Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2022: "Cesária Évora"

Michael Hayward

Vancouver gets a brief name check partway through Cesária Évora, a documentary by Ana Sofia Fonseca on the life of the beloved Cape Verdean singer, who many knew as the Barefoot Diva. The Vancouver reference comes during a lengthy recitation of the stops (and whistle stops) on one of Évora’s world tours. Évora played Vancouver more than once: at the 2003 Jazz Festival, and again in 2006, when she performed to a full house at the Orpheum.

I was in the audience for that 2006 concert at the Orpheum, but knew very little then about the circumstances of Évora's life in Cabo Verde, or of how she’d first been discovered. Many of those missing facts are filled in by Fonseca’s absorbing documentary, which includes home footage of Évora, and interviews with a number of those who knew Évora before her rise to fame.

Évora began her singing career in the bars of Mindelo, in Cabo Verde, and later, on Portuguese cruise ships. Évora's “discovery” came when a record producer, José da Silva, fell in love with her voice after hearing her perform at a bar in Lisbon in the late 1980s. It was Da Silva who persuaded Évora to come to France to record, and it was her 1988 album La Diva Aux Pieds Nus that first brought Évora to the attention of a global audience.

As Cesária Évora reveals, success at this level did not come without its complications. Évora struggled with depression throughout her life (at one point her granddaughter says that she may have been bipolar), and she often relied on alcohol to calm her nerves before—and even during—her concerts. She was a strong-willed and independent woman, who did not often heed the advice of others, no matter how well intentioned. Having known poverty and hardship as a child, she was generous with her money. “When I am drinking, or smoking, I like to see others drinking and smoking too.” The doors of her home in Mindelo were always open, and she fed anyone who came there hungry, often giving money away to those (and there were many) who were in need. Évora suffered from ill health in her later years, beginning with a stroke in 2008. She died in 2011 at the age of 70.

Cesária Évora is one of 13 films playing at the Vancity Theatre during VIFF Repeats, with a single screening on Tuesday, October 11. See here for more information on the film. See here for a trailer.



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