Mayra Andrade ‘Lovely Difficult’ (Sony France/Sterns) 3/5

Mayra AndradejpgNow in her late twenties and resident in Paris, Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade returns with an album that both confirms the great potential of the debut album and raises a few questions about her current direction and whether she wishes to remain a world roots artist, or aim at poppier climbs in the search for a mainstream audience. Of course the two are not necessarily incompatible and world roots singers (Amadou and Mariam, Souad Massi and the various Buena Vista Social Club constituent members to name but a few) have met with considerable success in the pop charts, especially in a country such as France where singing in several languages is not considered unusual.

For the new recording Andrade has incorporated new elements and sings in both French and English as well as in Portugese and the vernacular Creole of Cape Verde. Overall, the feeling is somewhat melancholic and even mournful in parts, but there is still a gentle uplifting edge to the music that first attracted listeners to Andrade in the first place. Where the album works best is in the use of traditional instrumentation such as the cavaquinho-led intimacy of ‘Ilha de Santiago’ where her Cape Verdean roots are showcased to the fore and there is a modern update on the drum sound. This is one of only four songs on the album where the cavaquinho is featured which speaks volumes about the new approach. A mid-tempo song sung in Creole, ‘A-mi N Kre-u Txeu (I love you)’ is another winner and gently uplifting in character, with the subtle use of cello from guest musician and virtuoso Vincent Ségal. Some of the songs in French actually work extremely well and singing in another Romance language both enhances and compliments Andrade’s natural style. Reggae hues permeate the brass accompanied ‘Les mots d’amour’ and there is also a clear reggae drum pattern on ‘Rosa’.

Where Mayra Andrade loses her way somewhat, however, is in the attempt to broaden her appeal by trying to become an English-language folk singer of sorts. Songs such as ‘Build it up’ and ’96 days’, which hint at a conscious desire to become a singer-songwriter in English, lose something of the magic of Portugese/Creole and maybe at this point in time something culturally has been lost in translation. Her best stab at a folk-based repertoire in English comes with the shuffling beat of ‘We used to call it love’. Possibly a smaller selection of English songs over a period of albums would enable Andrade to choose judiciously and not risk losing her essence in the process. The informative sleeve notes provide tri-lingual lyrics in English, French and Portugese plus Creole as and where appropriate.

Tim Stenhouse