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ED GORDON, host:

Today in our Africa Music series we feature a new face on the world pop scene. Sara Tavares is truly an international talent. The 26-year-old singer was born in Portugal, where her Cape Verdian parents migrated in search of work. When she started making music, Sara sang about what she knew: being black in Portugal. Her influences came from throughout the African diaspora.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. SARA TAVARES (Musician): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Sara's latest CD, Balance, continues to draw on styles from across the map. And she says that worldliness is exactly what makes her music Cape Verdian.

NPR's Christopher Johnson reports.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON reporting:

When reggae king Bob Marley was once asked where he considered home to be, Marley answered, it's in my head, in the things that I think about. Warming up at NPR's Los Angeles studios, Sara Tavares seems most at home behind her guitar, making music.

Ms. TAVARES: Because I need it. It's a whole, you know, process of dealing with my issues and my things, and I think that the music is a sort of a medicine and also a cathartic process for me. So that's why I do it - for me, most of all.

JOHNSON: Even if Sara writes for herself first, she says that in a way she also represents a nation. Her roots are in Cape Verde, a cluster of small volcanic islands about 430 miles west of the African mainland. It's a poor country that's mostly desert, so those who can leave head to Senegal, Boston, Paris and Lisbon. That's where Sara was born, and that's where her folks left her with a Portuguese family while they looked for jobs abroad.

As a brown girl growing up in a major European city, Sara made sense of it all with her songs.

Ms. TAVARES: I just picked up my guitar. I'm a very simple guitar player. I don't even know what's the name of the notes that are played. And then I would write my songs as lullabies. I would write little poems for myself to lift me up.

JOHNSON: She used those lullabies to win a local TV music contest. She did the same in the national competition, and launched a music career before she was out of her teens. Today, Sara sings mostly in crioulo. It's a language born hundreds of years ago in Cape Verde, when slave-trading Portuguese and the Africans they brought from all over the continent had to communicate with one another. Crioulo blends languages of the colonizer and the colonized. Sara's latest album, Balance, gets its title from a word that Lusophone Africans use to describe something that's really on-point, like great food or a good piece of music.

She said the title also means balance, as her music constantly juggles languages and worldwide influences. Sara is also balancing identities as an African, as a European, and as a young musician who's coming into her own.

Ms. TAVARES: I just want to do what I do the best way possible, but I want to do it in a very serene way because I think I owe that to myself and because I see all brothers and sisters in Portugal, my real blood brothers and sisters always scared, always in pressure. So I feel that my music can be sort of a, like I said, lullabies for them, can make them, you know, like hush, be quiet.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. TAVARES: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

JOHNSON: Sara says being an immigrant has always been a part of Cape Verdian-ness(ph). And as she and other Cape Verdian artists integrate into far-flung societies, she feels it's important for them to sing in crioulo because it helps them hold on to their national pride.

Ms. TAVARES: It's so strong, you know. The language, wherever they are, they always speak crioulo. And there's all these different kinds of crioulo. And with it comes a whole way to look at life, a whole way to enjoy life, comes a sense of humor. So I think that's really the core of the identity of the Cape Verdian.

JOHNSON: But she wants everyone to hear and enjoy her songs. And to Sara, crioulo never gets in the way. After all, singer Cesaria Evora is from Cape Verde and she's a diva with international fame.

Ms. TAVARES: The music that Cape Verdians do is very accessible, is very easy-going music. It's all also very sweet music, and I think everybody once in a while likes a little bit of sweetness in their lives.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. TAVARES: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Music is supposed to inspire people to get through whatever life's difficulties and to celebrate the good things that they have. I think that my music in a way can be very universal, but it's also very Lusophone. It's also very much talking about my own reality.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. TAVARES (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

JOHNSON: Sara's music draws on all kinds of influences, from Iberia, Brazil, and black America.

Ms. TAVARES: I was growing up when Whitney Houston was, you know, being a big hit. I just would go to the record stores and buy whatever was cheap, albums like Jackson Five and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway, things like that, because they were cheaper because they were older.

JOHNSON: Black American artists impress Sara because she believes they absorbed everything around them and created new music styles that perfectly captured their African and American identities. She hopes to do the same thing with her art for Africans in Portugal. She also wants those songs to reach across the Atlantic and touch black folks in the U.S. It would be her way of saying thank you.

Ms. TAVARES: It is important to create a connection just because you guys have shared so much of what you do with the world, and so many kids have dreamed, you know, because you made us dream. So we kind of want to give something back.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. TAVARES: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

GORDON: To hear songs that Sara Tavares performed at NPR in Los Angeles, go to our Web site at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song from album, Balance)

Ms. TAVARES: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. News and Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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