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Sara Tavares understands better than anyone that you have to hang back in rhythm to make it work

Sara Tavares
Cover of Sara Tavares

About a decade ago, on the main stage of Rotterdam's De Doelen concert hall, there was a frail and still searching young woman, a singer-songwriter in a language other than English. Sometimes in Portuguese but mostly in criollo of the Cape Verde Islands presented this Sara Tavares with minimal accompaniment her CD 'Mi ma bô' that would later earn her international recognition. On Sunday afternoon, she, now a world star, was back in the Netherlands for a one-off concert, of course at Rotterdam.

Indeed, Rotterdam's significance for Cape Verdean music is considerable. From the 1960s, many Cape Verdeans came to the port of Rotterdam because there was plenty of work to be found there. Many settled there permanently. This created a large and close-knit community in the Maas city. Much of the music created in Rotterdam was recorded in do-it-yourself studios and sent to Cape Verde, the country of morna.

The morna is based on the Portuguese fado, who we know from world star rem as Amalia Rodrigues and its successors Mariza (Lisbon) and Cristina Branco (Coimbra). The Cape Verdean morna shares much with the Portuguese, not just the language - although much is sung in the local criollo. Sara Tavares unites both cultures within her and goes even further across all borders. She has managed to draw musically from the whole of Lusafrica (all Portuguese-speaking countries on the African continent) and add Senegalese elements en passant. She operates from Lisbon, but not unfairly labels herself as multicultural.

Sara Tavares brings together a multitude of musical currents: morna, saudades, fado, batuco and even rhythms from Mozambique. She adds to this her enormous stage presence. In the past, she could sometimes be too subdued only prioritising the - often religious - lyrics, but on Sunday afternoon, 8 May, the roof went off. Although her music always sways to lazy rhythms and even seems introverted, it is her sense of timing that manages to quickly bring the audience to and over the boiling point. She understands better than anyone that you have to hang back into the rhythm to make it work. Where most think they perceive an acceleration, there is actually a rhythmic slowdown. So the tension mounts quickly.

Although her concert should be dedicated to her latest CD 'Xinti', Tavares played a cross-section of her complete repertoire. Her stage persona has grown enormously: she has the audience on a string. Even when things get a bit more intrusive and a macho dancer climbs the stage, she lets him have his way for a moment before helping him off stage with a simple gesture. Anyone who thinks multiculti dead as a doornail should have been at this concert.

Willem Burgerzaal de Doelen, Rotterdam: Sara Tavares. Attended: Sunday afternoon 8 May

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