If I had to sum up what my childhood smelled like I would say orange blossoms and freshly mopped tile floors. In my memory, the french doors leading out to the back patio of our small home in South Florida were often swung wide open and the smell of orange blossoms on our citrus trees hung thick in the tropical air. In my memory, my Cuban mother is mopping the tile floors in our living room, yet again. The floors always got so dirty with four kids running around.
Somehow, in the recesses of my mind, those are two of my most fond smell memories I’ve got lingering in my brain. Invariably, mixed with those smells are the sounds of salsa music, Rumba, and other Latin music that my mother would load in the tape deck and invite us to dance to along with her.
As a girl raised in a home with a German-American father and a Cuban mother, I have to admit I always felt American. I preferred to live my everyday life around American food and people, and I connected most with American music. But somehow, being raised in that environment where the cultures blended seamlessly and coexisted as if it were the norm for everyone, I learned to love other cultures, their food, history, and especially their music. Music, after all, says so much about a culture.
In a spirit of cultural exploration, I recently went browsing through the foreign music section of Rhapsody, looking for something new and different. I happened upon the music of Cesaria Evora, a singer from Africa’s Cape Verde Islands. At 69 years old, she is considered the most popular singer of the “morna” genre, a style indigenous to Cape Verde and often compared to American “blues”.
I was immediately hooked to Evora’s jazzy voice and soulful style. Singing in Portuguese Creole, Evora’s music is a fresh departure from the typical jazz music I often turn to. Her music is both light, reflective of her island life on Cape Verde, and brimming with a profound melancholy as she sings about love, loss, nostalgia, pride in her homeland and the sea. Tracks such as Mar Azul, Sodade, Partida, and Cize reflect the longing that’s characteristic of her style. In some small way, her nostalgic voice takes me right back to those tile floors, orange trees, and dance parties of my youth.
Now I can hear some of you wondering exactly what to do with this offbeat recommendation I’m giving you. Sure, I know you probably don’t often reach for a little-known African artist when the music mood strikes, so allow me to get the wheels turning. Think dinner party, a few good friends, great conversation, wine enough to share, and the soft, rhythmic and soulful music of Evora drifting in the background.
Hey, if all else fails, you can impress people with your culturally-savvy knowledge of a nearly 70-year-old African singer from Cape Verde who sings in Portuguese Creole. Talk about a conversation starter . . .
Here are some examples of her work: