Balance (Times Square)
In a music world where multiculturalism can sometimes seem forced (Afros consort with Celts! Country legend goes reggae!), Sara Tavares stands out. Her music is all over the map because she can't really help it. She's Cape Verdean by birth but grew up in Portugal and landed in the rich immigrant community of Lisbon, soaking up French and polyglot African influences along the way. This multicultural milieu plays out naturally in her graceful songs, which are driven by her warm and inviting voice.
Fundamentally, these tunes share a consistent vibe: laid back yet upbeat, burbling with rhythms and cascades of acoustic guitar notes. But their provenance in what Tavares calls a 'metisse culture' gives them an air of mystery and surprise. Hints of Afrobeat, juju, reggae, marimba, and the Cape Verdean style called coladera lurk in the grooves, and Tavares' multi_lingual facility -- she sings in Portuguese, English, and Cape Verdean Crioulu -- sometimes leaves you wondering where in the world you are.
As a singer she's been compared to Rickie Lee Jones, and Tavares sometimes strikes a jazzy-cool vibe that invites the comparison. But she's also got some of Astrud Gilberto's sensuality and Miriam Makeba's fierce playfulness, and this sheer versatility may be her greatest asset.
One thing she doesn't do is wallow in self-pity. Lyrically, these songs swell with optimism; she has described them as 'little lullabies to myself.' For someone whose parents left her and who grew up rootless amid street culture, it's a remarkable testament to her resilience and drive. Let Portugal's fado queens and the saudade Cape Verdean divas weep; Tavares is singing her sorrows away. -- Keith Goetzman