Carmen Souza


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It's tempting to compare any female Cape Verdean singer to the godmother of the island's indigenous morna music, Cesaria Evora, but that would be unfair to a vocalist as gifted, and as singular, as Carmen Souza. For starters, although she is of Cape Verdean heritage, Souza was born in Lisbon and now resides in London. Her music, while incorporating traditional Cape Verdean elements, nods equally, if not more, to American jazz, Afro-Latin rhythms, European and Arabic melodic influences, and more. Singing in a Portuguese-based Creole, Souza -- whose longtime collaborator, producer/co-writer/chief instrumentalist Theo Pas'cal is again along for the ride on this third album by the songstress -- expands her internationalist approach by inviting musicians from numerous countries to add their colorings to the mix, the result being a hybrid that owes to all and none of its components at any given time. Souza's voice is a remarkably lithe instrument, sensual, percussive, soulful, and capable of exploring multiple moods within a given line of a given track. On "Tentê Midj," which compares life to a delectable sauce that must constantly be stirred, Souza flits from kitten-like coyness to tigress tough, traversing octaves and toying with the musicians (particularly accordionist João Frade) like a piece of yarn. Pas'cal's bass work throughout the album drives the rhythms that Souza easily rides atop, finding unexpected nuances where others might resort to the rote. On "Afri Ká," a land alternately described as joy, a red sunset, paradise, and saborsabi, Souza's own joy is palpable as she glides and swings her way through its funky dance beat and festive melody. Sometimes simplicity trumps the more complex arrangements, offering another side of the Souza-Pas'cal team: "Mara Marga," the album's closing piece, is an elegiac ballad that utilizes double bass, acoustic piano, oud and voice to state its case, and the title track (which translates to "Protected") likewise keeps the instrumentation sparse but serves up an intoxicatingly rhythmic feast. One sure highlight is Souza's cover of Horace Silver's signature tune "Song for My Father." Silver, an American jazzman of Cape Verdean extraction, is an inspiration to Souza, who plays the Fender Rhodes on her interpretation, as well as supplying the vocal. Here Souza deliberately departs from the song's familiar theme, yet another indication that she is her own woman, inspired by many but indebted to none.

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