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Cesaria Evora: The Barefoot Diva

Noah Collier looks at the musical legacy of the Cape Verdean singer.

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Image Credit: As fotos da Virada!

Cesaria Evora is a legend in the music world, and yet few people have heard of her name. Her admirers make up an impressive rota of musicians, from Madonna to Stromae. The story of the Barefoot Diva is as unbelievable as it is long.

The Cape Verdean singer (nicknamed the Barefoot Diva), achieved international fame when she published her first album at the age of 47. From the humblest of beginnings, she had to work her way up to the top. After her parent’s death, she was placed in an orphanage. Then from the age of 16 began her professional career by singing at a sailor’s tavern. She tirelessly worked her way up the musical ladder, singing on cruise ships and local radio shows. Her big break came in 1988 with the release of her first album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus. But it was not until her release of the 1992 album Miss Perfumado that she shot into stardom, with the record garnering three hundred thousand sales. The album itself is a brilliant introduction to her artistry, with her incredible vocals and upbeat instrumentation. The album lifts you out of time and location and posits you in its grasp – it is impossible not to enjoy.

Recognition of so-called ‘world music’ is generally low. Celebrating an artist outside of the language and culture of the Anglo-sphere gave me new insights into new places, and forced me to look at music in a new way. Evora's work has seeped into our culture, her 2003 album Voz d’Amor won the world music Grammy. However, her presence in the culture feels, at times, more like a musical curiosity. I am wary of reducing her to ‘world music’, as I do not wish to label all non-mainstream cultures and musical traditions as the same. Evora’s music is distinctly her own, rooted in a Cape Verdean heritage. Her incredibly dazzling voice can compete alongside the strongest vocalists of today, silky, smooth, packed with emotion and power. Her songs need not be listened to just out of curiosity, but can live on our playlists besides the likes of Doja Cat, Drake and Elton John, and be fully integrated into our listening habits.

The legacy of Cesaria Evora is steeped in honour and pride, in 2009 she became the first Cape Verdean to be made a knightess of the French legion of honour. Her image has proudly adorned stamps, money, documentaries and even a google doodle. No nonsense approaches to audiences and the media gave her a formidable reputation as someone who intimately knew what she wanted. A chain smoker, and rum drinker she lived life on her own terms and created a distinct pathway through her individual brilliance and hard work. Over ten years on from her death she needs to be remembered, as a story of inspiration, as a fiercely independent woman and most of all for the genius of her music.

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