The largest currency denomination in Cape Verde bears her face, the airport in her home island of Sao Vicente is named after her. There are constant reminders of her legacy wherever you walk – her voice blaring in restaurants, pictures of her, paintings everywhere.
A Cape Verdean friend jokes, “Our passports have a map of Cape Verde as most airport officials did not believe it was a real country, but ever since Cize became world famous, people now know that this is a real country.”
Cesaria Evora, affectionately referred to by locals as Cize was not your typical African heroine. She’s remembered in her island country 400 miles from Dakar, Senegal in West Africa, as much for her haunting voice that got her the name of the Queen of Mornas (a Cape Verdean musical and dance genre,) as she is for her rebellious resilient spirit.
Evora famously refusing to perform in shoes the first time she was invited to perform at Gremio Recreativo, one of the fanciest establishments in the island of Sao Vicente at the time. This earned her the nickname, The Barefoot Diva, and she continued to always perform without shoes on, proudly proclaiming her humble roots. She is also remembered for her stage appearance, always modestly dressed, with a bottle of Cognac on stage and a cigarette in her mouth.
Her songs spoke of love, loss, nostalgia and longing. In Sodade she calls out for her lover who has gone to a far off land abandoning her—this was something she knew well, with her first love at 16 leaving her to go to Europe and several subsequent ones thereafter, leaving her to raise three children on her own. In Ingrata, she mourned about a daughter who leaves her to go across the ocean—a reality only too real in a country where more than 60% of its population lives outside the country. The Cape Verdean story is one of immigration, separation and longing.
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