'Xinti' ('Feel It') is an album full of 'sunshine soul' as we know it from Sara Tavares. Cape Verdian guitar licks, Angolese rhythms and warm Portuguese vocals. Sara Tavares never sounded more intense. A startling collection packed with surprises which display how much richer and more expansive Sara Tavares’s vocal repertoire has become since the previous album “Balancê.” Her songs are lyrical, sensual and more textured. Some are less upbeat but also include irresistibly funky rhythms drawn from the Cape Verdean/African diaspora. Themes of love – spiritual and human – include philosophical reflections which describe, says Tavares, “the soul taking flight.”
Sara Tavares represents the new generation of Cape Verdean singers who emerged in the wake of Césaria Évora’s trans-global success, and were born off the islands, part of the age group whose parents emigrated from the bleak Atlantic islands off the coast of Senegal, to Portugal, in search of work.
Through the remarkable success of her 2007 album “Balancê,” Tavares acquired an international status, and now follows with “Xinti” (Feel it), a magnificent collection of self-penned songs which display interesting developments in her vocal style, songwriting, and new cross-cultural musical fusions.
Sara Tavares was born in Lisbon, in 1978. When still a small child, her father moved to the US and her mother took their children to the South of Portugal, in search of work. She left Sara in the care of a Portuguese woman who raised her in a quiet, orderly, god-faring house. That background, she believes, “was my fortune.” Through her adopted mother’s church, Sara discovered gospel music but through the radio at home, she was hooked on the Motown classics and R’n B songs. And waiting in the wings, was the pull of Cape Verde’s root music, the mornas and coladeiras made world famous by Césaria Évora. Together, these styles laid the foundations of her distinctive music.
As a teenager, Tavares founded the first Portuguese Gospel Choir in Lisbon and decided music was her destiny. Her favourite singers were Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway - and her passion, playing football. In 1993-4, she won the national TV competition, “Chuva de Estrelas” (Rain of Stars) and the National Portuguese Song Contest, and entered the Eurovision Song Contest with her song, Chamar a Música (Call to Music). From there, a contract with BMG records brought her an EP release titled “Sara Tavares and Shout”.
In following years, the singer moved from gospel to pop communities, and then closer into Lisbon’s burgeoning African and Cape Verdean music scenes. Her debut album, “Mi Ma Bô” from 1999 was still rooted in R’n B, but its producer, the Paris-based African guitarist and producer Lokua Kanza, created an upbeat Afro-pop mix. It earned her a gold disc in Portugal and nomination for the Portuguese Grammies (Globo de Ouro) for Best Artist/New Album.
The second album, “Balancê” was Sara Tavares’ international launch pad; the promotional tour took her through Europe, to Japan and the USA. The focus of her songs had shifted to Cape Verdean and African music, and they were sung in Portuguese, English, Cape Verdean Creole and local street slang. A gorgeous collection, they move to rhythms rooted in the islands, in Brazilian bossa nova and Angolan semba, and smooth Sade-like grooves. Tavares explained that “Balancê” is about “Taking life with a swing; be balanced and never take yourself too seriously.” Live performances by the diminutive, dread-locked singer were sensual and moving, intense and lightly funky: songs for dancing and listening, filled with moral messages and mournful choruses which showcased her extraordinary range from soaring highs to bluesy depths to exciting Creole scats.
The new album “Xinti” (Feel it) moves the story on, seeming to echo the singer’s inner journey. More lyrical, sensual and textured, several songs are less upbeat but also include irresistibly funky rhythms drawn from the Cape Verdean/African diaspora. Themes of love – spiritual and human – include philosophical reflections which describe, says Tavares, “the soul taking flight.” Most were written on the road during the American tour, and worked out in her home studio. And most are carried on waves of delicate, often complex guitar melodies. She created a trio of linked songs - Pe Na Strada (On the Road), a rural Cape Verdean funaná,dance, reduced from its traditionally brisk pace to a sexy, languid smooch, and featuring a duet between cavaquinho (ukulele) and her acoustic guitar, is hooked via the tantalizingly brief vocal experiment of Caminhanti (Walk with me), to Pe Na Strada to Ponto di Luz (Point of Light) where an Indian flute (played by Rão Kyao) introduces textures appropriate to such a mystical setting.
Tavares compares the themes of “Balancê” - built around the Cape Verdean identity and multi-culturality - with “Xinti” which she describes as “like an inner prayer from someone taking a deep breath and moving on.” That description matches the sensual Exala (Exhale), a showcase for her angular, bossa nova-inspired guitar and musings on “Listening to what isn’t spoken.”
Listening to the wind is the theme of the languid Vox di venti (Voice of the Wind) –where, underlying the vocals are warbling rhythms from a muted cuica (samba drum) and vibes like rain drops. The dreamy Manso, Manso (Softly, Softly) lays a double-track vocal part over recordings made by the singer in the streets of Lisbon.
Tavares’ philosophical sub-texts inhabit many of these new songs but they’re also still immersed in music made for moving, shimmying, dancing, and include the upbeat Keda livre (Freefall) - a funkily percussive, Afro-beat concoction appropriate for a song about the dangerous excitement of passion. “A love attack!” as the singer describes it.
This startling collection is packed with surprises which display how much richer and more expansive Sara Tavares’s vocal repertoire has become since “Balancé.” Her mottos and poetry suggest a woman on a personal – but universal – journey, and wise beyond her years. They are truly “Songs of Experience”. Sue Steward.
After an interruption of the “Xinti Tour”, in 2010, due to health reasons, in 2011 Sara Tavares was back, starting by winning the Cape Verde Music Awards as “best female voice”; later she was invited by Nelly Furtado and Joss Stone to share the stage with them, in their concerts in Lisbon, and now “Xinti Tour” is back to the stages of the world to finish what was started.