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MUSIC REVIEW

Cape Verde's music beyond Cesaria

Sara Tavares' lively set shows off a more contemporary style than the famous diva.

July 04, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The music of Cape Verde has been so dynamically defined by Cesaria Evora that it comes as an intriguing surprise to learn that there are sounds and styles that reach beyond her compelling versions of traditional mornas and coladeiras. Singer-songwriter Sara Tavares, who now lives in Lisbon, is one of the most gifted of a new generation of artists building a contemporary Cape Verdean music that nonetheless remains firmly in touch with its roots.

Tavares' Sunday afternoon concert for Grand Performances at the California Plaza was an impressive display of her success at defining herself in this potentially rich and eclectic genre. Playing guitar and often adding lively vocalized percussion effects to her singing, she was the creative musical center of an unusually versatile quartet. Guitarist Ricard Alves and bassist Fernando Embalo added subtle vocal harmony lines to their well-crafted instrumental work, and drummer Fernando Carlos used a traditional drum set to generate colorful percussion timbres.

Most of the material came from Tavares' new CD, "Balance." The title track perfectly captured the Portuguese meanings of the word, which refers to a dancing groove as well as good food. "Bom Feeling" combines Portuguese and English into a phrase that translates as "Good Feeling." And both the crowd sing-alongs and the rapturous audience dancing attested to Tavares' ability to share the meaning of the title.

Other numbers -- the reggae-tinged "Planeta Sukri (Sugar Planet)" and "Mi Ma Bo" (sung in the crioulo language of Cape Verde) -- were enhanced by her lively phrasing and the soaring sweetness of her voice. Given the marketing and promotion that a major record label could provide, Tavares has the potential to become a breakout world music star.

She was joined on the bill by Emeline Michel who, as the acknowledged "Queen of Haitian Song," is already a well-known world music artist.

Taking her audience on what she described as a tour of Haitian music, she illuminated every stop along the way with her extraordinary dancing, dark and throaty vocalizing, and charismatic presentation. Like Tavares, she has found both challenge and inspiration in the culture of her native land.

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