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Carmen Souza was born in Lisbon on 20 May 1981, to parents who had moved to Portugal after the Carnation Revolution ended the colonial era of their native Cape Verde.Though Souza has only been to Cape Verde herself a few times, once on a family trip when she was ten and again as an adult in 2010, she grew up speaking Creole and eating Cape Verdean cuisine. While still a child, she began singing gospel music in the church choir. Her parents maintained close ties with the diaspora, and Souza’s childhood was filled with the music and culture of Cape Verde, along with that of the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Brazil, Mozambique and São Tomé. Souza’s father, Antonio, a merchant sailor, insisted she should learn English and German. After spending just one year at college, she left to pursue her music career.

In 1999, Souza began partnering with bassist Theo Pas’cal, who has been a mentor to her and continues to perform with her. They met when she came to audition for a music project Pas’cal was directing and initially she performed professionally with him in a Portuguese-language gospel choir. Souza plays piano and guitar, writes or co-writes her songs with Pas’cal and sings. In 2003 they began working on a style which combined Cape Verde Creole music, including the batuque, coladeira, and morna genres, with contemporary jazz.[6] Souza usually sings in Creole because its variants allow her a flexibility for the language to meld with different cadences, than more formal languages allow. But she also sings in English, French, and Portuguese.[4] Her voice is “alternately chirpy and grave.”[2] Africa Today described her as having a “soul diva voice”.[7] Souza’s work transforms the traditional Cape Verde morna, adding jazz and personal invention,[8] such as vocal experiments, using her pitch and tone to emulate musical instruments.[9]

Her debut album, released in 2005, titled Ess ê nha Cabo Verde,[10] was their first West African-jazz blend adapted to an acoustic vibe.[6] Souza’s second release was Verdade (Truth),[3] in 2008. Featuring the duo’s blend of African and jazz music set to Wurlitzer electric piano and guitar, it won wide critical acclaim. A re-release of the album in 2010 by Galileo Records was included in several best world music lists for the year.[6] Three years later, they followed up the success with Protegid (Protected), featuring Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and French accordionist Marc Berthoumieux [fr][7] with Souza on Rhodes piano, guitar, and vocals.[6] Protegid blends Cape Verdean music with traditional jazz[11] and includes updates on jazz standards, for example Horace Silver’s famous tune Song for my father. Carmen’s vocal chorus takes note by note Horace Silver’s chorus on the first version of this standard[12].[5] The album was nominated for the German Record Critic’s Award and earned a ranking on the World Music Charts Europe (WMCE).[6]

Souza chose to donate half of the proceeds of her 2012 album Duo (also known as London Acoustic Set) to charity.[13] Most of the album was recorded at the Green Note Club in London with two tracks which had been produced in 2010 at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. All of the tracks had been previously released on her other albums, but all were new, live interpretations.[14] Kachupada, named after a type of Cape Verdean food, kachupa, was her fifth album and was released the following year.[5] Kachupada includes her version of two jazz classics, “Donna Lee” and “My Favorite Things”.[2] She followed with an album released in 2014 called Live at Lagny Jazz Festival which features musicians Ben Burrell on piano, Elias Kacomanolis on drums and percussion, and her music partner Pas’cal, playing acoustic and electric bass. Souza’s accolades for the album included “one of the most talented and innovative vocalists in the present-day jazz and world music scene”.[15] Souza resides in London.[10]

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Song For My Father
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My Favourite Things
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