As any public relations or record company executive will tell you, it helps to have "an angle" to promote an artist. In that respect, singer Cesaria Evora - who will appear with her ensemble at Ra'anana's Amphi Park on May 18 - is an easy sell.
Evora hails from the exotic, and suitably remote, West African group of islands of Cape Verde. She started out as an aspiring twenty-something but, for some reason, couldn't quite make the grade. In fact she had to wait until 1988, when she was 47, to get her big break. It was then that a young Frenchman with roots in Cape Verde asked her to go to Paris to record an album. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, Evora has put out over 20 albums and toured the world. Born in 1941 in the port town of Mindelo on the Cape Verde island of Sao Vicente, Evora clearly has a strong message to convey, and not just in musical terms. She is known as "the barefoot diva" because of her propensity to appear on stage shoeless - as one Web site claims - in support of the disadvantaged women and children of her country. Meanwhile, Evora offered a far more basic explanation: "It is just because I don't like shoes," she states simply.
Another epithet that has been applied to Evora over the years is "queen of the morna," referring to a plaintive bluesy folk music genre she sings in Portuguese-inflected crioulo. Evora sings emotively about tales of longing and sadness evoked by her country's bitter history of isolation and slave trading. Like the Portuguese blues fado genre, morna is fuelled by a strong sense of nostalgia emanating from the sea, as well as by the fact that almost two thirds of Cape Verde's population of one million lives outside the country.
For Evora, being a singer from Cape Verde is about more than just making good music. She feels she has an ambassadorial role to play too. "It is very important for me to sing, specifically, in crioulo. It is my language. Our songs are always written in Crioulo. I want to stay close to my roots."
Domestic allegiance notwithstanding Evora also feels her craft transcends borders and cultural delineations. It is for that reason she is particularly happy to return here.
"It is not the first time that I will perform in Israel and each time I come here, I am very happy," she says. "Israel is a special country with a special culture."
Evora began testing her musical waters as a teenager, inspired by her social and artistic milieu. "When I was 16, I found a group of young people playing guitar and I began to sing," she recalls. "One of them told me: 'sing harder, you have a nice voice.' I have been singing ever since."
Still, Evora didn't exactly experience meteoric career success and, in fact, gave up singing altogether for a decade. But, rather than blame "circumstances," Evora views things serendipitously. "It wasn't hard for me to resume my singing career after such a long break," she observes. I stopped singing in 1975 of my own accord and I started again in 1985. In both cases it was my own decision."
That career decision has borne abundant fruit, with Evora rapidly gaining in popularity across the globe and even winning a Grammy in 2004. "The Grammy was very important for me," she says. "I think every musician wants to win one."
Things seem to have gone Evora's way since making the momentous decision to relocate from her homeland and go for broke with her musical endeavors. However, despite her success, Evora takes nothing for granted. "I am delighted with the way things have gone with my career so far," she notes, "and maybe a little bit surprised."
Cesaria Evora will perform with an eight-piece ensemble at Ra'anana's Amphi Park on May 18 at 8:30 p.m.