Words Carinya Sharples
Her rich, earthy voice and beautiful lyrics have captivated fans across Africa, Paris, London and beyond. On the eve of her first performance at London’s legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, we spoke to Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Mayra Andrade about her freedom fighter father, living a nomadic lifestyle and singing The Beatles.
Did you already know about Ronnie Scott’s before coming to London?
To be honest not really but everyone around me knew about this place… For example my boyfriend’s dream, when he was a child, was to go and see a show in Ronnie Scott’s! So I’m happy because I understood how important this place is.
Will you be performing songs by other artists too?
Yes, Michelle from The Beatles – I recorded it on my last CD – La Javanaise, Serge Gainsbourg, a song from [Brazilian singer-songwriter] Caetano Veloso, and other Cape Verdean composers. I also have my own songs but I’m composing for my new album [out in 2012] so I’m not playing any of the songs yet.
You’re very connected to your roots in Cape Verde. Now you live in Paris, how do you find life there?
I arrived in Paris when I was 17 so I’m very connected to that city – Paris saw me becoming a woman and growing and making my career. But you know, I’m very nomadic. I’ve lived in five different countries [Andrade was born in Cuba and raised in Cape Verde, Senegal, Angola and Germany]. I’ve never stopped more than six years in a country and I’ve been in Paris for nine years so I’m already looking for the next place. [ARISE: Where might that be?] I’ll tell you when it’s decided! I have my little ideas…
In your songs, you often mention freedom fighters from Cape Verde’s history.
Yes, my father is one of them you know. He went to Guinea Bissau when he was 15 years old because Cape Verde and Guinea fought for independence together. So I’m very concerned about this – recognising what these people did for us.
Is the connection still strong between Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde?
No because it’s also political. We had the PAEGC, which was the Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde. When the two countries got independence they didn’t agree with what they wanted to do or how to move on so they split and the Cape Verdeans did their own politics and so on. The situation in Guinea is quite complicated.
Do Cape Verdeans think of themselves as from Cape Verde or Africa?
You have these two sides. I consider myself as an African woman – I don’t have any doubt about this, because Africa is so many things together. We are a mixed country, because when the Portuguese arrived nobody lived there… But some Cape Verdeans like to say ‘no, I’m not African. I’m Cape Verdean, because we are too mixed to say that we are African’. So I say, ‘OK, are you European?’ ‘No, not exactly’. ‘But you try to be, right?’ ‘No I’m Cape Verdean’.
We are ten very, very small islands – separated just by ourselves. So it’s not only a racial aspect it’s also a geographic thing. In Africa you can walk and go all over Africa, in Cape Verde you can’t. It’s a particular mentality – but a good one. We are very open to people and friendly. I love to be with people when they are going to Cape Verde for the first time because I’m like, ‘Oh I know, I know! I know it’s wonderful. I know every woman is beautiful here. I know they all say welcome to my home’. I feel proud.
You’ve collaborated with many African artists, including Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour and Asa. How did that happen?
I met Angélique about nine years ago; I was opening for her. Since then we’ve met so many times in so many festivals and we’ve sung together – she invited me and other African singers to join the last song of her show.
I met Asa when she spent two months in Paris four or five years ago. I was preparing my first CD – I already signed with Sony – and was invited to a conference to talk about my culture with other guests. Asa just came to sing two or three songs at the end and I was like, ‘Introduce me to her, I want to meet her!’ and then we became friends. I tried a little bit to present her demos to the labels but they didn’t pay attention. But when she came out with [French music label] Naïve, I called that guy and was like ‘you see!’ And then she invited me to sing in a show, which is on her live DVD, with Yael Naïm.
Are there any new, Cape Verdean singers you would recommend?
Yes, Sara Tavares; Carmen Souza, a Cape Verdean singer here [in London]; Tcheka, Tito Paris, who is not so known unfortunately… There are so many.
Mayra Andrade is performing tonight at London’s Ronnie Scott’s, before heading to Festival Nuits du Sud in France (July 21) and Luanda Jazz Festival in Angola (July 30)