Cesaria Evora, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

This was all most odd. Here was Cesaria Evora, a 60-year-old grandmother who became an international superstar thanks to her exquisite, world-weary ballads and soulful melancholia, taking the role of a dancing queen. While the band increased the tempo, the capacity audience pushed towards the front and began dancing in the aisles. Evora, who had looked gloomier as her followers became more excited, gave a bemused grin and begged a cigarette from one of the crowd as she made her way off stage.

Evora has had an extraordinary career, and this epic live set was the most unlikely twist thus far. For a start, it took place halfway through what amounted to a Cape Verde variety show. Evora is from Sao Vicente, one of the Cape Verde islands, and was obviously keen to show that she is not its only musician. She took the stage after brief appearances from Lura, a singer dressed in fake leopard-skin, and Ildo Lobo, a bearded salsa exponent. The show ended with a rousing set from a Ferro Gaita, an accordion-led traditional outfit. All very impressive, but without Evora's success, they would never have dreamed of appearing at the Festival Hall.

When the lady herself emerged, barefoot as always, it was immediately clear that her 12-piece band wanted to party. This was to be expected: after all, Evora's most recent album Sao Vicente di Longe is an up-tempo affair involving some 60 musicians, arrangers and engineers that almost entirely abandons her trademark relaxed, intimate style. But what followed was a battle that the band inevitably won. Evora had the vocal strength to stand up to the relentless musical blitz from the guitars, Cuban string section, percussion and brass, but much of her subtlety was lost in the process. She had the range to switch with ease from mornas (the languid songs of her homeland) to salsa, but she would have sounded better with sparser backing. The highlights of the show were those brief sections where she was accompanied simply by solo piano or strings and acoustic guitars.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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