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For a singer in her sixties to be on tour for eight months every year is remarkable. It's even more impressive considering renowned Cape Verdean vocalist CESARIA EVORA didn't begin her ascent into international acclaim until the 1991 release of her album Mar Azul when she was 50. So, today, at an age when most people are beginning to consider retirement, Evora continues to sing her enrapturing repertoire of mornas (slow-paced, blues-steeped songs with mournful and often fatalistic lyrics) and coladeras (spirited up-tempo tunes that share a kinship with Brazilian samba). The Barefoot Diva, so nicknamed because she performs her shows sans shoes, also frequents the studio to document new songs.
Evora's latest recording, Voz D'Amor (Portuguese for Voice of Love) on Bluebird, is her first studio album in two years and her tenth overall (her last CD was the 2002 compilation The Very Best of Cesaria Evora and earlier this year Bluebird released the DVD Cesaria Evora Live in Paris). The captivating new 14-song collection features Evora singing classic songs of her island nation as well as new compositions written exclusively for her voice.
Known to her friends as Cize, Evora was born on August 27, 1941 in Mindelo, Cape Verde, an impoverished island off the coast of Senegal and a former Portuguese colony. When she was in her teens, she performed music with her father and cousin (Francisco Xavier da Cruz, a.k.a. B. Leza) in clubs for tips. In her early twenties, Evora appeared on several local radio shows. However, she stopped performing in the early '70s to raise a family. She didn't return to the stage until 1985.
At that time Evora was invited by the singer Bana and a women's association to Lisbon, Portugal to record some demos that resulted in her first album, Tchitchi Roti. However, her career boost didn't come until 1988 when José da Silva, a French record label owner with Cape Verdean bloodlines, invited Evora to Paris to enter the studio again. At the age of 47, she decided to go for broke and make her first trip to the City of Light. She recorded La Diva Aux Pieds Nus, the album title being a reference to her barefoot stage performance, for da Silva's Lusafrica imprint, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Initially, the Barefoot Diva's album and her concerts had a limited audience. She was heralded by the Cape Verdean expatriate community in Paris, especially for her zouk-flavored hit tune "Bia Lulucha."
But Evora's music quickly found favor throughout France. In 1991, she performed at the Angoulême Festival, which received favorable press notice. A couple of months later when her third album Mar Azul was released, Evora became a radio favorite. In 1992 following the release of Miss Perfumado, Evora became a star. Two December concerts at the Paris Théâtre de la Villa sold out a month in advance.
U.S. audiences were introduced to Evora in the mid-'90s. She became an immediate hit. Her 1995 album Cesaria Evora was nominated for a Grammy, and she embarked on her first North American tour. Her New York City date at The Bottom Line attracted such curious noteworthies as Madonna, David Byrne, and Branford Marsalis. Soon, earlier albums released in France were reissued in the U.S. for the first time, and she became a concert-hall favorite stateside. Evora collaborated with Brazilian great Caetano Veloso on the album Red Hot & Rio in 1996 and later linked up with Veloso, pop singer Bonnie Raitt, and Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés on her 2001 hit album São Vicente. Named after the Cape Verdean island she hails from, the CD was recorded in Havana, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro. Evora made her Hollywood Bowl debut in 2001.