Today the world says goodbye to Cesária Évora, also known as “The Barefoot Diva,” “the queen of morna,” and the “unofficial ambassador of Cape Verde to the world.”
What readers of this blog may or may not know is that, in my non-chocolate life, I have devoted nearly a decade to the study of Cape Verdean language and music, the focus of my undergraduate thesis and now my doctoral dissertation. The passion for this topic began quite simply, with the purchase of one life-changing album, Cesária Évora’s 1999 release “Café Atlântico.” Over the course of my research, I had the honor and privilege to work with Cesária on multiple occasions. One outcome of that work is the article that I wrote for Transition Magazine, a semi biographical piece entitled Cesária Évora: “The Barefoot Diva” and Other Stories [pdf], which traces her career from its humble beginnings to a Grammy award, a Légion d’honneur, and worldwide fame.
While I played just a small role in Cesária’s remarkable life, she was a monumental figure in mine. She had a voice like none other, an unforgettable, wry sense of humor, a seemingly tireless work ethic, and a generosity that touched many. We once joked that she was even gracious enough to share her birthday with me; we were born exactly forty years apart. Cesária’s experiences as a performer from a developing country who conquered the genre of world music raised many questions about racial and socioeconomic injustice, gender and sexuality, the politics of representation, honesty in production and marketing, hierarchies of quality, and myths of purity. These are the very questions she encouraged me to ask about Cape Verde and the West, and that I continue to ask about chocolate in my current research.
When Cesária announced her retirement in September of this year, she told Véronique Mortaigne, the author of one of her biographies: “I have no strength, no energy. I want you to tell my fans: I’m sorry, but now I must rest. I deeply regret having to take time off due to illness, I wanted to still give pleasure to those who followed me for so long.”
I join a chorus heard round the world in offering sincere condolences to Cesária’s family, friends, and loving community of fans. May we take comfort in fond remembrances and her incredible legacy of sound. And may she rest in peace.
Thank you, Cize, for the extraordinary gift that you have shared with us.