Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade releases her much anticipated fourth album this month. Lovely Difficult is the artist’s most international album to date.

It’s also the most eclectic – both linguistically and musically. Sung in Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese, French and English, the tracks in the album seamlessly move from traditional Cape Verdean genres to more global sounds, spanning different styles, such as reggae, jazz, soul and even some rockabilly!

The result is a hypnotic blend, underpinned by Andrade’s soothing voice and a mellow, rhythmic tempo.

Ahead of the launch, Sheila Ruiz caught up with Cape Verde’s top recording artist.   

In the interview, Andrade talks music, love, living away from home and finding one’s unique sound.

SR: I wanted to start off by asking you about the album’s title, which had me wondering what it meant when I first read it. I have since learnt that Lovely Difficult is a nickname for you. So tell us, in what ways is Mayra Andrade lovely as well as difficult?

MA: I’m not the best person to talk about myself, but my partner used to say that I was a lovely woman, but sometimes he wanted to throw me out of the window because, yeah, I’m difficult. I’m a woman, you know! So it’s a nickname, which I thought would be very good for this album because this album is perhaps a little bit more personal than the others. I had to compose more songs and I talk a lot more about myself and my family. It’s also the result of the past 11 years I have spent in Paris, of the people that I met, and I wanted to create a real musical space for those encounters in this album. Also in Lovely Difficult, you have the words love and cult, Love Cult, and almost all the songs are about love.

SR: In this album you sing in four languages. At the same time, you mix a lot of different musical genres in a very holistic way, creating your very unique sound. How does Lovely Difficult compare to your previous albums (Navega, Stória, Stória… & Studio 105)? And do you think that this new style will help you reach an even wider audience than you have up until now?

MA: I hope so. I felt I needed to go to a more universal sound. Even though I am very rooted in the Cape Verdean musical tradition, I already did three albums of that. This is my fourth one and I felt I needed to take advantage of my experience and the people I meet. I wanted to live with my times and pay homage to that. I think it’s more universal than the previous ones, but I can also see it has something in common with my first album, Navega. It’s the kind of B Side to Navega.

SR: In what way?

MA: In that it is a more spontaneous sound and the way it was conceived. The second album was more arranged and more sophisticated. This one is more free, like the first one.

SR: You said that with Lovely Difficult you wanted to make a poppier album. Although decidedly and unashamedly international and ‘poppy’, Lovely Difficult still sits within the remit of ‘world music’. (the album was recently nominated in France for the prestigious Victoires de la Musique Awards, in the World Music category). How do you feel about the ‘world music’ label? Do you find it limiting or are you comfortable with it?

MA: I don’t care about labels because if you think about that, then you’d always do the same. I do what I want and then they put me under whichever label they can find. I’m not comfortable or uncomfortable with it – I just don’t care about how they label me. My music is quite hybrid. It’s always very difficult for me to explain what I do. I just say where I come from, but I don’t know where I’m going. I find new territories to explore and I enjoy doing that, but I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow and that suits me. I like the surprise. I don’t like to feel bored, or boring, in my music. Maybe the next album will be more traditional or jazzy or classical or even more pop or electro. I don’t know! We keep the surprise…

SR: Having travelled the world and lived in so many different places, how do you experience your Cape Verdean identity?

MA: The fact that I have been travelling so much has given me a different way of knowing Cape Verde. I used to live there in different periods of my life, in my childhood, but also when I was 15, so I have experienced different Cape Verdes. But also living in Senegal or Paris, Germany or Angola, you see Cape Verde from different angles and you can appreciate the things that you can only find there even more because you have the opportunity to miss that…

SR: Do you suffer a lot from saudade?

MA: Yes, but I manage that quite well because I’m used to it. I started travelling at the age of 6 and I’m now 29. But I need to go back at least twice or three times a year. All my family is there and I live in Paris for the music. I had great opportunities in Paris and I’m very thankful to for that, but home is not Paris – it’s Cape Verde. I say that, but I’m sure I’m going to miss Paris the day I leave!

SR: There are twice as many Cape Verdean citizens living abroad as there are at home. Do you think that your own experience as a very international Cape Verdean is precisely what draws so many Cape Verdeans and Africans in the Diaspora to your music?

MA: I don’t know… I think Cape Verdeans are very attached to the traditional Cape Verdean music. In that sense it can be strange for them because they come to see me and they’re expecting to see a traditional show because they miss home and all that. And then they find a very cosmopolitan and modern sound, so sometimes they miss something. But they also discover something new. I think young Cape Verdeans are quite happy with all these changes because they can find the roots in the music, but they can also identify with this cosmopolitan, contemporary sound. Maybe they listen to Rihanna, but they can also find a Cape Verdean artist who proposes something modern. We have to live with our times. I know how to do traditional music, but I think my way is a little bit off-centre. I think that is part of my mission.

SR: Lastly, what piece of advice would you give to young African Diaspora singers and musicians trying to make it in Europe?

MA: The advice I can give is more about the music because the industry is so weird, I wouldn’t know what advice to give. I was lucky. We are all different. As for the music, I would say try to find your real essence because we are rich – coming from a place, living in another – and we have more tools to play with. We see both sides. Also, I’d say try to find who you are in the middle of all this because you will be unique, so give a space to that unique colour. We are all very different. I’m Cape Verdean, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I will probably not find someone else with the same characteristics as me, so if you sing and do the music as you are, it will be unique. And this is what we need – we need artists who can be authentic and unique.

Lovely Difficult (Stearns Music) is now out. You can purchase copies of the album here. We leave you with the video to her first single, We Used To Call it Love – enjoy!

Unknown Object

Sheila Ruiz is the Royal African Society’s Programme Manager. She tweets @SheilaRuiz