Singer Cesaria Evora, dubbed the “Barefoot Diva” for often performing without shoes, has died in her native Cape Verde at the age of 70. The musician, forced to retire earlier this year due to ill-health, began her career singing in the bars of Mindelo in the West African island nation. Evora did not begin her recording career until 1988, and won a Grammy Award in 2004 for her album Voz D’Amor.
Evora retired after having a stroke in September. A heavy smoker, she was diagnosed with heart problems in 2005 and had open-heart surgery last year. She suffered a stroke while on tour in Australia in 2008 and later underwent open heart surgery. In September, she spoke of her sadness at having to retire, saying: “I have no strength, no energy. I want you to say to my fans: forgive me, but now I need to rest”. Evora was known for taking short breaks during concerts for a sip of cognac or a cigarette. 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.
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. Evora was performing several times in Romania, and she was supposed to have her last concert in our country in December.
‘Barefoot diva’ was famed for singing songs of longing with her rich contralto vocals. Her sultry voice was often compared to blues star Billie Holliday. Her fourth album, Miss Perfumado, was her breakthrough hit in 1992. It sold more than 300,000 copies worldwide, and resulted in a number of tours. She released 10 albums in all. Evora was considered one of the world’s greatest exponents of Morna, a form of blues considered the national music of the Cape Verde islands, a former Portuguese colony which gained independence in 1975.
Two days of national mourning has been declared in the small island nation, with President Jorge Carlos Fonseca calling her “one of the major cultural references of Cape Verde”.