"Charisma" is a word that demands a new definition when applied to Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora. Although she makes a somewhat offbeat appearance as the "Barefoot Diva" -- a highly marketable description of her simple preference for performing without shoes -- she otherwise communicates the amiable, uncomplicated warmth of a favorite great aunt.
So, how to explain the unrestrained enthusiasm of her audience Friday at the Orpheum Theatre? Greeted with the sort of hooting and shouting ovation usually accorded a rock god, cheered enthusiastically on the few occasions when she slightly moved her shoulders in rhythm, Evora herself seemed mystified by the ebullience of the response she was receiving.
That's not to diminish the warmth of her manner, the seductiveness of her songs or the appeal of her singing. Evora has been an international star since the early '90s, when she introduced the world to the music of her native Cape Verde -- the bittersweet mornas, with their entrancing blend of nostalgic melody and subtle, body-moving rhythms. Since then, she has added more rhythmic coladeira numbers. Her extensive program -- drawing from a catalog of nearly a dozen albums -- included such sing-along items as "Africa Nossa" (from the current CD, "Rogamar") and the classic "Sodade" (from "Miss Perfumado").
As attractive as the songs were, however, their melodic and harmonic sameness -- of the mornas, in particular -- clearly benefited from the sturdy accompaniment of her seven-piece band, with its occasional solo saxophone and piano interludes. Even so, her appearance was a rare world-music event in which the music itself couldn't quite surmount the language barrier. Evora is a rare gem, but what was missing in her performance was an awareness -- for English-speaking listeners -- of the sense of loss and longing, an understanding of the frequent theme of immigrants yearning for home that characterizes so many of her songs.
Opening for Evora, the rapidly emerging young Cape Verdean singer Tcheka combined the expository batuku style with a captivating blend of Afro-Cape Verdean rhythms energized by a superb backup trio.