Elida Almeida Brings Her Catchy, Evocative Cape Verdean Anthems and Dancefloor Grooves to Lincoln Center

by delarue

Elida Almeida might be the most prominent voice in Cape Verdean music since Cesaria Evora. Her global popularity attests to her ability to transcend linguistic barriers: she can evoke any emotion she wants, from righteous rage to exquisite tenderness.

“We really want to make sure that we are representing the people who make up this city, and the world,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who booked her show there last night, reminded the crowd. “If you have an opinion, call your representative.” She didn’t elaborate any further, but no doubt Almeida was on that same wavelength.

Almeida’s lyrics, in her native vernacular, have a biting social awareness. Sometimes allusively, sometimes very forcefully, she addresses the weariness of exile, young brides’ disillusionment, tragedy and struggle in the ghetto, and themes of nostalgia and escape. Likewise, her music extends far beyond the brooding morna balladry made world-famous by Evora, to bouncy funana and percussive batuque grooves. 

Almeida and her band opened with a pulsing, darkly anthemic minor-key number, segueing in a split-second into a twinkling soukous-tinged dance interlude fueled by Hernani Almeida’s spiky electric guitar and Diego Gomes’ pointillistic electric piano. By now, a young, energized Cape Verdean massive had moved onto the dancefloor.

An achingly lilting ballad rose and fell over a waterfall of echoey keys, matched by a jagged Portuguese guitar solo that peaked out in a flurry of tremolo-picking. “Everybody loves morna,” Almeida acknowledged as she brought the lights down with a moody, expectantly melancholy piano ballad, joining voices with Gomes for some tenderly ominous harmonies. Then she picked up the pace with a catchily whirling, syncopated batuque anthem, inviting a lady in the crowd up onstage for a brief orgy of booty-shaking, then drawing the crowd into a big singalong.

An enigmatically hooky three-chord progression anchored the anthem that followed. Then Gomes switched to accordion for a propulsive cumbia, which was where the whole house really started bouncing. Maybe that’s why the band leapt into doublespeed, bassist Nelly Cruz and drummer Magik Santiago digging in hard at the end.

A slow, spacious, regretful acoustic ballad with an achingly spare guitar solo was next on the bill, followed by a raucously scampering, latin-infused accordion tune that might have been the night’s most memorable song. From there the band took a sprint through what sounded like a Mexican banda polka and then sent a soaring, wryly aphoristic shout-out to cachupa, the Cape Verdean national rice-and-beans dish. Like any other seaside nation, Cape Verde is a real melting pot, further underscored by the salsa-funk tune the band barreled through after that. They encored with a plaintively swaying ballad that brought to mind vintage Sade as much as it did Evora. 

On one hand, listening to music from cultures with unfamiliar languages always feels a little vicarious. On the other, if you want a free, early-evening global tour of what’s happening around the world, just steps from the local IRT Broadway subway, Lincoln Center is the place to be this year. Their Atrium 360 series continues next Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 PM with a NYU-sponsored allstar lineup including but not limited to Palestinian singer Amal Murkus, Italian nyckelharpa virtuoso Marco Ambrosini, Israeli oudist Yair Dalal and Ghanian fiddler Meirigah Abubakari, all mashing up styles from their similarly eclectic backgrounds. With all of those diasporas coming out for the show, get there early if you’re going.

And the following night, June 29 Almeida and band are back in town for a show at SOB’s at 11 PM; cover is $25.

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