Cesária Évora lost her father at the age of seven. After his death, Cesária’s mother struggled to support her on meager earnings as a cook, eventually entrusting Cesária to the care of an orphanage. It was in the orphanage choir that Cesária first learned to sing.
At 16, Cesária met a Cape Verdean sailor named Eduardo who taught her the traditional Cape Verdean styles of music called mornas. The mornas are songs of sadness, sorrow and yearning.
She began singing in local bars and hotels. With the help of local musicians, she would hone her skills and would later be proclaimed “Queen of Mornas” by her fans. She became famous in Cape Verde, but remained relatively unknown internationally.
Frustrated by personal and financial problems, compounded by the very difficult economic and political situation in Cape Verde, Évora gave up singing to support her family. She didn’t perform for 10 years, which she describes as her “dark years”. During this time she struggled with alcoholism.
A Frenchman of Cape Verdean descent named José Da Silva persuaded her to go to Paris where she recorded a new album, La Diva Aux Pieds Nus (The Barefoot Diva) in 1988. The song “Sodade” was her first international hit and marked the beginning of worldwide fame for Cesária Évora.
The Portuguese term saudade is complex and infamously difficult to translate, related to homesickness, nostalgia, longing, sadness, and regret. The expression of “sodade” is integral to Cape Verdean music. This album won critical acclaim and began for her a dramatic comeback. She became an international star at the age of 47.
Here is the “Barefoot Diva” performing in the video of “Sodade”….