To those saddened by the news of fado queen Amalia Rodrigues's death earlier this month, consolation comes with this CD. Rest assured the soul of Portuguese blues will be transported into the next millennium by stalwart Cape Verdean chanteuse Cesaria Evora.
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Fado and Cape Verde's mournful morna -- sung in creole -- are said to share bitter roots in Portuguese-owned slave plantations on the African island nation. Sea traffic later brought music from Brazil, Argentina, Britain, and the Caribbean to Evora's native Mindelo, a port city known as "the creole Rome." Evora's Café Atlantico highlights some of the disparate rhythms that washed up on its shore.
Evora, who has released seven albums (including Café Atlantico) since her discovery at age 47 by French producer José Da Silva, is best known for her sorrowful laments about unrequited love and the plight of her people. Tracks on this album, such as "Paraiso di Atlantico" ("Atlantic Paradise"), a gorgeous tribute to Cape Verde, and the traditional morna "Flor di Nha Esperanca" ("The Dream of My Hope"), showcase the singer's lusty vocals and dramatic phrasing.
Some jauntier tunes break the sentimental tension on Café Atlantico. A Cape Verdean Mardi Gras anthem, "Carnaval de São Vicente," captures the usually introspective Evora in an almost bubbly mood. But the singer does even better on songs she can really wrap her muscular voice around. Her slow caress of the next track, the bittersweet ballad "Desilusão Dum Amdjer" ("A Woman's Disappointment") will throw your heart into a twist.
Recording in Paris and Havana, producer Da Silva fleshed out Evora's typically spare sound with accompaniment by Brazilian cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and a cast of Cuban musicians that includes famed conguero Tata Guines, Buena Vista Social Club lute player Barbarito Torres, and the great Frank Emilio Flynn on piano. The Cubans accompany Evora on "Beijo de Longe," a fine fusion of Cuban danzón with Portuguese vocals. The musicians also shine on the classic "Maria Elena," which Evora sings in Spanish, having long ago learned the song from a Spanish Nat King Cole album the American crooner made in prerevolutionary Cuba. Evora's recording in Havana spotlights the shared African heritage of Cuban and Cape Verdean music, and the singer falls in easily with the Cuban musicians.