Cesaria Evora, Barbican, London

Another kind of blues
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The Independent Culture

The Barbican's season of events looking at connections between the blues and world music got off to an intriguing start by showcasing the morna superstar from Cape Verde, Cesaria Evora, and her band, supported by a group from Mali led by the captivating tenor voice of Kasse Mady Diabaté, a Grammy nominee this year.

The Barbican's season of events looking at connections between the blues and world music got off to an intriguing start by showcasing the morna superstar from Cape Verde, Cesaria Evora, and her band, supported by a group from Mali led by the captivating tenor voice of Kasse Mady Diabaté, a Grammy nominee this year.

The premise that world music and the blues share a common heritage is sound, but the link with Evora is tenuous, however good her music. With Diabaté and his quartet there are no such doubts: the rhythmic and melodic drive of his band's balafon-player combine with an electric guitarist, a Malian percussionist and a brilliant flautist to create a beautiful tapestry of sound, often pentatonic, like the blues, but with irresistible rhythmic vitality (also like the blues) and a passionate wailing singer in Diabaté himself, magnificently clothed in all-white Malian robes. Unfortunately, a distracted crowd (lots of people wandering in and out throughout the set, stocking up on booze and snacks) paid him less attention than he and his mesmerising band deserved.

That was all being reserved for Evora. Her septet of superbly equipped musicians opened the second half of the evening with an instrumental that instantly set the sedate, luxuriant tone of an Evora event. As this segued into "Isolada", a tune well known to Evora fans, the great lady was helped on to the stage and slowly made her way to the spotlight, shaking her fists in delighted recognition of the ecstatic welcome.

Once in place, Evora hardly moved for the next hour, nor did she speak to her adoring crowd until belatedly introducing the musicians - in Portuguese - a dozen or so songs into the set. Occasionally shimmying like a large tree in the breeze, once or twice turning to her guitarist or violinist to chat or smile, Evora became an immovable presence in the midst of some exquisite ensemble playing by her band, clearly a troupe of exceptional ability, for the most part balanced with great care by the sound technician to bring out the rich interplay between violin, mandolin, guitar, piano, percussion and bass.

Evora gave forth with her velvet voice a string of songs well known to her fans from her many records, but after a while the lack of dynamics in her delivery, and the absence of interpretive nuance, meant that attention wandered, often to settle on the musicians and their role in the greater pattern.

Both the violinist and the guitarist (who was, appropriately, playing a Maccaferri replica) proved to be virtuosi of the music, giving perfect and discreet support to Evora's phrasing, but both were equally capable of elegant and emotionally charged improvisation when their turns came.

Evora continued to give her all to the vocals, and she took her traditional break half-way through for a sit-down, a smoke and a glass of wine while the band delivered another instrumental, during which she at last looked physically at ease: her movement is clearly much restricted by her physical condition.

It was hard not to feel that what she serves up to her fans is a performance delivered as naturally and habitually as she smokes her cigarettes. Yet she has been blessed with this amazing, captivating voice. On a record, that's more than enough. But live, it would be nice if the rich interplay of her backing band were matched by some daring and drama in her interpretations of these beautiful songs. Then the world would definitely get the blues.

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