Cesaria Evora: ‘Merci beaucoup’

«How could I ever reject my country’s tradition? It is inside me. I carry it with me,» remarked the doyenne of folk music, Cesaria Evora, in an expression of her loyalty to her native music, to the melodies of Cape Verde. Many may argue that the music of the island cluster was unknown to most until 1988, when in the midst of a ethnic music craze Evora appeared, introducing herself as the «barefoot diva.» Evora was 46 years old then and well-known on her own island of Sao Vicente, but nowhere else. Critics at the time opined that she was just another artist taking advantage of a trend in ethnic music, but once her first, Paris-recorded album, «La Diva au Pieds Nus,» was heard, it became abundantly clear that for this woman – with her warm, soft voice – it was only a matter of time before she broke out of her cocoon and made her way into the world. And so it happened. Since then Evora, now 64, has taken her music around the globe, blending it with other genres and styles. She has worked with leading artists such as Compay Segundo, Caetano Veloso and even with Greece’s own Eleftheria Arvanitaki. The world embraced her and the awards rolled in. This month, Evora will see the circulation of her new album, titled «Rogamar,» which she says means «ode to the sea.» The 15 tracks on the album are all inspired by the big blue and most are with her regular associates Manuel de Novas and Teofilo Chantre, though the first single is a duet with the great Senegalese musician Ismael Lo. The biggest surprise, however, is that on the album that will soon circulate in Greece, Evora has teamed up with a big name in Greek folk music, Dimitra Galani, for a beautiful ballad duet. The song is both in Portuguese and Greek. (The Greek lines are written by young lyricist Jacques Stefanou.) Evora agreed to meet with Kathimerini in Paris and share her thoughts on the collaboration. How did the collaboration come about? My recording company suggested it to me. Though I didn’t know Dimitra Galani personally, I had heard her sing and I have a lot of respect for her voice. The song is ideal for a duet, a ballad written by Teofilo Chantre and my father. The title is «Una Pincelada» (A Brushstroke). Do you enjoy these collaborations? Yes, because I like to share. How do you select the songs for your albums? Various composers will offer me their songs and choosing is not always an easy process. I listen to the songs over and over again and pay close attention to the lyrics. I could never sing a song, however wonderful its music was, if the lyrics were not powerful. This album is about the sea. Many of the lyrics are about the sea, a frequent source of inspiration for poets. Throughout your career you have remained faithful to your traditions. Have you ever wanted to try something different? This is the music that is familiar to me. This is what sings in my soul. Loss, return, nostalgia, love, exile. I cannot imagine leaving my traditions behind me. I grew up with this music and I feel it is my duty to preserve it. It is older than me and will be alive long after I am gone. I am too old to change; not that I’d want to. How about the young artists working in Cape Verde? Do they feel the same way as you? I am not worried about them. We like to stick to our country! And we have many young talents, such as Maria de Barros, Lura, Mayra and Teofilo Chantre who protect our traditions. There is an organization in Cape Verde that helps young people who want to study music. I also help in my own way for them to have the education I never had as a child. Unshakable faith Your life was difficult, and recognition was late in coming. Did you ever consider giving up? Not for a single moment. I never lost faith because I never expected anything. You can only be disappointed if you expect something. How important is your success to you? Enormously. A lot of things have changed in my life, mainly that I am no longer poor and looked down upon. And, of course, I can provide well for my family. I can’t begin to describe the feeling of starting off like a small dot in Sao Vicente and now being heard all around the world. Do you feel as though you have someone to thank? None of this would have happened if the French public had not embraced me. It was the first country that put its faith in me and if I can travel around the world today, it is because of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. You seem to do much better with songs and music that you do in love… Men come and go; no one knows that better than me. [Evora has been divorced three times.] Music has never disappointed me and thankfully neither have my children and grandchildren. Do you spend a lot of time with them? When I’m in Mindelo I am all theirs. I cook whatever they want, I do their shopping, I even go out to buy their cigarettes. The nights, though, are mine.