Lucibela is a smile; a fresh breeze ruffling the bougainvillea blooms and wave tops. The young Cabo-Verdean was born in 1986 on São Nicolau, one of the Barlavento islands – the ‘windward’ isles to the north of the Sahel archipelago. Now she has made her first album, Laço umbilical, the ...
With the release of her 2018 debut album Laço Umbilical, Lisbon-based singer Lucibela solidified for herself a spot among the greatest voices of her native Cabo Verde’s prided pantheon of respected musicians to be celebrated on the world stage. Her breezy, unhurried vocal style was lauded as a brazen admixture of her jazz, rock, and Brazilian bossa nova background with the sensuous, slowly-swinging mornas and sprightly coladeras that have moved Cabo Verdean dance floors for ages. The album was met with high acclaim, even earning her comparison to the nationally beloved Cesaria Evora, whose song “Sodade” has become a kind of unofficial national anthem for this remote island nation off the coast of West Africa.
The album sold out swiftly in its first edition, setting Lucibela off on a series of international tv and radio reappearances and broad exposures through live performance opportunities that year, from WOMEX in the Canary Islands to Visa for Music in Morocco. Now, in conjunction with her first-ever 14-city U.S. tour (see live dates attached), Lucibela is releasing a second edition of the album with a few added songs and the new title Ti Jon Poca (available from Lusafrica). The updated album title comes from the addition of a fourteenth track by the same name, a crowd favorite that Lucibela always loves to play live. She also wanted to enrich the second edition by reworking two of the tracks into duets. "Dona Ana" is now a collaboration with the renowned Angolan singer Bonga (José Adelino Barceló de Carvalho), and "Sai Fora" (previously known as “Mal Amadu” on the first edition of the album) takes on a new life with raï inspirations added by the talented Algerian “oriental glam” creator Sofiane Saidi.
“I grew up listening to Bonga, and when I was later introduced, I fell in love with Sofiane’s music as well,” reflects Lucibela, “I never imagined I would record and share a studio with these icons and am so honored by the enthusiasm they gave to the project.”
The production on the album tends toward the minimal throughout. From the opening track, “Chica di Nha Maninha,” a traditional Cabo Verdean song, the sound is spacious with guitar and cavaquinho rhythmically intertwined, here and there punctuated by the lightest percussion while a soprano saxophone answers Lucibela’s vocal. The album’s arranger and musical director Toy Vieira plays elegant guitar and provides one original composition, “Sant Antôn,” a lively, accordion-laced waltz. Vieira’s ear for restraint takes care to keep the collection of tracks free of overly-ornamented encumbrances, leaving Lucibela’s voice free rein.
Several songs on the album, like "Chica di Nha Maninha” represent mornas, distinctly Cabo Verdean ballads characterized by the morose of the Portuguese fado and tempered by a gentle refrain more akin to Brazilian or Afro-Caribbean music. But Lucibela’s early love of bossa novaendures on this album as well, as on the final track “Violeiro,” which merges the rhythm and arrangement of the Brazilian style with a distinctly Cabo Verdean melody.
In the tradition of most Cabo Verdean divas, Lucibela does not write her own songs, but rather draws on classic favorites by earlier generation composers. For example, “Dona Ana” a serene morna in which violin complements Lucibela’s mournful, yearning vocal, and “Porto Novo Vila Crioula,” interpreted here as a bossa nova, are both songs composed by the well-known poet Manuel de Novas. Elida Almeida a contributed her melodious coladera, “Mal Amadu.”
Today, Lucibela is based out of Lisbon, Portugal. But as her album’s seventh track “Laço Umbilical” suggests, there is a longing for home in this music that is capable of transcending the distance between and, like a natal umbilical cord, it keeps her connected to her home country. It is a sentiment that is consistently evident, both musically thematically, across the tracks. Over the course of the fourteen songs, Lucibela explores central issues that face Cabo Verdean women, living far away and longing and loving, with both sensuality and grace.
Lucibela knows those sorrows all too well. Her mother was a widow who struggled to raise her children on a state pension. She had been determined that her children would receive a good education, so she moved the family to the island of São Vicente, famous its port Mindelo and enrolled the children in school there. The city was home to one of the first high schools in the Portuguese colonies, and it was there that Lucibela got her musical start when a teacher heard her sing and asked her to join his band. Having no formal singing lessons or musical training, Lucibela learned from her fellow musicians this way, while playing live shows at local bars and restaurants or for passersby on the streets.
As Lucibela finished high school in Mindelo, her mother died suddenly, leaving her to survive by singing in the many tourist hotels that inhabit the island. During this time, her repertoire shifted from jazz, rock, and bossa nova to the traditional Cabo Verdean styles that define her present work. After three years, she left São Vicente for greater opportunities, arriving first for a stint on the slightly more southward island of Boa Vista, then on to Cabo Verde’s capital city of Praia where she kept a rigorous schedule and would sing three to four hours every day in the tourist hotels, honing her craft and teaching herself the fine art of working a crowd.
Finally, after five years in Praia, not wanting to linger singing at those hotels forever, she immigrated to Lisbon, Portugal in order to be near her daughter. In 2016, Lucibela made her debut performance in Lisbon to much acclaim, with many journalists suggesting hers will be the voice to carry forward the tradition of legendary Cabo Verdean diva Cesaria Evora.
Soon chosen to take part in the 2017 Atlantic Music Expo – a major music fair where musicians and producers from all over the globe meet in mid-Atlantic in Praia, truly a hub of world music – Lucibela caused a stir. Local audiences were already enthusiastically familiar with her from the few years when she’d performed in the bars and clubs of Praia, but she was a genuine revelation for the professionals, journalists and show promoters visiting the Expo. Following this success, she recorded Laço Umbilical in Lisbon, putting her on her current trajectory toward international renown and recognition as the next to inherit from Evora the prestigious mantle of traditional Cabo Verdean song.
“Cesaria is unique and there’ll never be another Cesaria,” modestly insists Lucibela. “My aim is to carry on the work Cesaria began. I want to sing Cabo Verdean musical genres – such as morna and coladera – pretty much anywhere in the world, and I want to succeed because of my own talent.”