The tireless Cape Verdean singer travelled the world and recorded Rogamar in 2006 followed by Radio Mindelo in 2008, working with numerous artists and frequently filling up the Olympia and venues around the world. In 2010 she released her final album, Cesaria & , a series of duets with artists from all different musical genres.
Cesaria Evora, the unique voice of a musical genre that she made famous, will remain one of the best-known African voices in the world.