Mayra Andrade has got to be one of the most international singers in the business. Her upbringing took in Cuba, Senegal and Germany, and her music is heavily influenced by Brazil and France (she lives in Paris). That’s not including the most important place of all to Andrade, the Cape Verde Islands, an archipelago that sits off the west coast of Africa and punches way above its weight in music terms.
Cape Verde is Andrade’s proper homeland and her music is deeply anchored in the islands’ many song styles, which are themselves the product of cross-Atlantic seafaring. Cape Verdean music is a hybrid of Cuban and Brazilian dances, European songs, African rhythms and more, and Andrade, one of world music’s biggest stars, is one of its most important ambassadors. She plays two nights at Ronnie Scott’s this month (18 and 19 July) on a tour to promote her third album, an unplugged live set.
We caught up with Mayra ahead of her visit to London.
Congratulations on your Studio 105 album. Why did you decide to release a live record as your third album?
I was performing for six years before my first album so I’m very much a stage artist. Since I started my career, people always tell me they prefer me on stage, so this gave me the confidence to do a live album. My second album [Stória, stória] had a lot of instruments and I was on tour with a big group of musicians, so I felt the need for something acoustic and light, as I used to do at the beginning. The project started out as a bonus CD for Stória, stória, but it became a full album and DVD. So this was a good opportunity to choose songs I’ve never sung and to have fun.
You’re used to singing in big venues like Carnegie Hall and Barbican Centre, but Ronnie Scott’s is a more intimate setting for the new album. What are you looking forward to about performing there?
I heard about the club a long time ago and it’s just as important as the Barbican and Carnegie Hall. It’s a very historic place where many important artists have played – it’s a challenge for me. I really enjoy playing this kind of stage. It’s different because the communication with people is more relaxed and you take more risks as a performer because you feel like you’re at home.
You always have incredible instrumentalists supporting you, something perhaps even more important when playing in small club?
The guitarist [Munir Hossn] and percussionist [Zé Luis Nascimento] are both Brazilian and the bass player, Stephane Castry, is from Guadeloupe and lives in Paris. They’ve been with me for years and they bring a lot to my music. Luis created all the arrangements; we are artistic directors together. I trust the band a lot and musically and they are amazing players.
For those who have never heard any music from Cape Verde, how would describe the music of the islands?
It’s difficult to describe because it’s such diverse music. If I wanted to take a real short cut, I would say there is something similar to Brazilian music, with the atmosphere and the mixture of Portuguese and African culture. But as someone so close to the music I can’t describe it; I would just ask people to take one hour of their day and discover a few Cape Verdean artists.
You’ve had a very international life and London is such a global city. Are you a London fan?
I haven’t spent enough time in London but when I’m there I see people who dress in a very original way, whereas here in France it’s much more plastic. There is an underground side of the city which I like. It’s like a city with two personalities that live side by side.
Finally, do you have any more new project or collaborations in the pipeline?
I’m working on the next album, which I want to be more open and to draw from other forms of music. I have my tradition and my roots, but I want to find more space artistically.