From Cape Verde with love

Senagalese singer Maria De Barros pays tribute to her famed godmother, diva Cesaria Evora.

June 27, 2013 16:00
Senagalese singer Maria De Barros

Senagalese singer Maria De Barros. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The final installment of this year’s Hot Jazz series will offer local audiences a whiff of cultures from outside the confines of the jazz field. Maria De Barros was born in Senegal and has lived in the US for many years, but she feeds off the sounds, energies and sentiments of her parents’ homeland of Cape Verde. She will convey much of that and more at her half dozen shows around the country, which kick off in Ganei Tikva tomorrow and will take in slots in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The central Atlantic Ocean archipelago state is possibly best known for producing barefoot diva Cesaria Evora. The singer, who performed in Israel several times and died in 2011 at 70, was De Barros’s godmother and is one of her major influences.

“My musical idols are two male vocalists considered living legends of our music – [now 81-year-old] Bana and Djosinha and my godmother Cesaria. I have had the honor of performing with Bana and Djosinha on several occasions,” she says.

Still, De Barros is from another generation and also got into the commercial sounds of her youth.

“I like other genres of music, but the rock and pop music that I truly enjoy are the songs of the 1980s and ’90s,” she adds.

De Barros says she gets her muse from all manner of elements, not just from the music she hears.

“I draw inspiration from many things, such as cooking – mixing the different spices to come up with a wonderful blend that compliments the vegetables, meat, seafood, etc. For me, music is a blend of different condiments, making one perfect dish that everyone can enjoy and feel fulfilled by! I don’t have children of my own, but I love them and they inspire me to be as innocent and unjaded as they are.

Being born in Senegal and growing up in Mauritania with Cape Verdean parents, and later residing in the States, my influences are drawn from African, Arabic, Latin, French and American songs. I would have to say, though, that the Latin rhythm is the most pronounced influence in my songs.”

But De Barros’s initial influences came from much closer to home and at a very early age.

“I started singing at the age of five,” she recalls. “My mother would always sing around the house.

Music was always a part of my childhood. I come from a musical family. Both my grandfathers were well-known and admired violinists, songwriters and composers on the Island of Brava, and my mother grew up singing in church. At that time, women were allowed to sing only in church or at small family gatherings. If women sang in bars, they were not looked upon favorably.” The person who really gave De Barros a shove in the right direction was her godmother.

“I saw Cesaria for the first time when I visited Cape Verde in 1988. We spent a lot of time together and became very close. At that time, we performed together at a jam session,” says De Barros.

She returned to the States, and the effects of that fleeting first synergy gestated for a while.

“When Cesaria gained international fame and traveled to Los Angeles during one of her tours, we reconnected and she became my musical godmother. Cesaria is the person who pushed me to have a career in music. One day, she gave me an ultimatum – I either record a CD or she would no longer be my godmother!” Suitably encouraged, De Barros got down to business.

“In September of 2003, I released my first CD, Nha Mundo (My World). Before the release, Cesaria was the first one to hear it and gave me her blessings, which meant the world to me! She did the same with the following two 2005 and 2009 releases – Danca Ma Mi (Dance with Me) and Morabeza (Friendliness). Cesaria will always be a strong influence in my personal and musical life. I miss the wisdom of her encouraging words and advice to me. I miss her contagious laugh and the way that she would joke and tease me. I will miss her forever,” she says Cape Verde was once a Portuguese colony and gained independence in 1975, but it shares its former parent country’s love of the blues. But we’re not talking about the American musical species here. One of the main traditional forms of Portuguese music is fado, which has a wistful strain running through it. The same can be said of Cape Verdean music. While acknowledging the bluesy coloring of her music, De Barros says there is a lot of joy in what she does, too.

“Cape Verdean music has a sad tone underlying any rhythm, be it a coladeira (fast rhythm) or a morna (slow rhythm),” she explains. “The songs that have festive rhythms are coladeiras, funanas, sambas, among others.

My shows are very lively. I love to dance, so most of my songs are happy ones.”

The upcoming Hot Jazz slot is touted as a salute to De Barros’s godmother.

“I will perform music from my three releases, which feature rhythms like coladeiras and mornas,” says De Barros. “Since this is a tribute to Cesaria, I will sing some of my favorite songs of hers.”

De Barros will be backed by five Israeli jazz musicians, as well as some support from someone closer to her musical home.

“It is an honor for me to perform with these great [Israeli] musicians, and I’m looking forward to the vibe that we will create together. I can’t wait to experience how the different sounds and energies will all come together,” she says. “I am bringing my [four-string Brazilian-Portuguese guitar] cavaquinho player Zerui Depina, and I know that he is also looking forward to this experience.”

Maria De Barros will perform at Mercaz Habama in Ganei Tikva tomorrow (9 p.m.); the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem on Monday (9 p.m.); at the Zappa Club in Herzliya on Tuesday (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.); the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Thursday and Friday (9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively); and at Abba Hushi House in Haifa on Saturday (9 p.m.)

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