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“˜Barefoot diva’ comes to Royce

By Kristin Aoun

Oct. 6, 2008 9:10 p.m.

A chance encounter with strangers can change a life forever: It can cause a future Grammy winner to sing out loud for the first time.

“One day, I found some young people playing guitar and I started singing. One of them said to me, “˜Sing louder because you have a nice voice,'” said Cesária Évora.

Though only 16 at the time, the moment marked the start of a commendable musical career. Now, 50 years later, “Since that day, I am still singing,” said the Cape Verde native.

The “young people” must have had good taste in music: Évora has since won a Grammy Award for her album “Voz D’ Amor” (Portuguese for “Voice of Love”), received six Grammy nominations, recorded several gold records, gained international recognition and performed concerts around the globe. She is known as the “barefoot diva” because she sings barefoot at her concerts simply because she doesn’t like shoes.

She will be performing in a concert this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Royce Hall.

Watching Évora perform, it is not surprising that she has become such a success. Évora sings morna, a style of music from her native archipelago, Cape Verde, which is located off the coast of West Africa. African and European roots emphasize the style, often compared to blues. Évora’s songs sound like jazz with Latin rhythms underneath.

With her alto voice, lowered from age, cigarettes and whiskey, Évora brings out the subtle musicality of her songs. As someone who has lived through life’s ups and downs, Évora performs looking directly at her audience with a great deal of genuineness, crooning her songs.

“What delights me today is the happiness of having got through all the years of suffering to better enjoy the life I live now,” said Évora. “At home we say, “˜It’s better to drink the venom first and the honey later.’ Now I’m drinking the honey.”

Évora was raised in a modest house with her mother, father and siblings. Her father played guitar and violin, and as a teenager Évora sang with him and his cousin in clubs for tips. She performed at various bars and on the radio, gaining local recognition.

Évora stopped performing in the early 1970s to raise a family. During that time, she sank into a 10-year depression, worsened by excessive drinking.

According to her official biography, “They say that she wandered naked and wild through the streets of Mendilo in the grip of a “˜feitico’ (an evil spell.)” The spell broke in 1985 when Évora was invited by a women’s association and the singer Bana to record some demos that resulted in Évora’s first album, “Tchintchi Roti.” Copies can be purchased at Cesaria-Evora.com.

Since then she has gained international praise. Her most recent album, “Rogamar (Pray to the Sea),” is a celebration of the ocean. She sings of the sea, with its juxtaposing promise of a better life on distant shores and its mercilessness as it separates loved ones,

Her songs serve as a musical metaphor for the human experience, reflecting the happy and sad times living provides.

“Because I like performing, I’ve done it all my life,” Évora said. “Singing is my life.”

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