Mixing modernity with tradition, Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade is a master at the country’s morna genre of music. Often referred to as this generation’s Cesária Évora, The Queen of Morna, Mayra has maintained the integrity of Cape Verde’s national music, while giving it a new millennial spin all her own. Listen to a haunting Cesária Évora cover she did for Okay Acoustic in 2015.
“Cabo-Verde is one of the smallest countries of Africa, but it’s also one of the most recognized for its music,” she tells OkayAfrica. “When I started performing in 2000, I was faced with protectionism from those who did not understand that I was experimenting and bringing a new sound to Cape Verdean music...in a way, we created a precedent which then inspired a lot of young people. Almost 20 years later, I’m already seeing a new generation that is a lot more free and inhibited in its approach to creation.”
Her many layers—Mayra lives and records in Lisbon, Portugal and sings in Kriolu, English and Portuguese—have helped fill the blossoming international star’s catalogue with songs like “Manga,” a rich blend of worldly, sunny sounds that call back to her West African roots. “I need to be connected to people, to their stories, but also to live my own stories away from music so that I want to create later,” she says of her creative process. “If you look at things from the right angle, everything is a potential source of inspiration.”
Her soothing voice dancing over guitars and piano beats isn’t the only way Mayra is making an impact on the culture; the star has served as a celebrity ambassador for the United Nations “Free and Equal” campaign for the past three years, which promotes human rights for LGBTQ youth in Cape Verde. “We’re the first African country to launch this campaign.”