The suffered success of Cesária Évora

Born 82 years ago, Cesária Évora, "the barefoot diva", remains as the most important voice of Cape-verdian music. But the story of the her life wasn't exactly a fairy tale.

Aug 28, 2023 - 03:10
The suffered success of Cesária Évora
Image by O Globo

Cesária Évora was born on August 27, 1941, in Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde. She grew up in a poor and working-class family in a neighborhood called Lombo, where she lived most of her life.

Cesária was exposed to music from a young age, particularly the traditional Cape Verdean genre called "morna." Morna is a deeply emotional and melancholic style of music that speaks of longing, love, and the hardships of life. This genre would later become a defining element of Cesária's own music.

As a child, Cesária loved singing and began performing in local bars and taverns at a young age. She gained a reputation as a talented vocalist in Mindelo, and her captivating voice earned her the nickname "the singing ingénue."

Despite her musical talents, Cesária faced challenges as she grew older. She became a mother at a young age and struggled to balance her responsibilities as a parent with her passion for singing. She also worked various odd jobs to make ends meet.

At times, Cesária's life took her away from the music scene. She retired from singing on multiple occasions due to personal struggles, including the tragic death of her son in a boating accident.

In the early 1980s, Cesária Évora was already well-known in her home country of Cape Verde, where she was often referred to as the "Barefoot Diva" due to her habit of performing without shoes. Despite her popularity on the local music scene, she hadn't achieved international recognition at that time.

In the mid-1980s, José da Silva, the founder of Lusafrica, happened to see Cesária perform in a local bar in Mindelo. Impressed by her powerful and emotive voice, he offered her a recording contract with his label. This opportunity led to Cesária's rediscovery and her eventual rise to international fame.

Captivated by her voice and emotional performances, José da Silva was impressed by the raw talent of Cesária Évora. Recognizing her potential, he offered her a recording contract with his label, Lusafrica. This opportunity opened the doors to her international career.

Cesária Évora released her first international album, "La Diva aux pieds nus" ("The Barefoot Diva"), in 1988. The album garnered critical acclaim, and her career took off on the global stage. She became known as the "Queen of Morna" and gained worldwide recognition for her soulful and heartfelt performances.

Over the years, Cesária Évora's career continued to soar, and she became an international sensation, often referred to as the "Queen of Morna." She received numerous awards and accolades for her music, and her albums became bestsellers globally.

Cesária Évora's journey from local fame in Cape Verde to international stardom is a remarkable story of talent meeting the right opportunity at the right time. Her voice and music touched the hearts of people worldwide, and she remains an icon in the world music scene even after her passing in 2011.

Cesária Évora's life story is one of resilience, talent, and a deep connection to her Cape Verdean roots. Despite facing hardships and setbacks, her powerful voice and emotional delivery of "morna" music resonated with audiences worldwide, making her one of the most beloved and influential voices in world music.

Cesária & friends

Cesária Évora collaborated with several important musicians and songwriters throughout her career. These collaborations played a significant role in shaping her unique sound and contributing to her success as the "Barefoot Diva." Some of the most important musicians and composers who played for her or wrote songs for her include:

  • Paulino Vieira: A Cape Verdean musician and arranger, Paulino Vieira had a profound influence on Cesária Évora's music. He was responsible for arranging many of her early recordings and was instrumental in developing the "morna" style that became synonymous with Cesária's sound.

  • Manuel de Novas: A prominent Cape Verdean composer, Manuel de Novas wrote several songs for Cesária Évora. His compositions, including "Sodade" (with Luís Morais) and "Lua Nha Testemunha," are among some of her most beloved and iconic songs.

  • Teófilo Chantre: Another talented Cape Verdean musician and composer, Teófilo Chantre, collaborated extensively with Cesária Évora. He wrote many songs for her, such as "Cabo Verde Manda Mantenha" and "Mar Azul," which became part of her repertoire.

  • Orlando Pantera: A saxophonist from Cape Verde, Orlando Pantera played an essential role in Cesária Évora's live performances. His emotive saxophone solos added a beautiful and distinct dimension to her performances.

  • B.Leza: The late Francisco Xavier da Cruz, better known as B.Leza, was a revered Cape Verdean composer and poet. Cesária Évora often performed his song "Negue" during her career.

  • Luís Morais: An accomplished Cape Verdean saxophonist and composer, Luís Morais' compositions, including "Sodade" (with Manuel de Novas) and "Beijo de Longe," were part of Cesária Évora's repertoire.

  • Nando da Cruz: A Cape Verdean singer and songwriter, Nando da Cruz, wrote the song "Tiempo y Silencio" for Cesária Évora.

These musicians and composers, among others, contributed to Cesária Évora's success by providing her with beautiful songs and arrangements that complemented her soulful voice. Their collaborations helped bring Cape Verdean music to a global audience and solidified Cesária Évora's place as one of the most celebrated and respected voices in world music.

Viktor Schwarz Member of EA Global Coordination Team