Cape Verde’s unique musical blend has claimed a place of pride on the world stage ever since Cesaria Evora sold 300,000 copies of her landmark 1992 album Miss Perfumado, and made the song “Sodade” a kind of national anthem for this remote island nation off the coast of West Africa. Evora died in 2011 after a spectacular twilight career, an unexpected second act for “the barefoot diva.” If you visit Cape Verde now, particularly Evora’s home town of Mindelo, you will see her image and hear her voice everywhere. She is arguably the epicenter of the country’s ambitious cultural tourism industry.
So naturally, the search has been on for a singer who can carry Cesaria’s torch forward. There are strong contenders, including Lura, Nancy Vieira and Elida Almeida. Add to that list Lucibela, and based on this debut album, she appears to have all the right stuff. Her voice is gorgeous—creamy smooth and spectacularly relaxed. She projects pure emotion into the sensuous, slowly swinging mornas that were Evora’s trademark, and briskly elevates the more sprightly coladeras that have moved Cape Verde's dance floors for decades, if not centuries. And she makes all this seem effortless.
The production on this album remains spare throughout, almost minimalist. From the opening track, “Chica di Nha Maninha,” a familiar traditional song, the sound is open and inviting—with guitar and cavaquinho creating an enchanting rhythmic weave punctuated by light percussion while a sweet soprano sax answers Lucibela’s vocal. The album’s arranger and musical director Toy Vieira worked with both Evora and Lura. Here, he plays elegant guitar and provides one original composition, “Sant Antôn,” a lively, accordion-laced waltz. But mostly, Vieira takes admirable care to keep these 13 tracks fresh and breezy, nothing extra, leaving Lucibela’s voice free rein.
In the tradition of most Cape Verdean divas, Lucibela does not write her own songs, but rather draws on works from various generations of composers. There are two songs by veteran poet Manuel de Novas (1938-2009), “Dona Ana” a serene morna in which violin plays foil to Lucibela’s plaintive, wistful vocal, and “Porto Novo Vila Crioula,” interpreted here as a bossa nova. Elida Almeida, a singer who does compose her own material, contributes two songs here, notably the melodious coladera, “Mal Amadu.”
Lucibela also has a story of tribulation to rival Evora’s. She was born in 1986 in the windward island of São Nicalau to a widowed mother on a pension. As Lucibela finished high school in Mindelo, her mother died, leaving her to survive by singing in tourist hotels. Her repertoire shifted from jazz, rock and bossa nova to the traditional Cape Verdean styles that dominate here. But Lucibela’s love of bossa nova endures, as on the final track “Violeiro,” which deftly merges the rhythm and arranging of the Brazilian style with a distinctly Cape Verdean melody. Take this as a message that this young Cape Verdean, currently based in Lisbon, is ready to take on the world. But the album title, Laço Umbilical (umbilical cord), makes clear that Lucibela’s tie to home is fundamental, and whatever proceeds from this brilliant debut, nothing is likely to change that.