Maria de Barros is the god-daughter of Cape Verde’s legendary Cesaria Evora, whose comfortable presence and symbolically shoeless performance style has earned her the nickname, “the barefoot diva”.
In last night’s show, the shoes (Maria’s) came off before the first song had even hit the chorus. It took a little while for everyone in the typically polite and reserved (Vermont) audience to come around, but by the end of the evening the chairs were pushed aside and discarded shoes lined the floor at the bottom of the stage as Higher Ground’s Showcase Lounge erupted in a world-class dance party.
Maria de Barros and her band sang and danced a warm musical embrace in a performance that exuded “morabeza” – an adjective, she said, that describes the kind hospitality and characteristically generous spirit of people from her native Cape Verde.
No surprise, then, that Morabeza is also the title of her brand new recording.
The show itself blended tunes from the new release, along with some from de Barros’ two previous recordings. Every song was sung in Portuguese, but their individual styles were as diverse as the wide cultural and historical crossroads of the West African islands themselves.
In a little over two hours, the mood bounced naturally from lilting samba and reggae grooves to emotionally infused morna love songs, and – de Barros’ specialty – outright party music in Cape Verde’s native coladeira style. Her light voice, bright smile, and radiant stage presence were a good match for the feel of the music.
I would like to have heard more from some of the individual band members. The acoustic guitarist had a little solo time in the light, as did the the percussionist. The ukulele-reminiscent cavaquinho is a curious instrument native to this kind of music, and it’s an unusual enough sight in this part of the world that it could have been featured and highlighted more than it was to give another dimension to the performance. Nice to hear (and see) it played, nonetheless.
Near the end of the concert I ran into a couple of friends who had also attended Mariza’s amazing show, back in March. Though Mariza and de Barros both sing in Portuguese, and de Barros’ style can be considered “fado informed”, it’s not truly fado music. So deeper comparisons can’t really be made between the two. My friend and I agreed; listening to these two is better thought of like appreciating the special, individual qualities of two different wines: if Mariza is port, then surely de Barros’ lighter, tropical-flavored style is Viñho Verde.
Is it a coincidence, this comparison of a ‘barefoot diva’ to wine, and wine’s inevitable associations with barefoot grape-stomping? Nah. Like spending an evening with an artist of Maria de Barros’ caliber, it’s purely intentional even if the results are happily unexpected.
Last night’s concert was the latest in the ongoing Cumbancha/Putumayo World Music series at Higher Ground, next one’s coming up on July 7th: Nigeria’s pioneering King Sunny Ade and His African Beats!
For further listening: I like Morabeza, but for the choice of tunes and the blend of instruments I probably still prefer her earlier Dança Ma Mi (“Dance With Me” – 2005, Narada Records). Try both, you sure can’t go wrong.