The Barefoot Diva
Cesária Évora (1941-2011) from Mindelo in the tiny Cape Verde islands of Senegal, and hailed as one of the most influential black voices in the world, is recognized as a mentor by several singers, including Fantcha, who was also born in Mindelo, Lura, also from Cape Verde, Mayra Andrade, the Cuban-born singer, and Sara Tavares, who was born in Lisbon.
Cesária sang barefoot—becoming known as ‘The Barefoot Diva—and in a style called morna, a slow ballad, typically about love, sorrow and history. Her recorded music and live performances garnered an audience around the world, and captured the hearts of millions of fans with her catchy songs made for dancing or expressing laments, and singing the blues.
Her own rise to fame and world recognition came after a considerable struggle to rise out of the poverty of her youth. She had a long history of health problems and had gone through several operations including open heart surgery in 2010. She returned to performing soon after her surgery, but in late 2011 while in Paris, her own mentor, Jose da Silva, a record producer, and her doctors noticed how weak she had become and told her she needed to give up her career and curtail her international travel. She had to cancel scheduled concerts in Armenia, Romania, France, Switzerland, and the U.K.
At the age of 70 she told an interviewer for Le Monde, “I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: I’m sorry, but now I must rest. I deeply regret having to take time off for illness, I wanted to give more pleasure to those who have followed me for so long. But life goes on. I came to you. I did my best. I’ve had a career that many would have wished for.”
The Cape Verdean government declared a national mourning for 48 hours after her death. She will be greatly missed and her legacy lives on in those she mentored.