Lucibela Brings Cape Verde’s Many Ocean-Borne Flavors to Manhattan on the 17th
Although the death of Cesaria Evora left a gaping hole in the global music pantheon, she’s hardly the only good singer to come out of the Cape Verde Islands. New York fans of plaintive morna ballads and bouncy coladera songs have a prime opportunity to be immersed in that stuff when the World Music Institute brings Cape Verde singer Lucibela here to make her debut her at Merkin Concert Hall on Sept 17 at 8 PM. You can get in for $25.
Cape Verde was occupied by Portugal for many years. Just as many Puerto Ricans moved to the US in search of a better life, many islanders, Lucibela included, have relocated to their former colonizer. That explains the title of her 2018 album Laço Umbilical, meaning “umbilical cord,” a reference to longing for home as well as the fact that she ended up moving there to be close to her daughter. The record has since been tweaked and reissued as Ti Jon Poca, streaming at Spotify.
Where Evora was smoky and sometimes boozy, Lucibela is distinct and rather restrained throughout this mix of Portuguese-language standards and a couple of new reinventions. Toy Vieira’s spiky acoustic guitar is the primary instrument, backed by spare bass and percussion. There’s a lot of music on this record, and it’s a lot more eclectic than you might imagine. The opening track, Chica di Nha Maninha distantly reflects Spanish Romany music and has biting soprano sax.
If somebody felt like translating Sodadi Casa to English, it could pass for a Jimmy Webb countrypolitan song from the 60s. Sai Fora, with Algerian crooner Sofiane Saidi, is a mind-warping mashup of chaabi, morna and what could be Tom Waits.
Angolan singer Bonga adds an imploringly gritty cameo in Dona Ana, a slinky, melancholy bolero in disguise. Stapora do Diabo an unselfconsciously gorgeous number with tasty, chromatically spiced guitar and sax. Lucibela and band take a sparkly detour into bossa nova with Porto Novo Vila Crioula, then go dusky with Laço Umbilical, which with a fatter low end could be Jamaican rocksteady.
Profilaxia isn’t just clean (sorry) – it’s one of the album’s most sprightly numbers, as is Mi E Dode Na Bo Cabo Verde. With its brooding cello, Arku da Bedja is the closest thing to Mediterranean balladry here. Then Lucibela picks up the pace again with the carefree Novo Olhar; Violeiro, a delicate bossa rtune, is much the same. She winds up the album with the title cut, which more than hints at flamenco. As is typically the case with music sung by women in her part of the world, themes of distance and longing permeate this diverse collection: coastal civilizations tend to be fertile crucibles for cross-pollination.