Words by Alex Robinson
Cape Verdean musicians tend to go down one of two paths: one of interpretation, set on preserving musical forms from the islands; the other of innovation, drawing on these forms to express something altogether new and fresh. Like Cesaria Evora, Neuza follows the former path.
The songs on this debut CD are largely traditional: many are standards and all are performed with a typical Cape Verdean semi-acoustic band of Portuguese mandolin, guitars and a bass and drum backing. What sets them apart is their place of origin. While most of Cape Verde’s internationally well-known musicians hail from São Vicente (where Cesaria was from) or Santiago (the main island), Neuza was brought up on the volcanic island of Fogo, where she learnt music associated with that island. ‘Trabessado’ is a curcutiçan – a lively lyrical joust between a male and female singer over a swinging rhythm – in which Neuza teases silky-voiced Michel Montrond about his virility. It’s a delight, as are the more downtempo numbers, which include a deliciously languid, smoky rendition of B Leza’s morna ‘Deuza’ and the gorgeous ‘Um Ten Sodade’, a song soaked in sweet sadness.
This album deserves to be widely played – it’s slick without being superficial, soothing without eliciting Smooth FM. Neuza has a sweet, coaxing voice that recalls a young Cesaria, before her vocal chords were soaked in cigarette smoke and whisky. And while there is little here that is groundbreaking, this is an accomplished debut from a singer whose music is as easy on the ear as the Atlantic waves lapping on the beach in Tarrafal, and who promises a great deal.
TRACK TO TRY: ‘Trabessado’