Ana Sofia Fonseca’s characteristic documentary Cesária Évora opens with hand-held, bootleg-style footage of the legendary Cabo Verdean morna singer in rehearsal. It’s visually inauspicious however subtly heralds the movie’s nice power. An intimate strategy that illuminates Évora’s extraordinary profession whereas staying near her private struggles and triumphs.
The mix of the Portuguese director and journalist Fonseca’s storytelling and editor Cláudia Rita Oliveira’s organisation of myriad archival sources ends in a movie that can fascinate each devoted followers in addition to these encountering Évora’s biography for the primary time.
Good music documentaries are sometimes about greater than the music, and even the essential biographies of the musicians. Cesária shares slightly with Looking for Sugar Man (2012) about Nineteen Seventies rock singer Rodriguez. Each central characters are shy, and overwhelmed at instances by the character of their fame. As one character muses in Cesária, “How would she survive her success?”
Cesária Évora and Cabo Verde
Cesária Évora died in 2011. She was born in 1941 within the tiny port city of Mindelo on the island of São Vicente, a part of the archipelago of Cabo Verde in West Africa. She was a pure performer and singer for a few years earlier than her breakthrough albums had been recorded in her fifties. The movie strikes forwards and backwards in time, setting her burgeoning worldwide fame within the context of her very humble beginnings singing in bars round Mindelo.
Fonseca additionally makes use of these retrospective sequences to replicate on the expertise of Cabo Verdeans underneath the dying days of Portuguese colonialism. To offer the context for Évora’s early years, Fonseca digitally rejuvenates broken archival footage of the Portuguese navy from the Nineteen Sixties and reportage of the early days of independence.
This combination of outdated codecs, together with celluloid, tape, nonetheless photographs, voice interviews and live performance footage creates an more and more textured movie. It situates Évora within the histories of not solely Portuguese colonialism and Cabo Verdean independence, but in addition the ‘World Music’ motion. And, in fact, African music. Morna – the type explicit to Cabo Verde – is a globally recognised sound largely due to Évora.
In an interview Fonseca discusses how exhausting it was to search out outdated footage of Évora and to trace down individuals who may make clear her years of performing in Mindelo and her decade of self-imposed isolation. Fonseca’s affected person, investigative strategy yields a story of discovery for viewers.
Behind the scenes
Behind-the-scenes footage in a music documentary is all the time fascinating. Right here Évora’s followers deliver her a pot of cachupa (a conventional Cabo Verdean stew) earlier than her efficiency on the Hollywood Bowl. Her wry and mischievous sense of humour sparkles within the scenes the place she sings with legendary singer Compay Segundo in Cuba. What begins as a disharmonious scene between the ageing legends ends in ribald asides and laughter.
Évora is an intuitive, gifted singer, and like her, the movie additionally follows a free-wheeling type that hits the proper notes. From typical tour bus scenes – band members sleeping sprawled on each accessible floor – to limousine rides in New York, the movie tracks her on a punishing schedule of worldwide excursions, from Portland, Oregon to Siberia and most locations in between, together with the compulsory tv look on Letterman.
However she all the time returns residence to Mindelo, to her family of household, pals and strangers supplied a meal. Certainly, meals is an understated however persistent theme all through the movie. Évora is a queen to Cabo Verdeans, notably these on São Vicente, in addition to these within the diaspora who meet her at her concert events all all over the world.
Despite the appreciable fame which Évora attained late in her life, she remained, within the phrases of 1 interviewee, an “anti-star”. She was dubbed ‘the barefoot diva’ for showing with out sneakers on stage. She was not barefoot for impact, or as a advertising and marketing ploy, however as a result of regular Cabo Verdeans “don’t wish to put on sneakers”.
There have been no concessions to common developments in her music. Her songs remained a bewitching mix of insouciant sensuality, tenderness and melancholy. As she says to an interviewer in response to a query concerning her world renown:
As an individual, I’m the identical particular person.
Listening to Cesária Évora, I’m struck by her superb means to search out and to make areas between the notes. There’s a informal but exhilarating precision and really feel within the melodic traces that remembers singer Aretha Franklin, and a tone echoing singer Billie Vacation, and but Évora appears like no-one else. In a stunning scene in the direction of the tip of the movie she shuffles round her home singing some traces spontaneously for a visitor, and her voice has the identical extraordinary high quality because it does on stage throughout her reside performances.
The movie’s ultimate scenes observe the extra typical biopic line, getting ready us for the inevitably of Évora’s passing with a montage of bleak poetic photographs of Cabo Verde’s volcanic landscapes. Fonseca’s rhythmical return to the plains and mountains of São Vicente is a reminder of Évora’s love for residence, and a metaphor for a voice that’s each angelic and from the earth.
Cesária Évora is exhibiting on the Encounters South African Worldwide Documentary Competition in Johannesburg on 1 July