Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now to a singer who got her big break by winning a television contest in Portugal. Sara Tavares was four when her father left the family to return to the islands of Cape Verde. Her mother moved away to start over in the south of Portugal, and Sara was left in Lisbon to be raised by a woman who was in her seventies.

Young Sara amused herself singing along to Whitney Houston records. At 15, when she won that TV contest, she suddenly found herself singing with Portugal's best-known performers. But something was missing, until she rediscovered her parents' roots and embraced Lisbon's Creole mix of language, culture and rhythm.

As part of the series Musicians in Their Own Words, Sara Tavares tells how she found her true singing voice.

Ms. SARA TAVARES (Singer): When I was singing other people's repertoire, I would feel the distance between me and that repertoire. And I would ask myself, why do you feel distant? And in the meantime I was traveling many times to Cape Verde.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: Getting in touch with this culture and speaking the language and knowing the history of my parents, it all fills a gap that I had in me, and I wanted to express that.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: Guisa is an expression in Cape Verde that the people use for laments, mourning. It doesn't have to be a very dramatic thing. You know, when the child is asking their mama, I want, you know, to have a lollipop. And she says, no, I don't give it to you. They say please give and, you know, and they keep uhh, uhh. That's guisa. And also when people die, they also have these women crying. They call these people specifically to cry, and so guisa means also that mourning at the funerals.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: And there's this kind of Cape Verdean music that is called morna. It's like a heartbeat. And the melodies are always very melancholic like…

(Soundbite of tapping and humming)

(Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

There's lots of rhythms, and I have to say that I like the more African rhythms of Cape Verde. Rhythms like batuque, which is the rhythm of the women in an island called Santiago. It goes like…

(Soundbite of tapping and humming)

Ms. TAVARES: They just beat on their lap.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAVARES: I particularly like that one because it was a time when the drum was forbidden. And I feel it as being very symbolic to how the African heritage survived all those times of oppression that, you know, the rhythm had to come out anyway.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAVARES: All my friends are either from Angola or Mozambique or Guinea or Cape Verde or Portuguese. So I started to focus on this mixed reality in Portugal, and how all these African communities in Portugal have influenced the Portuguese language and culture.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAVARES: And so, most of the time, I sing in Portuguese slang and I mix some of the crioulo and some African expressions.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAVARES: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken) I know you can't understand me. (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. TAVARES: In Creole, we have a lot of words that are mixed from something else: from a sound or from an animal, or from other language from other country.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: There's a song called "Muna Xeia." The word muna came in a funny way. In Portuguese, to say moon, you say lua. And you know English is moon. So, one day I just made a mistake, I wanted to say lua and I said muna, which is kind of mixed.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: I made it like a lullaby for all the women that I knew. I made it for me, for my mom, for my grandmother, for my girlfriends.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: I compose like I'm praying. I just sit with the guitar and I kind of get into my composition trance, and I talk to the spirit and let it flow through me.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Ms. TAVARES: And that's one of the songs that I think is spiritual for me. Because I didn't really pick the notes, I just let it flow through me.

(Soundbite of music)

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

MONTAGNE: Portuguese singer Sara Tavares in her own words. You can hear more music from her CD, "Balance," at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

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

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.