Cesária Évora, the barefoot diva as rarely seen, Jeune Afrique

Cesária Évora, the barefoot diva as rarely seen

eva sauphie

Published on December 1, 2023

Reading: 3 minutes.

The scene takes place in a rehearsal studio. On screen, the bare feet of Catherine Evans are shown in close-up, while he is heard laughing off-camera and making fun of their appearance with his manager. This is how the first images, preserved on old VHS tapes, of Ana Sofia Fonseca's documentary open. These shoeless feet are a reminder of extreme poverty in which the native of Mindelo, a town located on the island of São Vicente marked by British colonization, lived almost all her life. They also symbolize the freedom of the woman who defended the morna of her native country to the point of walking on stages around the world... without shoes.

Thanks to images from private archives collected at the end of a long quest (five years), with the artist's closest collaborators, such as her manager José Da Silva, her musicians, friends and family, the Portuguese director and trained journalist, paints the sensitive portrait of a woman who experienced success on the late. “Cesária was black, poor, old when the industry took an interest in her, and she was a woman who didn't fit in with the criteria beauty products acclaimed by magazines. She suffered a lot of discrimination, even when she was successful, she recalls. Despite this, she conquered the world. Her story is inspiring and shows that life can change from one moment to the next. » Preserve the memory of the barefoot diva “so that her story reaches the new generation”, tel is the challenge of this documentary which offers precious moments in the intimacy and interiority of Cesária.

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Filming your interiority

Reels show her younger, far from the stage and the studios, surrounded by her family and loved ones, like her granddaughter Jannete Évora, or her butler Pior, whom she considered her son. Two characters that we find in the comments and who font integral part of this vocal film. A common thread which allows us to better understand the complexity of a woman full of ambivalences, capable of embracing life by organizing dinners in the company of her loved ones, as well as of cutting herself off from the world for 10 years. Dependence on alcohol and cigarettes, depression... The director does not ignore the artist's fragilities, without falling in the sensationalist or miserabilist pitfall. “It was important to understand the woman to better understand the voice. All this constitutes it and makes it special. But her vulnerability does not define her. We must not forget that she is a free and strong woman, who managed to stop using when she decided. »

But she's mostly a woman tailored and generous who “received the president like beggars in her home, without making distinctions”. And who only had one dream in mind, to buy a house in her small country that she never left, keeping her feet on (her) land, despite international recognition. “The industry seized on the Cesária phenomenon with the boom in world music, but it was traditional music and sang above all his country, underlines the documentary filmmaker. It is in Cape Verde that she was born, where she lived and where she breathes. All this reflects his art.” Alternating shots of contemporary landscapes and archive images from the time of British colonization, the director places Cesária Évora in its territory but also in its history. Because even when she was on the other side of the world, she was looking for Cape Verde, asking to go meet the diaspora, and where to eat Cape Verdean. “Cesária Évora not only put Cape Verde on the world map, she was looking for Cape Verde all over the world.”

“Cesária Évora, the barefoot diva“, by Ana Sofia Fonseca, in theaters since 29 November

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