The Unforgettable Barefoot Diva: Cesaria Evora’s “Mãe Carinhosa (Mother Affection)” Out Now

Cesaria Evora
Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora’s velvet-and-grit voice flowed from her humble beginnings and from her striking intuition for interpretation. Evora put Cape Verde and its characteristic musical form, the bluesy and bittersweet morna, on the global map. When she passed late in 2011, the world lost one of its most distinctive artists.

From her career as a bar singer in the Cape Verdean city of Mindelo to her triumph on Europe’s foremost stages, Evora kept her trademark style. Engaging but never pandering, she managed to woo the world, often performing with no shoes to earn the name “the barefoot diva.” Over the course of eleven studio albums, Evora and her close collaborators—including producer and longtime champion Jose da Silva—gathered a plethora of high-quality performances, songs that worked on their own but didn’t quite fit on a particular album. Now these gorgeous, characteristically subdued yet passionate tracks are finally seeing the light, with Mãe Carinhosa (Mother Affection, Lusafrica; March 5, 2013).

With exquisite instrumentation behind her, Evora’s voice sounds as fresh and melancholy, as sweet and heartfelt as ever. With songs by Evora’s favorite songwriters and with cameo appearances by musicians like Manu Dibango (who plays marimba on “Esperança”), Mãe Carinhosa draws on Evora’s love for mornas (the lush “Dor di Sodade”) and rollicking coladeras (“Tchon da Franca”), for wry lyrics (the almost goofy but instructive culinary mix up in “Cmê Catchôrr”) and deep emotion (the touching “Mãe Carinhosa“).

From Humble Roots to a World famous Diva

No one would have guessed, had they walked in a bar in Mindelo and looked at Evora, what surprising stardom lay in store for the singer. No one, except Jose da Silva, a producer with roots in Cape Verde. He heard the singer, crooning in a bar for a few bills from the folks who came through port, and encouraged her to cut an album. She did, reluctantly at first due to her family obligations. Then she cut another, and another. A few years later, after she and da Silva found the perfect sound to buoy her distinctive voice, she was selling out major venues and winning major music awards. (Evora has both a Grammy and a Legion de Honneur to her credit.)

When not touring intensively, she was recording. Without meaning to, Evora collected a small store of unreleased tracks from her work in the studio. Following her death in late 2011, da Silva felt reluctant to release a posthumous album. Until he saw the surge of tributes and sadness at diva’s passing, and the unrelenting interest in follow-up albums.

“I was flooded with ideas and projects after Cesaria died,” da Silva recalls. “People suggested we do cover albums, fancy tributes, that kind of thing. I decided we should keep it simple, and give the world a new album of songs that, for various reasons, had never made it onto an album before.”

da Silva insisted on maintaining Evora’s demanding standards for album cohesion, and tried to craft an arc, a seamless experience for listeners, be they dedicated fans or recent converts. With many of the tracks nearly complete, it was more a matter of finding a unified, harmonious whole from pieces sometimes recorded decades apart.

The result captures Evora’s many facets, from the earthy and ribald to the sorrowful yet passionate. Filled with tales of longing and distance—the call of Cape Verde to the many homesick migrants who have been forced to leave the islands—Mãe Carinhosa channels all of Evora’s toughness and tenderness.