Record Review - 3 October 23 2003

Cesaria Evora has come a long way in the last 15 years, from being an unknown middle-aged singer from Cape Verde, a rocky collection of islands 300 miles off the coast of Senegal, to being considered one of the world's premier divas.

The style for which Evora has become famous is, in part, a complex biproduct of years of colonization, mixing coladeiras and mournful yet sensuous morna, which is heavily influenced by Portuguese fado as well as African and Brazilian rhythms, especially samba. Longing for the homeland and mixed emotions about the ocean surrounding Cape Verde island are recurring themes here, as on previous releases — hardly surprising, given that over half of the islands' 1 million natives live elsewhere.

Voz d'Amor continues a tradition established before of wrapping Evora's smokey, whiskey-soaked voice in a delicate shawl of piano, acoustic guitar, cavaquinho (a guitar/mandolin hybrid), bass and fiddle, with saxophone and orchestral backing. It's a mature, carefully aged product, like a fine brandy, and not unlike some of the Buena Vista Social Club offshoots.

Songs like "Velocidade" — written the late Luis Morais, a fellow Cape Verdean musician — sometimes sound familiar upon first listen, perhaps because they tap into feelings of melancholy common to all cultures. With "Jardim Prometido" ("Promised Garden"), there's another explanation: it's a new take on an old staple, "Greenfields."

Cesaria Evora performs at Symphony Hall Wed., Oct. 29. $24-$45.

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