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Monday, January 9, 2012


Cesária Evora - Sodade (1992)

We're going to need a little background to break this one down.

In the most basic of history lessons we learned that Spain and Portugal were the biggest players in the international exploration business during the late 1500s. What you may or may not remember is that the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494 and divided the unknown world between the two. Spain took West of the line and Portugal took East. Already discovered by Portugal, but now formally "theirs" was an archipelago of 10 Islands off the coast of Africa. It was uninhabited when discovered, but Portugal adapted it to the growing slave trade during the late 16th century. The country is a creole one, a blend of European and African peoples. After the slave trade ended the country was almost worthless to Portugal, who never the less held it as a colony until 1975. It is still a very poor nation. All of these factors combine to help us understand morna: the traditional musical style of Cape Verde.

Morna is a style of folk music that owes a lot to the fado musical style of Portugal. Fado is very often mournful, either about loss, the life of the poor, or hardships related to the sea. A solo singer is backed by stringed guitar like instruments, and the audience ends in tears. Morna grew from that tradition, and adds the traditional African embellishment to Western music: rhythm. Morna, like fado, does not have to be mournful, but much of it is.

This song has multiple guitar parts, some at least are most likely played on a cavaquinho, which is a small four stringed instrument related to the ukulele. They never stop playing, providing a blanket for Evora's voice. On the drums you can hear fast patterns played on something like bongos, a sound not unlike a cabasa, and a very low bass drum that resonates well after it is played. Her voice is absolutely surrounded by sound.

Cesária Evora was a bar singer until many of the bars closed with the independence Cape Verde. She then became a cruise ship singer until she was discovered. Her first album was not recorded until she was 47 years old. Her 1995 album brought her a Grammy nomination, and her 2004 album won Best Contemporary World Music Album. but it was her 1992 album Miss Perfumado that contained her biggest hit - Sodade.

The word sodade is a Cape Verde creole version of the Portuguese word saudade. The wikipedia article on the word claims that it is a word that has no direct translation in English, but that it means the deep longing or yearning for something or someone that one loves, often carrying the implication that the person or thing will never return. Cesária Evora died December 17th 2011 at the age of 70. Sodade.

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