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Sara Tavares Leads New Generation of Cape Verdean Musicians

The African islands of Cape Verde have a rich musical tradition and one young, new artist, Sara Tavares, is carrying that tradition forward and to new levels. She played in London recently, where Tendai Maphosa met up with her and filed this report for VOA.

Cape Verde's musical tradition goes back centuries, mixing Portuguese and African influences and, true to the islands' history as a crossroad for trade, carrying that music far and wide. Sara Tavares, 29, is building on that tradition.

Her family hails from the islands, but she was born in Lisbon, where her parents had emigrated in the mid-1970s. Sitting in her dressing room at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's South Bank, she tells VOA that from an early age she wanted to be a musician. After winning a national talent contest she represented Portugal in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. She was only 16 years old.

Her entry did not win, but it was an important stepping-stone. She says after that she wanted to do more than just interpret other peoples' songs.

"When I made a deeper choice, I wanted to do this for real; I wanted to do it on my own terms; I want to speak about myself. That is when I decided to compose," she recalled. "I started looking inside my world and my world brings me back to Africa, because that is where my parents are coming from."

Africa may be Sara Tavares' muse, but she says having been raised in Portugal has exposed her to numerous other influences, notably from other Portuguese-speaking countries. She incorporates all these into what she describes as 'Sara's music,' which she sings in a blend of Portuguese, English, Portuguese slang, Angolan slang, and Cape Verdean Crioulo, which mixes some English and French words.

Tavares says if there is any message in her music it is about the universal human condition brought to light through song.

"In my songs I mostly talk to myself," she said. "I say that my songs are lullabies for myself; songs of encouragement for myself, just to believe that each human being is unique, to accept all the good and the bad in your life and to learn how to transform it."

Human behavior, she says, inspires her. She recounts one example of how her travels present her with material including when some apparently drunken Zimbabweans she saw during an arts festival she played at in Harare, inspired the title track of her latest album.

"At the end of the festival I was still hanging around and there were some people, either they were drunk or high I do not know," she said. "But they were dancing in a real graceful, beautiful way it looked like they were going to fall at any minute, but they kept on dancing they were almost on the floor then back up and the song 'Balancé' is about enjoying the ups and downs in life and finding your swing in between."

Sara's Queen Elizabeth Hall performance in London is part of her tour to promote her second album Balancé.

Even though it was released more than two years ago, Sara Tavares is still on the road promoting it. She says she feels no pressure to follow up with another album at the moment. That, she says, takes time and for now she says she is gathering inspiration from every day life.