There was once a time, believe it or not, when the word diva, actually meant something grand, long before every two penny wannabe chanteuse appropriated the moniker.
To understand what the word meant, away from its operatic provenance, think Edith Piaff, think Nina Simone and then think of Cesaria Evora of Cape Verde.
While Piaff, the French chanteuse and Simone, the American classically trained jazz pianist are well known many people do not know Cesaria Evora, famous for her quirky ways and fondly referred to as the ‘Baferoot diva’ because she never wore shoes while performing and always insisted on a bottle of whiskey and pack of cigarettes on stage.
Where did her shtick come from? Well blame it on the time spent serenading sailors in the taverns of Cape Verde before they boarded Europe-bound vessels.
Cesaria Evora was born in 1941 in Cape Verde but did not gain global acclaim until she was in her mid-forties, when in 1988, she released her first commercial album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus. The album was recorded in France.
How did Ceasaria transit from the dingy taverns of Cape Verde to the brightly lit stages of France? Let’s put it down to a mix of talent and providence. Long famous in Cape Verde, it took an invitation from a fellow Cape Verdean Morna artiste, Bana, who took her on a tour to Lisbon and while on that trip, Cesaria met famed music producer, José da Silva, who, as western history is written, subsequently discovered Cesaria and took her to France.
It was an auspicious move because great works followed in quick succession from La Diva Aux Pieds Nus which had been preceded by the 1987 LP entitled Cesaria, which marked, in many ways, her international entrée. In 1992, Cesaria released her album, Miss Perfumado which did not only sell over 300,000 copies worldwide, it included her monster hit and one of her most celebrated works, “Sodade”.
Sodade is a mellow and almost melancholic song with a haunting and funereal feel as she invokes the word Sodade. The guitar and cavanquinho in the background seem to imbue the song with longing and nostalgia for something past. It became a much requested song and one of her most popular songs.
More accolades would come in the years ahead as Cesaria’s fame grew and along it world-wide acclaim as the middle-aged diva captured the attention of the music world.
Regarded as Queen of Morna, she became the undisputed ambassador of Morna music, native to Cape Verde and similar to the Argentine tango but differentiated by its Creole lyrics and the instruments it is accompanied by – clarinet, violin, guitar and cavaquinho. Morna is much popular and with a stronger national appeal in Cape Verde compared to other musical forms like Funaná, Coladeira, Batuque and Cabo love.
Despite her age, the Barefoot Diva was not relenting. Years spent singing for a pittance to drink adled sailors in the taverns of Sao Vicente seemed to have prepared her for the big time. She captured hearts and sold out venues from Paris to London and New York.
In 1995, her fame ratcheted up notches after she released a self-titled album Cesaria which snagged her her first Grammy nod in the World music category. Two years later she won big at the Kora music awards going home with three awards -: “Best Artist of West Africa”, “Best Album” and “Merit of the Jury”.
But it was in 2003, that the big one dropped when she won the Grammy in the World Music category for her album Voz d’Amor.
Cesaria Evora had finally put Cape Verde and its beloved Morna firmly on the world music map. So by the time her health began to fail in 2010 following a heart attack which led to her retirement in 2011 and despite ill health, Evora stayed diva-licious to the very end receiving visitors from all over the world and never parting from her whiskey and cigarette right up until her passing on December 17, 2011 at the ripe age of 70.
Come November 25 and 26, 2016, Cesaria Evora will resurrect in Lagos, first at the Muri Okunola park where Lito Coolio, a contemporary street band steeped in the best tradition of Morna will take the stage at the 7th edition of the Lagos Jazz Series, the annual festival of jazz and alternative music.
Lito Coolio will bring alive the spirit of Cesaria Evaro, serenading discerning Lagos musical aficionados with beautiful music that transcends time, tongue and geography.
“I was in Cape Verde and I saw them performing in the streets. Their music was contemporary and street yet mature and almost timeless. They were playing Morna but it was Cape Verdean folk music infused with a heavy reggae vibe. They blew me away and I knew right there and then that I had to bring them to Lagos,” recalled Oti Bazunu, the convener of the Lagos Jazz series.
“They will be playing not just their own reggae infused Morna but also favourites from the undisputed Queen of Morna, Cesaria Evora.”
On the bill as well is “The Average White Band’s” Hamish Stuart and the eclectic fast rising Nigerian newbie “Amaka Amaka” and a host of others” says, the obviously excited Oti. “There would be regulars like the Lagos Jazz Series Quintet as well as South African based young Nigeria trumpeter – Etuk.”
Previous editions have seen stars like Afrocentric American rapper, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Marcus Miller, M.I and alternative soul singer, Bez light up the stage at both Muri Okunola and other venues.
This year, the action will be at Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island and The Moorhouse Sofitel Hotel where Lagosians would be treated to the very best music from around the world.
“We have done this six times and the seventh edition will be no less exciting. Our line-up is growing by the day. Lagosians are in for a good time as usual,” Oti Bazunu said with a twinkle in his eyes.