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The Music of Cesaria Evora

VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS ON THE ISLAND of Fogo--most recently in 1995--have driven away thousands of the island's residents, though its capital, São Filipe, remains a gorgeous town of pastel colonial houses. Here we meet Marian, a Peace Corps volunteer who accompanies us in our rented jeep up the tricky mountain roads to the volcano's crater. Low-lying clouds and billowing steam occasionally obliterate our view.

Finally we stop and walk across shards of dried black lava. It's eerily quiet. No one could possibly live amid such desolation, I think--but back in the jeep we soon come upon a tiny hamlet, Chã das Caldeiras, that has sprouted in the pumice just yards from where the volcano last erupted. At a stone taverna we join the 20-odd villagers for bottles of local red wine, fresh white goat cheese, and butter biscuits. One man pulls out a guitar, and soon the entire village has turned into a morna band, with fiddle, bass guitar, and plastic tubes for percussion. The music comes from the heart, a little drunken, and totally satisfying. Serenaded by candlelight, warmed by wine, we linger until the sky has turned pitch-black. I suddenly remember that we have a long, dangerous drive ahead of us. As we say our good-byes, I ask Marian if we should leave some money for the food and the music. "You can't do that!" she says, horrified. "They live for this. Haven't you heard of sodade?"

BACK TO SAL. OUR FLIGHT TO NEW YORK leaves at four the next morning, so we decide to check into the Morabeza, a seaside resort with airy rooms looking over a grove of shade trees. It's easily the equal of any hotel on St. Bart's or Martinique--any place, that is, catering to well-heeled French tourists. Flocks of handsome wind surfers stand on the giant sandy beach ogling the waves. By the pool, a bevy of half-dressed women are smoking and reading fashion magazines. The French couple who run the resort tell us that Cesaria used to play here before she was famous.

At dinner, under a huge baobab tree decked out in little white lights, a morna band plays jazzy versions of Cesaria's repertoire, and we dive into a delicious buffet of cachupa, barbecued steaks, and seafood. It's hard to believe such luxury exists on this barren island. When our taxi arrives at 2 a.m. to take us across the desert to the airport, we're both reluctant to leave the revelry.

The same mornas are tinkling out of the airport P.A. The 747 from Johannesburg touches down, and 100 bleary-eyed passengers file into the airport for the hour-long stopover. Cigarette smoke fills the air. A wan South African traveler comes over, thinking he recognizes us from New York. He asks how we enjoyed our visit to Johannesburg. "Actually, we've spent the last week in Cape Verde," we tell him. He laughs. "You're kidding," he says. "I thought it was just desert."


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