Cesaria Evora, Grand Rex, Paris

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The Independent Culture

The Grand Rex is a fabulous art deco extravaganza of a picture palace from the 1930s. The acoustics are good, too, as they need to be: Cape Verde's "barefoot diva" Cesaria Evora is playing a three-night residency here, premiering songs from her forthcoming album, Rogamar.

Her long-time pianist and arranger, Fernando Anderade, leads tonight's accomplished band of shimmering acoustic guitars, accordion, violin, sax and percussion. Together, they produce Cesaria Evora's classic, instantly identifiable sound.

The young Cape Verdan artist Tcheka opened the show with a superb set of batuque songs for three guitars and percussion, and it looked as if the headliner would have her work cut out not to be upstaged. But she is a commanding presence from the off, and by the time she has slipped into the sombre "Sombras il Distino", the night is all hers. The band lead off with piano and acoustic guitar, while a strong bass figure circles like sorrow as Cesaria's sweet, deep voice rolls and sweeps over the melody. The keening violin and softly interlocking piano and guitars suffuse you like a temperate breeze, wafting a nostalgia for what you have never experienced, but is there nevertheless. That's her power.

The more upbeat songs, the likes of "Vaquinha Monsa", and the ebullient "Mei Africa" punctuate the slower ballads to make a well-paced set that sees each of the main instrumentalists alternating lead roles in the ensemble sound.

Some songs on the new album, such as "Tiche", with its distinctive saxophone lines summoning up an almost tangible early-hours atmosphere, actually come from her years singing in the bars of her native Mindelo. Those who remember seeing her perform there, some 30 years ago, say that she hasn't changed at all.

She is a fairly stationary presence on stage, focusing the attention on her voice, and with a self-contained grandeur and poise that's hard to equal. She says little, but there are fine touches of knowing theatre. Who else, midway through their set, would turn back to a chair and table set behind her and with a nonchalant nod to the audience sit out the next song to smoke a cigarette while her band weave the instrumental, "Ninaxa", around her? The audience gives a big hand for that, though it's classics such as "Sodade" that win the biggest applause.

As the violinist leads off "Besame Mucho" for the encore, she concludes a faultless 20-song show and walks from the stage to a deserved standing ovation.

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