Cesaria Evora and Ballaké Sissoko | World music review

Barbican, London

She was barefoot, as always, and wandered on stage wearing a brown dress and cardigan, looking as disinterested as if she were on her way to the shops. Cesaria Evora has always been an anti-star, matching simple stagecraft with exquisite vocal work, and this London comeback – the first since she had a stroke two years ago – showed she remains a powerful, distinctive singer.

Evora, who will be 69 this summer, didn't became an international star until her 50s, when she was hailed as the queen of morna, the emotional, gently melancholic songs of loss and longing for home that are the Cape Verde answer to the blues. Much earlier in her career, singing in local bars, she had specialised in more upbeat coladera dance songs, and it was this style that dominated tonight. In short bursts, on songs such as Zinha from her most recent album, her compelling, sad-edged vocals matched successfully against furious violin, cavaquinho and saxophone work from an impressive (if relentlessly cheerful) eight-piece band.

All that was lacking was variety. The musicians calmed down a little to allow a more soulful treatment of the standard Bésame Mucho, but thoughtful mornas such as Sodade would have sounded better with minimal backing. The audience were ecstatic and clapped along, but Evora wandered off stage looking bemused.

Ballaké Sissoko, the Malian kora player, opened the show with a far more delicate and unexpected set. He may have been eclipsed by the success of his friend Toumani Diabaté, but he is an adventurous virtuoso, as he proved with this collaboration with the classically trained French cellist Vincent Segal, mixing African and western themes in exquisite, trance-like improvisations.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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