As self-insulated as America insists on being from the music of the rest of the world -- not counting England and Ireland -- and as virtually nonexistent as radio exposure for foreign music is here, we naturally miss out on some pretty great stuff. Scaling the fortress of the mainstream U.S. music industry, the sole focus of which is the quick million, is a formidable gig, and as devoid of anything resembling soul or intellect as most that darkens its drawbridge is, it's a wonder any of the rest of the world's brilliant musicians are even remotely interested in this market and its glut of Insipid Pop.
With no pesky foreign language to alienate the listener, nonvocal international music (read: jazz and its hybrids) will sometimes find a mass audience. But rare is the foreign artist who, like Edith Piaf or Jean Sablon, sings in his or her native tongue and still garners widespread recognition in America. With huge sales stateside and five Grammy nominations, West African archipelago Cape Verde's "barefoot diva" Césaria Évora is a rare bird indeed.
Évora didn't really hit the world's radar until the mid-'80s, when she traveled to Portugal to record two songs for an anthology of female Cape Verdean singers, but she had been singing throughout her island home since she was 16. Making a family and not much money interrupted that first career, but she's been recording regularly since her return to music at the age of 45. Known primarily for her bluesy mornas, postcolonial tunes blending African beats and Portuguese fado, Évora sings in a Creole dialect that makes her extremely accessible in Portugal, specifically, and Spain and France, and this is probably what we have to thank for the worldwide dissemination of her beautiful music.
The Very Best Of Césaria Évora is composed of tracks -- some bluesy, some inflected with Brazilian samba -- from the albums she released between 1991 and 2001, with three previously unreleased songs, the best of which is a new version of her '92 hit "Sodade" recorded with Angolan vocalist Bonga Kuenda. "Sodade" is the lead track and rightly so. The marriage of Évora's soft, melancholy utterances and Kuenda's anguished, broken tenor is positively sublime. The rest is far from silence.