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Lisbon-based singer-guitarist Sara Tavares is speaking for a generation caught between cultures.
Born from second-generation Cape Verdean immigrants, Tavares went through a long period of introspection to find her true roots and influences.
Now, the 27-year-old is drawing widespread praise for her charming, worldly new disc, "Balance," in which songs are spiced with Angolan and Portuguese slang, Cape Verdean Creole and English, and musical tastes with Afrobeat, reggae, jazz and infectious Cape Verdean rhythms.
"There's a large generation of Cape Verdeans and other Africans here in Lisbon, in Paris, in Boston, in Los Angeles, and all over the world who feel like they have no identity," Tavares said. "My generation feels displaced because there's no culture that talks about our reality."
Tavares will appear Sunday afternoon as part of the Grand Performances free series at downtown's California Plaza, along with Haitian-born singer Emeline Michel. (Tavares also will play a concert Monday night at Temple Bar in Santa Monica; $12 cover.)
Even if you don't understand the lyrics, Tavares' sweet voice and graceful arrangements communicate some hard-won truths from an artist who has struggled with her place in the world.
"The songs are lullabies to myself," Tavares said. "All the messages are about self- esteem, loving yourself. About liking what is different in you. About integrating all the parts of you."
A group of islands about 300 miles west of Senegal, Cape Verde was once part of the Portuguese empire. Born in Portugal, Tavares was raised by an older Portuguese woman after her father left for America and her mother moved south. Through music, she sought out her family and cultural roots, along with the help of veteran African musicians in Lisbon and back in Cape Verde, where she travels every year.
Initially known as a singer and composer of gospel, soul and funk, Tavares began to incorporate African elements in her music, releasing her debut album 10 years ago. A second album, utilizing African rhythms and pop melodies, went gold in Portugal. Reviewing her third album, "Balance," the New York Times said Tavares' songs "glide by with the cosmopolitan poise of a woman who can find the world in her hometown."
Explaining the title track, which has been gaining airplay on satellite and public radio stations throughout this country, Tavares says it deals with "balancing yourself between sadness and joy; day and night; salt and sugar. It's about balancing emotions. ... If you stay too rigid, you will fall." 06/27/06 >> go there