Saturday, October 16, 2010

Missing the diva...

About 10 days ago I discovered by chance that Cesária Évora was to be performing in Beijing last Sunday (along with a rising young star called Mayra Andrade, of whom I had never heard, but definitely need to check out now).

It seems Ms Evora is not as universally known and admired as I had supposed.  The people I usually depend upon for exchange of important tidbits of music news were just shrugging and saying things along the lines, "Oh, yeah, this African woman's coming to town soon.  Apparently, she's quite good."

Quite good??  Ye gods!  I view it more like this: Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone are, sadly, no longer with us; Cesária is in the same - exclusive - class, and she's still going strong (although she's now approaching seventy years of age).  It is a moral duty to see her perform in person while we can.  She is the queen of morna, a ravishing musical genre that has developed in her native Cape Verde Islands.

300 tickets were supposedly being given away free by the Cape Verde Embassy (which is, I imagine, a small apartment shared with the diplomatic representatives of The Maldives and The Seychelles).  I applied by e-mail, but - after a 36-hour silence - received a disappointing answer.  However, the show was to be in the PLA Theatre, which is right on my back doorstep.... so, I thought I'd go along on Sunday evening and hope to be able to buy a ticket on the door.  A strange experience, that was: the theatre appeared to be completely closed - the gates barred, most of the lights off, and only a skeleton staff in evidence; no sign of an audience, nor any piao fanzi (ticket touts).  Admittedly, it was pouring with rain, and there was still nearly an hour to go before curtain up, but you would have expected there to be some signs of life if such an important concert was imminent (and Cesária is, I would say, the biggest non-classical musical star to appear in China in the last 5 years).  There were no signs or posters advertising the concert (although there were some for a festival of African music, of which I assume this concert was intended to be a part; these however, had only very small photographs, and were entirely written in Chinese - not much help to me).  There were a couple of people in the ticket booth, but they were resolutely ignoring me and refusing to open their window.  When my persistent tapping on the glass eventually got too much for them and they tetchily opened up, they gave me just a blunt meiyou, "not have" - I have no idea whether they meant that the concert was sold out, or cancelled, or whether they simply didn't want to sell a ticket to a foreigner.  All the same to me.  Sadly I gave up and trudged home through the rain.  [My guess would be that the concert was a 'private' affair, for cadres and diplomats only.  I get the impression that the PLA Theatre is that kind of place: it runs a full programme of events throughout the year, but they are seldom if ever advertised anywhere!]

I haven't heard from anyone else who managed to go.  The moribund condition of the theatre did rather suggest that the show had been called off.  I hope that's the case.  I would hate to have missed out on what would almost certainly have been the one-and-only chance in my life to see Cesária sing in person.

By way of consolation to myself and other thwarted Cesária fans (or, by way of introduction for those who don't yet know her music), here's her song Sentimento.

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