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She put the islands — off the coast of west Africa — on the world music map by performing their distinctive " morna" ballads with a mix of sweetness and melancholy. She was, she always emphasised, a good singer, and thus it was natural that people would enjoy hearing her. That she had had to endure decades of obscurity was, she would add, frustrating. Her family was musical: By , she was singing on local radio stations and for the Portuguese cruise ships that docked at Mindelo.
On those ships she gained a certain celebrity for refusing to wear shoes and performing barefoot. This was natural enough, since she had grown up without shoes, but it became her trademark. The minor-key morna ballads she sang with such stoic feeling reflected themes of loss, poverty and immigration — all constants to Cape Verdeans. She raised three children largely by herself. This allowed her limpid vocal style to shine, and French media began championing her.
Miss Perfumado was backed by a BMG campaign that helped it sell more than , copies in France. A love of rum and cigarettes — part of her performance involved taking a break on stage for a smoke and drink while the band played an instrumental — alongside a no-nonsense approach to both audiences and media helped ensure her formidable reputation.
Her anti-diva behaviour was no affectation: Da Silva remained her producer and manager, and the standard of the material she recorded, almost always Cape Verdean in origin, remained very high.
She was one of the few singers in a foreign language to win a large US audience. Even after her health began to decline in , she continued to work hard. Three years later, a minor stroke before a Melbourne concert caused the tour to be curtailed.