For decades, the music of Cape Verde was identified with a single talent, the penetrating vocalist Cesaria Evora. But in recent years, this group of islands off the west coast of Senegal in Africa has begun exporting more high-quality artists, including a pair, Lura and Tcheka, who have played the Cedar Cultural Center in the past couple of years.
Now add 27-year-old Carmen Souza — born in Lisbon to Cape Verdean parents — to the list. While not able to match the soulful gravitas of Evora or the spunk and sparkle of Lura, Souza has a charismatic, playful streak, earthier and less arty but otherwise not unlike Marie Daulne of Zap Mama. She engages the impetuous, jazz-oriented piano and the Latin percussion with a panache that is by turns airy, melodramatic, and technically agile on “Levanta no bai” — it’s a real tour de force (and the second track on her MySpace page). Or check her scat-song against the brittle percussion and bumping bass line on “Ind’feso” (third track).
Souza’s hybrids are easy to identify. Traditional Cape Verdean song forms such as the poetic, folk-bluesy morna and the rhythmically staccato batuco (originally wrought from washer-women slapping clothes on rocks, later evolved to thigh-slapping and hand-clapping) mix with jazz, a whiff of Latin jazz (mostly via the Portuguese roots Cape Verde shares with Brazil), and soulful rhythm & blues. Souza sings in Creole, Portuguese and English.
Friday night’s performance at the Cedar will be Souza’s first performance in the United States on this tour — and perhaps ever; I haven’t found evidence that she has been below Canada on previous sojourns to North America. She has an ace band in tow, included her early champion Theo Pas’cal on bass and Pedro Segundo on percussion. She’ll also occasionally abet her vocals by joining in on electric piano (often paired with the group’s acoustic pianist). This 11-minute video clip, a compendium of performances in Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in support of her 2008 disc, “Verdade” (which translates to “Truth”), offers a succinct snapshot of what she’s about, although the myspace songs are more musically adventurous and hopefully representative of her show.
Carmen Souza at the Cedar Cultural Center, Friday, April 24, at 8 p.m., tickets $18 today, $20 day of show.