29 October 2022 in Dossier Voices of Women, Human Rights


The chubby cheeks, the round, high forehead, the thick eyebrows painted black. Her neck, wrists and hands encircled by gleaming gold chains. The sound of her name evokes the scorching sun over there, beyond the sea that surrounds her islands. Cesária Évora. Her being, in all its genuineness and stillness, inspires bliss. Cesária is the main interpreter of morna, a lyrical fusion born from the encounter of Portuguese fado with the song of African slaves. She introduces us to saudade, a slow tempo in which waves of nostalgia, sadness and longing move – the very essence of melancholy. Melancholy that turns the morna into a speaker of an entire people[1].

A musical palette of blues voices against a backdrop of guitars, violins, accordion and cavaquinho, a small four-string guitar[2]. The origin of the name is uncertain; some say it comes from the English verb ‘to mourn’. Others believe from the Portuguese word ‘morno’. Cesária herself describes her music as follows: ‘Morn is woven from everything that surrounds the island: the sea, love and an inexplicable sadness’[3]. By taking morna around the world, Cesária reflects the turbulent history of small islands, the slave trade, poverty and emigration[4].

She always plays with those closest to her: ‘Djute’ (her father’s nickname)[5] plays stringed instruments, and is the cousin of the composer Francisco Xavier da Cruz (B. Léza)[6] , who writes many pieces for his niece Cesária, made to represent the Cape Verdean spirit and tradition[7], the westernmost point of Africa, which has remained at the mercy of conquerors and human traffickers for centuries. A tiny group of islands where women are often left alone to bring up children from mates who flee to seek their fortune elsewhere or for lack of responsibility, and are thus the source of the morna and its contents.

I know a mulatta who lives locked up, isolated in a silver cage.

She has night and daylight for company, she is the child of suffering and torment.

I have already asked Our Lord to give me a blossoming wing to fly to that mulatta,

to take away her pain, to make her my queen, her freedom and my happiness[8]

Childhood and personal life

Every evening Cesária sings in the seedy seaside taverns that abound at the port of Mindelo[9]

Cesária Évora, Cize to her friends[10], was born in 1941 in Mindelo, on the banks of the Lombo, in a rough neighbourhood, land of thugs and prostitutes on the Cape Verde Islands[11]. The port city is part of ten small islands sprouting in the Atlantic Ocean 600 km west of the African coast of Senegal. The Portuguese in their 500-year rule used its ports for trade and the slave trade[12]. The Évora family is poor but united: Cesária has four brothers. When she is only 7 years old, her father dies. This loss is a real blow for the family, especially for Cesária. Unable to support her children, her mother asks the headmistress of the orphanage where she works as a cook if she can put her daughter away[13].

The three years she has to spend there are traumatic, because they deprive her of affection and freedom[14]. At 13, she manages to return home to help her mother. She spends her free time singing in bars in her home town[15]. At the age of 16 she meets her first love, a Portuguese sailor and musician. They meet in a bar where she performs in exchange for a few cigarettes. He is fascinated by her voice. He notices, however, that she sings in a low voice and suggests she be bolder. He organises shows in cafés and bars, and puts together a band for her. He turns Cesária into a local celebrity[16]. He teaches her the traditional styles of Cape Verdean music: the coladeira and the morna[17].

In the blink of an eye, Mindelo discovers that the girl’s voice has heart, soul and magic[18]. Happiness seems so close, when the sailor boards a boat and leaves Mindelo. Cesária will never see him again[19]. Alone, for the next twenty years she performs in the bars and restaurants[20] of the archipelago. But she dreams of fame: unfortunately, Cape Verde is far away from it all, and the leap is almost impossible. It was the beginning of a difficult period: in 1975, with the fall of Salazar’s dictatorship, Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal[21]. A pro-Marxist regime is established in the archipelago[22]. Cape Verdean nightlife entered a dark phase. Due to the economic crisis, bars and restaurants close down. Many musicians emigrate to Portugal, Holland, France and the USA.

In the few, almost empty bars, Cesária sings for a drink[23]. The bottle of whisky or grog, the island brandy, stays by her side for a long time[24]. One of Cesária’s nicknames is Grogue Velwa, a Cape Verdean rum[25]. She smokes two packets of cigarettes a day[26]. To help the family, her three emigrant brothers send her their hard-earned money[27]. Frustrated by personal and financial problems, she stops singing.

Alcoholic[28] and depressed[29], she calls this period the Dark Years[30]. With her two children, from two loves gone wrong behind her back, Cesária takes refuge in her mother’s house[31]. She says ‘I have never shared my home with a man, I have always lived with my mother. For me, being with a man is like drinking water. You fall in love, you get pregnant and that’s it. I am amazed at women who allow men to make them suffer without making them happy”[32]. She only goes out to see the sea – an isolation that lasts ten years[33].

The rebirth

Adriano “Bana” Gonçalves and Cesária Évora[34]

Little by little, life improves, and musician friends, including Adriano Gonçalves, known as ‘Bana’[35]. , help Cesária to return to the stage, performing in Portugal, where she records her first album ‘La diva aux pieds nus’ (The Barefoot Diva[36]. She is already 43 years old. In one of the restaurants where she sings, her fragile voice, marred by nights of drinking, attracts the attention of José da Silva[37] , a Frenchman of Cape Verdean origin[38]. Impressed by her voice and her songs, he convinces the singer to go with him to France[39], and brings a turning point in her career[40]. At 47, Cesária realises her old dream: to see the Eiffel Tower. She has great success, and records three more albums[41]. With the album Miss Perfumado (containing two of her famous songs, ‘Sodade’ and ‘Angola’[42] ) Cesária became a star in France and Portugal, selling over 200,000 copies[43].

Who showed you this long way? Who showed you This long road?

This path to Sao Tomé Nostalgia, nostalgia Nostalgia

Of this land of mine, Sao Tome If you write me I will write you If you forget me I will forget you

Until the day that you return Nostalgia, nostalgia Nostalgia Of this land of mine, Sao Nicolau[44]

This record made her world famous: she toured Europe, Canada, all over Africa and Brazil[45]. She sings in Creole, a dialect that combines the West African language with Portuguese[46]. Few people understand the lyrics of her songs, yet they love her music[47]: connoisseurs describe her as a cross between Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday[48]. They call her ‘Diva Descalça’[49]. because she performs barefoot[50], in homage to the poverty of her compatriots – they say. But she assures: she simply does not like shoes: ‘Like most people on our island, I have never worn shoes. So it is more comfortable for me to sing barefoot’[51].

She only wears sandals when she is on tour in countries with a harsh climate[52]. He bought his first pair of shoes especially for the world tour, when he was almost 50 years old.  With success also comes money, lots of it. She divides the first earnings from the tour into two parts: she puts half of the sum in the bank, the other half in cash so that she always has it with her. However, when a journalist asks her what she bought, she replies: ‘A skirt and two blouses’[53].

Fame does not change her: during her concerts, she always takes short breaks to enjoy a cigarette[54]: ‘I like smoking and there is nothing I can do about it. A rich man promised to buy me a Mercedes if I quit. To no avail, I still smoke’[55]. Besides cigarettes, Cesária loves gold jewellery. According to her, all Cape Verdean women love gold because it gives them a sense of self-worth[56].

Says a woman who has endured three painful divorces and the blindness of her mother, as well as the untimely death of her father[57]. When asked why she never married, she replies: ‘Because my husband wasn’t born yet’[58]. And she pours the heavy weight of her troubled heart into songs. Her most famous song is the Cuban bolero ‘Bésame mucho’, written in 1940 by the Mexican Consuelo Velazquez Torres and masterfully performed by Cesária Évora[59].

Kiss me, kiss me so much As if tonight was the last time Kiss me, kiss me so much

Because I’m afraid to have you And to lose you again Kiss me, kiss me so much Like tonight is

The last time Kiss me, kiss me so much Cause I’m afraid to have you And to lose you again

 I want to be very close to you Look into your eyes See you with me Think that maybe tomorrow

I will be far far away Very far away from you Kiss me, kiss me so much As if tonight was

The last time Kiss me, kiss me so much Because I am afraid to have you And to lose you again

I want to be very close to you Look into your eyes See you with me Think that maybe tomorrow

I will be far far away Very far away from you Kiss me, kiss me so much As if tonight was

The last time Kiss me, kiss me so much Cause I’m afraid to have you And to lose you again[60]

During her career, Cesária earned more than 50 million dollars[61], but money never particularly interested her[62]. Many of them she donated to her country for the maintenance of primary education and the financing of the health system[63]. Having become a source of redemption and pride for all Cape Verdeans, she remains the humble woman who sang in the harbour clubs. Mindelo has always remained the centre of her world. She spends her life in her parents’ house. She only buys a new house when the old one becomes small for them. The sea surrounds her, but she, who was born on an island, cannot swim and is afraid of the waves[64]. When she is abroad and feels homesick, she does not think of green, even though that is the name of the islands. She thinks of the blue of her sea[65].

The last years

Cesária Évora with Compay Segundo[66]

In 2008, while on tour in Australia, she suffered a stroke. Due to complications she undergoes open-heart surgery[67]. Cesária realises that the end is near and retires from the stage. A few months later she dies in her hometown, at the age of 70, of cardiopulmonary failure. The President of the small island republic proclaims two days of national mourning. The coffin is escorted by guards of honour along the road to the cemetery. Thousands follow the funeral procession[68]. On 8 March 2012, the then São Pedro (São Vicente) International Airport is renamed Cesária Évora International Airport. A statue of the singer, three metres high, is displayed in the public square at the entrance of the airport[69].

Cesaria has recorded 18 albums in her career[70]. In 2004 she won a Grammy Award for the album Voz D’Amor[71] and in 2009 French President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded her the Legion of Honour medal[72]. She is a music icon on the edge of the world, the exact opposite of a pop star[73]. Listen to her, closing your eyes: you can hear the rhythmic murmur of the sea, the quiet monotony of alternating nights and days, the eternal cycle of the mixture of man and woman[74]. The timbre of her voice is unique, it gets inside you and scratches your heart with its nails[75]. After all, Cesária has never compromised. Rebellious, independent, she even refuses to sing with Madonna because she does not want to give up her band[76]. She was able to tell the whole world the story of the cluster of islands lost in the ocean and in misery. She has no need to show herself as a rebel: her very existence proves that true humanity endures and flourishes even on the most invincible rock.


[1]              https://gladyspalmera.com/solo-se-vive-una-vez/cesaria-evora-la-melancolia-se-canta/

[2]          https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[3]          https://incrivel.club/inspiracao-historias/15-fatos-sobre-cesaria-evora-a-cantora-descalca-que-ganhou-50-milhoes-de-dolares-mas-doou-quase-tudo-aos-necessitados-de-seu-pais-de-origem-953660/

[4]           https://www.arte-magazin.de/auf-nackten-sohlen/

[5]              https://left.it/2015/08/27/cesaria-evora-morna-capo-verde/

[6]              http://www.caboverde-info.com/ita/Identita/Personalita/Fancisco-Xavier-da-Cruz-B.-Leza

[7]           https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[8]          M’ ta conchê um mulata Qui ta vivê fichada Isolada num gaiola cor di prata

Ela tem pa compainha Noite e luz di dia Ela é fidje di sofrimento ma tormento

Jám pedi noss senhor Pê dam um asa em flor Quê pam voá atê quel mulatinha

Pam ba tiral di sê dor Pam ba fazêl nha rainha Sê liberdade é nha felicidade

[9]              https://gladyspalmera.com/solo-se-vive-una-vez/cesaria-evora-la-melancolia-se-canta/

[10]            https://www.patriaindipendente.it/terza-pagina/pentagramma/cesaria-evora-la-diva-a-piedi-nudi/

[11]            http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[12]            https://www.linkiesta.it/2021/05/cesaria-evora-capo-verde-musica-diva-piedi-nudi-miss-perfumado/

[13]            http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[14]         https://incrivel.club/inspiracao-historias/15-fatos-sobre-cesaria-evora-a-cantora-descalca-que-ganhou-50-milhoes-de-dolares-mas-doou-quase-tudo-aos-necessitados-de-seu-pais-de-origem-953660/

[15]            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/incoming/the-barefoot-diva-on-her-best-behaviour/article690879/

[16]         https://incrivel.club/inspiracao-historias/15-fatos-sobre-cesaria-evora-a-cantora-descalca-que-ganhou-50-milhoes-de-dolares-mas-doou-quase-tudo-aos-necessitados-de-seu-pais-de-origem-953660/

[17]            https://left.it/2015/08/27/cesaria-evora-morna-capo-verde/

[18]            http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[19]            https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[20]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[21]         https://expressodasilhas.cv/cultura/2021/10/15/serie-de-ficcao-sobre-cesaria-evora-inicia-filmagens-em-2022/77048

[22]            https://mylandrover.ru/it/body/pyat-luchshih-pesen-sezarii-evory-sezariya-evora-toska-po.html

[23]          https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[24]           https://www.linkiesta.it/2021/05/cesaria-evora-capo-verde-musica-diva-piedi-nudi-miss-perfumado/

[25]            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/cesaria-evora/article18437490/

[26]         https://www.linkiesta.it/2021/05/cesaria-evora-capo-verde-musica-diva-piedi-nudi-miss-perfumado/

[27]          https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[28]         https://expressodasilhas.cv/cultura/2021/10/15/serie-de-ficcao-sobre-cesaria-evora-inicia-filmagens-em-2022/77048

[29]         https://www.arte-magazin.de/auf-nackten-sohlen/

[30]          http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[31]            https://left.it/2015/08/27/cesaria-evora-morna-capo-verde/

[32]            https://gladyspalmera.com/solo-se-vive-una-vez/cesaria-evora-la-melancolia-se-canta/

[33]            https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[34]            https://www.voaportugues.com/a/cabo-verde-03-09-2012-voanews-142089213/1450501.html

[35]         http://www.caboverde-info.com/ita/Identita/Personalita/Adriano-Goncalves-Bana

[36]            http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[37]            http://www.caboverde-info.com/ita/Identita/Personalita/Jose-da-Silva-Djo-da-Silva

[38]            https://www.mango-dreams.fr/article/jose-da-silva-producteur-manager-de-cesaria-evora/

[39]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[40]            https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[41]           https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[42]         https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[43]            https://nosgenti.com/cesaria-evora-a-rainha-da-morna/

[44]            Quem mostra’ bo Ess caminho longe? Quem mostra’ bo Ess caminho longe? Ess caminho Pa Sao Tomé Sodade sodade Sodade Dess nha terra Sao Nicolau Si bo ‘screve’ me’M ta ‘screve be Si bo ‘squece me ‘M ta ‘squece be Até dia Qui bo voltà Sodade sodade Sodade Dess nha terra Sao Nicolau

[45]           https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[46]            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/cesaria-evora/article18437490/

[47]            https://www.noklapja.hu/retro/2022/08/27/a-mezitlabas-diva-magyarorszagon-jart-cesaria-evora/

[48]         https://books.google.it/books?id=TMZMAgAAQBAJ&pg=RA1-PA593&lpg=RA1-PA593&dq=cesaria+evora&source=bl&ots=gjX_zjtLLq&sig=ACfU3U2HB_kGDfbSkMAgBQVH9J0ESVoL4g&hl=it&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj-zPqGu-n6AhWsR_EDHdV5DzE4eBDoAXoECAcQAw#v=onepage&q=cesaria%20evora&f=false

[49]         https://incrivel.club/inspiracao-historias/15-fatos-sobre-cesaria-evora-a-cantora-descalca-que-ganhou-50-milhoes-de-dolares-mas-doou-quase-tudo-aos-necessitados-de-seu-pais-de-origem-953660/

[50]         https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[51]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[52]          https://calendar-vl.livejournal.com/278157.html

[53]          https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[54]          https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[55]            https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/cesaria-evora/article18437490/

[56]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[57]         https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[58]              https://www.theglobeandmail.com/incoming/the-barefoot-diva-on-her-best-behaviour/article690879/

[59]            https://fromthevaults-boppinbob.blogspot.com/2021/08/consuelo-velazguez-born-21-august-1916.html

[60]            Bésame, bésame mucho Como si fuera esta noche La última vez Bésame, bésame mucho

Que tengo miedo a tenerte Y perderte después Bésame, bésame mucho Como si fuera esta noche La última vez Bésame, bésame mucho Que tengo miedo a tenerte Y perderte después Quiero tenerte muy cerca

Mirarme en tus ojos Verte junto a mí Piensa que tal vez mañana Ya estaré muy lejos Muy lejos de ti

Bésame, bésame mucho Como si fuera esta noche La última vez Bésame, bésame mucho

Que tengo miedo a tenerte Y perderte después Quiero tenerte muy cerca Mirarme en tus ojos

Verte junto a mí Piensa que tal vez mañana Ya estaré muy lejos Muy lejos de ti Bésame, bésame mucho

Como si fuera esta noche La última vez Bésame, bésame mucho Que tengo miedo a tenerte

Y perderte después

[61]            https://mylandrover.ru/it/body/pyat-luchshih-pesen-sezarii-evory-sezariya-evora-toska-po.html

[62]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[63]          https://calendar-vl.livejournal.com/278157.html

[64]         https://sympa-sympa.com/admiracion-celebrites/15-faits-sur-cesaria-evora-la-diva-aux-pieds-nus-qui-a-gagne-50-millions-de-dollars-mais-qui-a-presque-tout-donne-pour-subvenir-aux-besoins-de-son-pays-813210/

[65]          https://www.economist.com/obituary/2012/01/07/cesaria-evora

[66]            http://www.mindelo.info/_disco_cesaria_4.php

[67]          https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-16232543

[68]          https://www.arte-magazin.de/auf-nackten-sohlen/

[69]            https://clubofmozambique.com/news/maputo-praia-pay-tribute-cesaria-evora-franco-mozambique/

[70]            https://mylandrover.ru/it/body/pyat-luchshih-pesen-sezarii-evory-sezariya-evora-toska-po.html

[71]           https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-16232543

[72]            http://sabimentos.blogspot.com/2015/01/cesaria-evora.html

[73]         https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/music-popular-and-jazz-biographies/cesaria-evora

[74]          https://www.noklapja.hu/retro/2022/08/27/a-mezitlabas-diva-magyarorszagon-jart-cesaria-evora/

[75]            https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-16232543

[76]              https://it.paperblog.com/cesaria-evora-la-diva-che-disse-due-volte-di-no-a-madonna-770669/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By browsing this website, you agree to our privacy policy.
I Agree