Portuguese fado is essentially poetry sung to music and reflects the character and soul of the Portuguese people. Few fado singers have achieved the heights of the late “queen of fado”, Amália Rodrigues. Very few singers anywhere in the world are able to represent the soul of their people like Amália. There are others, of course; but they are rare. That is what made her great and what makes others like her also great. I love fado and count many examples of great singers and guitarists in my collection of Portuguese music (just as a little aside, there is a lot more to Portuguese music than fado). I, obviously, have many favorite performers of this art form besides Amália—such as Jose Paradela Olivera and Dr. Edmundo Bettancourt, both who sang in the Coimbra style and the great Portuguese guitarist Carlos Paredes. I take an avid interest in the new fado singers making their way to the ear of the discerning Portuguese audience—young singers such as Maria Ana Bobone, Cristina Branco, Dulce Pontes, and Mariza. What an exciting time for fado when singers of this caliber are re-interpreting the classics as well as finding new material to perform—each in their own unique style.
Amália was a legend that will be hard to surpass and perhaps it is too early in Mariza’s career to say that she may one day reach the legendary “diva” status that Amália earned. Yet, Mariza has all the makings for it. A towering beauty with charismatic stage presence and an unmistakable style that is all her own. Her personality is strong, vibrant, and gracious. Although still quite young, she has been singing fado since childhood and thus has some very definite opinions about what fado means to her and how she wants to present it. There is no youthful hesitation in her voice as she sings of love, longing, joy, and despair. She embraces emotions with confidence and a voice filled with experience and the essential ingredient the Portuguese call saudade (loosely translated as a nostalgic longing or a yearning close to despair). Small wonder since she started singing fado before she could read. Her father would illustrate the words to the songs in pictures that she could understand. In her parents’ Lisbon fado house in the traditional neighborhood, Mouraria, she would listen to the live music and sometimes even join in the singing.
There was a point as a teenager when she stopped singing fado because of the teasing of her friends who kept saying things like “Fado! Fado is for old people.” So, she sang Brazilian music, jazz, pop, etc. She even spent time in Brazil learning its infectious rhythms and singing styles. In this way, when she came back to singing fado, she had expanded her musical horizons and thus brought to her singing a unique vision of where fado could go. Her first recording Fado Em Mim was an impressive release that brought Mariza’s warm smoky voice to the immediate attention of the world.
With her second release, Fado Curvo she has proven that she is indeed an artist worthy of the world’s attention and that fado is music that can cross barriers and reach right into the heart of people who may never have considered listening to music from a country other than their own.
For the most part, one hears the sounds characteristic of fado, the emotional singer, the Portuguese guitar, the guitar, and bass. To this mix on one of the songs, Mariza adds a saxophone that closely matches her plaintive singing, a trumpet, and on others just a piano. There is a sparse quality to the back up music as if the air that surrounds the musicians is paying homage to this luminous young singer and her poem/songs. Mariza shouts, whispers, flirts, weeps, and dances with her incredible vocal range and the musicians follow her leaving enough space and silence for the full impact of her remarkable talent.
On her two recordings, one hears the sound of a young woman developing her special gifts with a very elegant approach to not only the singing but in her choice of poem/songs and their arrangements. Not only is Mariza an elegant singer, she is stunningly coiffeured as well as dressed. Her regal height is accented by gowns designed especially for her. Her hair with its rippling feathers close to her head is truly unique and, well, one just needs to see photographs of her to fully understand her appearance. Although traditionally a fadista wears black, Mariza likes color and obviously high fashion—all of this adding to the drama of her mystique. On stage, she is warm and even humorous with her outgoing confident personality. She knows exactly how to win the hearts of her audience whether they speak Portuguese or not. If one has never heard fado, I would say Mariza is an excellent introduction to this ever-evolving Portuguese art. She has a talent that will indeed cross all language and cultural barriers.