Divas Deluxe

Which global pop star will Americans fall in love with next?


| September-October 1997


American music listeners, typically a xenophobic lot, are occasionally smitten by the voice of a foreign singer. We fell for Germany’s Marlene Dietrich in the 1920s, France’s Edith Piaf in the ‘40s, and Brazil’s Astrud Gilberto in the ‘60s. As the century closes, we’re overdue for a new global diva—and two promising candidates from different parts of the world are poised to make a breakthrough.

Cesaria Evora, from the Portuguese-speaking West African island nation of Cape Verde, has become known as “the barefoot diva” for her propensity to perform shoeless, in solidarity with the disadvantaged women and children of her country. It would be easy to dismiss this trademark as an affectation, but when Evora, begins to sing, there’s no doubting her sincerity. Her voice, low and burnished with experience, seems to carry the very weight of the world.

Evora, essentially unknown before 1995, now fills halls in London, Paris, Tokyo, and Chicago, and she was nominated for a Grammy last year after a long stay on the world-music charts. She’s frequently compared to Piaf and Billie Holiday, but her world-weary alto has a character entirely its own. Though it’s easy to imagine Evora as a jazz singer, á la Holiday, she draws her entire repertoire from Cape Verdean songwriters and remains steadfastly within the idiom of the morna, a regional, relentlessly melancholy music form. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave my roots,” she has said. “It’s in my blood, it’s in my veins.”

This is a singer with a vivid sense of place. She named her new album simply Cabo Verde, and its final track, “Ess Pai,” is the most gorgeous tourist jingle a country could ever have. After praising Cape Verde’s poets and people, she sings, “We have no riches . . . but we have a godly peace.” Listening to the evocative melodies on this album—imagine a slow samba, played on a balmy night near the sea—it’s easy to believe that claim.



If Evora, in her 50s, is the voice of maturity, Brazil’s Marisa Monte is the voice of youth, brash and sexy. Monte, 30, is less concerned with cultural purity than Evora, especially on her new album, A Great Noise, which prefigures the 21st century with such decidedly nontraditional songs as “Cerebro Electronico” and “Tempos Modernos.” But even with her pop persona and artsier trappings, she is a quintessentially Brazilian star—“la gran diva de Rio de Janeiro,” as she has been called. Her voice, trained for opera, is breathy and precocious, a technically brilliant tease that skims and coos over the bossa nova backing of her band.

A Great Noise, recorded partly on her worldwide Rose & Charcoal tour, is a fetching collage of Monte’s many faces. “Arrepio,” written by frequent collaborator Carlinhos Brown, is simple but seductive, thanks to her mantra-like repetition of the minimal lyrics. Strings and horns add a sumptuous sheen to “Magamalabares,” while “Maraca” is all cool funkiness.














Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!




Facebook Instagram Twitter flipboard


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265