Sara Tavares was not a fado singer. Rather than the typical Portuguese saudade, her music radiated joie de vivre and light-heartedness. Born in Lisbon to Cape Verdean parents, she shared her ancestry with the legendary Cesária Évora. Just like her, Tavares drew on samba, Latin and African sounds and rhythms in her sweet songs, thus creating a kind of universal Portuguese pop music that was appreciated worldwide. “You hear in my music the music that I listen to myself,” she said in 2006 in this newspaper. ‘I danced to African and Brazilian music last night and it sounds as familiar to me as the pop I grew up with in Lisbon.’
Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Sade, Björk: these were the singers whom Sara Tavares liked to emulate, even though they were situated in a completely different musical universe. Of Tracy Chapman, she especially admired ‘her attitude, her idiosyncratic lyrics, the nakedness of her music’.
Intimate without effort
At the beginning of her career, Tavares sang mostly in English (although not at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, where she finished eighth), but only occasional incidents remain on her most beautiful albums. feel good terms like one love in good vibes. ‘I found it more interesting to explore my own language, and our community needs that sense of self-esteem too. We import a lot of culture – especially American – while our own language is so incredibly rich and interesting.’ And then the singer was not only talking about Portuguese, but also about the Portuguese patois of the many immigrant Africans from the former colonies, and Cape Verdean Creole.
Despite the language barrier, Sara Tavares managed to charm an international audience, in the niche of what was then still called world music. Anyone who was there will probably remember the warm-hearted concerts in De Roma and the AB. “I’m quite shy, though,” she said. ‘I don’t like ostentatious displays. On stage I just do what I do at home, sing songs and play guitar, basically tell my story. This creates natural, intimate contact with the spectators, without me having to make any effort.’
Sara Tavares died from a brain tumor that she had carried with her for ten years.