Mayra Andrade enjoys a high profile in her native Cape Verde, in Portugal and in her new hometown of Paris. She has shared the stage with heavyweights like Salif Keita and Pablo Milanés. She has even recorded a duet with French icon Charles Aznavour. In fact, Andrade’s debut album Navega was released in Europe to glowing praise in 2006.
So why has it taken this long for Andrade to find a label and audience on this side of the Atlantic? Maybe North America is chronically behind the curve on international music. Or maybe her career and image are being carefully, methodically cultivated by big-business, major-label people. In any case, Navega recently received stateside distribution by Stern’s Africa and makes it abundantly clear that she is on the radar, and anyone with a taste for the singer-songwriter strains of so-called World music should take notice.
Andrade has a glamorous, cosmopolitan biography: she was born in Cuba to Cape Verdean parents; grew up in Senegal, Angola, Germany, and Cape Verde; and has been living in Paris since 2003. Most of the lyrics on Navega are sung in Cape Verdean Creole, which will sound like Brazilian Portuguese to most people. In fact, a lot of the music from Cape Verde will also sound Brazilian to most people. Aside from the historical and cultural ties between Cape Verde and Brazil, Andrade’s band is steeped in Brazilian instruments and sensibilities – most notably, in the creative and tasteful work by percussionist Zé Luis Nascimento. There is, however, a distinct Cape Verdean aesthetic at work, and Andrade is the first star-power Cape Verdean export since the great Cesária Évora "crossed over" in the 1990s.
Ultimately, though, Andrade’s sound – like her life – is thoroughly international, and her debut is a product of the musical melting pot of early-20th century Paris. The production by Jacques Ehrhart is clean, unpretentious and almost entirely acoustic – it sounds like a real, live band mature enough to leave space for the songs, arrangement, and Andrade’s voice. And it is, indeed, Andrade’s voice that is the revelation. She is still in her early twenties, but her singing conveys a surprising maturity – she has a vocal and expressive control that sets seasoned musicians apart from pop sensations. (The only other recent albums that I can compare to Navega are Cuban singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer’sRustico and Natural.) There is little doubt that Navega is the first of many offerings from an artist that has glamour and charisma to spare.