World music review: Cesaria Evora

Royal Festival Hall
London
Rating: ***

Cesaria Evora shuffles on stage, barefoot and clutching a packet of full-strength cigarettes. All her 60 years are etched upon her lived-in face, and her close-cropped hair and sparkly tent-dress are equally unflattering.

Indeed, for the next 80 minutes, Evora barely moves and speaks only in the Portuguese dialect of her native Cape Verde, an Atlantic archipelago 350 miles from Senegal. Other than to take a public cigarette break, her only concessions to stage dynamics are an occasional tapping of her left foot, a brief announcement, and the time-consuming introduction of each of her 14 seated musicians.

When, however, she starts to sing, the years cascade away. From the languid opener and title track to her new album Sao Vicente Di Longe (Sao Vicente being her native island) to the raucous closer, a reprise of her current single Nutridinha (by which time the primarily Portuguese crowd have left their seats to shimmy along), her voice never wavers.

Evora's chosen genre is the Cape Verdean morna, the music of the homesick diaspora, which - even with Homem Na Meio Di' Homem, echoing Esther and Abi Ofarim's Cinderella Rockefella, and the virtually bossa nova Sangue D'Berona - always maintains its stoic dignity. The staccato handclapping which bookends Angola gives Evora's ominous tones another level of darkness, while the brass-driven Dor Di Amor is a virtual invitation to the most swinging of parties. But Evora floats above it all, faintly amused demeanour unchanging. She could just as easily be playing a bar in her home town.

Evora is feted in France, where her previous album, Cafe Atlantico, sold 300,000. Britain will surely never fall to this unhealthy-looking woman with the siren's voice, but as she waddles to sanctuary, having fended off a lovestruck stage invader, the truth is she probably doesn't care.

Royal Festival Hall

Related articles:
30.06.2001: Q & A

16.04.2001: Paint it black

06.04.2001: Cesaria Evora album review

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John Aizlewood

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