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It was after hearing Mayra singing on a recent Jools Holland show that I decided to check out her 2006 debut album 'Navega' (Upon the Waves). I liked the song she sang on the show which seemed to have a Brazilian influence and I was immediately hooked by the clarity and relaxed range of her warm and passionate voice. Having some knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese, I also thought it would be interesting to listen more closely to the lingo of this Cape Verdean singer.
~ Background and Language ~
Although Mayra Andrade was born in Cuba she spent most of her childhood growing up in Cape Verde - a former Portuguese colony 500km off the coast of Senegal and the native home of her parents. Her family seems to have been either well off or forced to leave their homeland for economic reasons. Her parents gave her a taste of international travel at an early age by hopping around the globe from Cuba to Angola, Senegal, Germany and more recently Paris where she has been based since 2003 and where Navega was recorded. On this delightfully poised debut album, the 23 year-old Mayra sings on all but one of the songs in a Cape Verdean Creole - a language derived from Portuguese. I didn't realise how different the language was until I looked at the strange text in which the lyrics are written. I had the unusual experience of being able to understand more her singing voice, but less able to decipher the written lyrics. There are translations into both English and French within the CD booklet, though after some study I have come to the conclusion that the English translation is not a good one. Nevertheless, there is enough to give you a good sense of the feel and subject matter of each song.
~ Musical Influences ~
Largely due to her background, Mayra Andrade's music is a mixture of international influences, in which traditional Cape Verdean rhythms and song-forms are fused with Afro rhythms, Latin melodies, Brazilian samba and Bossa Nova, jazz elements and even some French chanson. At first I thought the Brazilian rhythms to be the overriding influence, no doubt due to the contributions of Brazilian percussionist Ze Luis Nascimento who makes up the main trio of performers alongside Cape Verdean guitarist Kim Alves and Cameroonian bassist Etienne Mbappe. There are two other Brazilian guitarists, Tarcisio Gardim and Nelson Ferreira, who perform on some of the songs. Other Brazilian influences come from Mayra's work in the past with Chico Buarque and Lenine. But after a few listens it is clear that this album offers something much richer than simple Samba fusions and it becomes more difficult to locate the music in a specific landscape other than to say it is one where the sun is shining and the sound of rolling waves are nearby. Perhaps it is the Cape Verdean soul that eventually bubbles to the surface.
~ Instrumentation ~
Percussion plays an important part throughout the album. On the first track 'Dimokransa' I love the friendly sound of one of my favourite instruments; the cuíca - a Brazilian friction drum often used in samba. You will also hear the twang of the berimbau (track 2) - a Brazilian musical bow single-string percussion instrument; the scraping sound of the afuche (tracks 2 & 6) - a hand percussion instrument; the cajon (tracks 2, 4 & 6) - an Afro-Peruvian drum also used in the Cuban Rumba; The surdo (track 8 & 10) - a large Brazilian bass drum; the ratchet-like scrape of the Brazilian reco-reco (track 7); Cuban congas (track 10); Ocean Drums (tracks 7 &10). There is also plenty of string instrumentation: Portuguese guitar; cavaquinho (a miniature 4 string guitar); mandolin; electric bass. Further contributions come from guest musicians on cello, saxophone, trombone and there is the welcoming sound of accordion on track 11.
~ Songs and Musical Style ~
Probably the most famous Cape Verdean musical export until now has been Cesaria Evora, who made an impact on the international stage twenty years ago with the album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus. For a while she was a leading light of world music performing her 1992 hit 'Miss Perfumado' around the globe. Mayra herself came to the fore as Evora's support act. This was a few years after she won the gold medal at the Francophonie Games in Canada at the tender age of 16. Cesaria Evora's music is derived mainly from 'Morna' - a languorous Cape Verdean fusion of Portuguese 'Fado' and Angolan 'Landu' (lament) that specialises in poignant bluesy themes of loss, longing and heartbreak. Some of Navega's compositions also explore these themes. Songs such as 'Dispidida' (Farewell), 'Tunuka' and the last song on the album 'Regasu' (Maternal Breast) which even uses 'Morna' as its subject matter: "your vigour captivates my heart, if only I could drink from the chalice of your melody". The folk-like fisherman's tale of the title track 'Navega' is one of three highly accomplished songs on the album penned by Mayra herself, the others being 'Mana' and 'Nha Sibitchi' (My Jet-Black Pearl). Four of the other tracks are by the late Cape Verdean "new batuco" composer, Orlando Pantera.
Although many of the songs are poetic renditions about love, longing and departure, the overall feel of the album is uplifting and joyful with melodies that are pleasant and spirited comprising light tropical beats and gentle strings all massaged under Mayra's warm syrupy vocals. There are also other themes. The samba infused opening track 'Dimokransa' (Democracy) written by Kaka Barboza, is a sophisticated commentary on the delusions and false promises of pseudo-democratic regimes. The following track, 'Lapido Na Bo' (Stuck on you) likewise exudes samba rhythms whilst songs such as 'Lua' (Moon) possess more of an earthy African flavour, rooted in Batuque - another traditional form from Cape Verde. 'Poc li Dente é tchau' and 'Nha Nobréza' are two very beautiful guitar accompanied Latin melodies that add to the mix. The one French song: 'Comme s'il en pleuvait' (Like Rainfall), fits in perfectly with the overall cosmopolitan feel of the album and is a kind of token gesture to her adopted home of Paris.
Although not groundbreaking, this is a very impressive debut album that's been long in the making. It is clear that Mayra Andrade, who recently won the BBC3 2008 award for World Music Newcomer, has bided her time in developing her own particular style with which she eloquently interprets each of these carefully chosen songs, all expertly produced by Jacques Ehrhart. Check out the website: www.mayra-andrade.com for an excellent video introduction to Mayra's music.
2. Lapidu na bo
5. Comme s'il en pleuvait
6. Nha sibitchi
9. Poc li denté é tcheu
11. Nha Nobréza
Amazon Price: £10