Cape Verde's 'barefoot diva' Cesaria Evora dies
PRAIA, Cape Verde - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoLegendary Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora, nicknamed the "barefoot diva", died at the age of 70 Saturday, three months after retiring due to ill health.
The singing star who won international acclaim with her sultry voice and melancholy ballads of lost love, died in a hospital on her native island of Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Culture Minister Mario Lucio Sousa announced. In September, her record label Lusafrica said Evora had decided to end her career due to health problems. She underwent open heart surgery in May 2010.
"I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: forgive me, but now I need to rest," Evora told French newspaper Le Monde three months ago.
"I infinitely regret having to stop because of illness, I would have wanted to give more pleasure to those who have followed me for so long," she said.
Evora has sung the blues-influenced "saudade" of her native Cape Verde since a young age, but came to world fame late in life in 1992 after three decades performing in the bars of Mindello, Sao Vicente.
Her third album Miss Perfumado, which came out that year, was a worldwide hit with more than 300,000 copies sold to date. In all she has produced 10 studio albums and an anthology of historic radio recordings while touring far from her Atlantic island home.
Cape Verde immediately announced a two-day national mourning and heaped tribute on the iconic singer for putting the tiny Atlantic Ocean archipelago nation on the world map.
President Jorge Carlos Fonseca said Evora was "one of the major cultural references of Cape Verde", while Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves hailed her "invaluable contribution to the greatness of our nation and our pride." Her mother, a cook, entrusted a seven-year-old Evora to an orphanage after the death of her father, a struggling cellist. From the age of 16, Evora sang in bars and at private parties, earning pocket money with her songs of love, poverty and the sea.
Over the next ten years, the young singer plunged into a life of alcohol abuse and solitude, before coming into the spotlight in 1985 with a series of performances in Portugal.
Evora's first album was recorded in Paris and appeared when she was 47, in 1988. The name of the album, "La diva aux pieds nus (The Barefoot Diva) - from her habit of taking to the stage without shoes, would stick with her throughout her career.
Evora was also known for taking short breaks during concerts for a sip of cognac or a cigarette.
By 1992, two albums later, Evora became a breakthrough success, selling out shows to Cape Verdean and French audiences alike and starting a punishing schedule of concerts around the world.
Her voice was compared to that of US great Billie Holliday, and the music press revelled in exotic tales of her African island life, growing up in poverty and acquiring a taste for cognac, smoking and wild nights out.
In 2004, her album Voz d'Amor won a Grammy Award for "Best World Music Album" and stars like Madonna, David Byrne and Brandford Marsalis descended on her New York concert.
Evora gave up alcohol in 1994, but not smoking, and by 2005 she was diagnosed with heart problems and begun a series of operations.
She has blamed her health problems on her love for "batathinas" - Portuguese fried chips she was forbidden from eating because of their high cholesterol content.
"I stopped, but I had to eat some to check that it was truly the chips which made me weak," the diva had said.
In 2008 Evora suffered a stroke after a concert in the Australian city of Melbourne and returned to her Paris base to recover, managing to record her latest album Nha Sentimento for release in 2009.
In February 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy decorated her with the Legion of Honour, France's highest award.
In April this year, Evora appeared at the Grand Rex theatre in Paris in apparent good form, just five months before announcing her retirement.
"I did my best. I have had a career many people would have loved," Evora told Le Monde in September.
Paris mayor Betrand Delanoe hailed the diva yesterday as "a popular singer in the most beautiful sense of the term", who introduced the rhythms of Cape Verde to the world.