“The Rain Listened and Whispered;
My Secret to the City;
And Now When it Taps on my Window;
It Still Brings That Sad Nostalgia”
Translation from the Portuguese to “Chuva”, Composed by Jorge Fernando
Ah! Cidade de Lisboa! Lisboa Antigua — home of my ancestors, city of sorrow, birthplace of the queen of fado, Amalia Rodrigues, and the city whose singing traditions the best of the current contenders for Amalia’s crown — Cristina Branco, Mariza, and Dulce Pontes — have embraced.
Though there are many fados that are instrumental, fado is mainly poetry set to music — poetry that essentially expresses the Portuguese soul somewhat similar to the blues of the Mississippi delta or the rembetic music of Greece. It is music permeated with sadness and longing, possibly created by Portuguese sailors and thus has been influenced by many other cultures such as Africa and Brazil. (Mariza actually spent time in Brazil to learn more about its music and rhythms).
There are actually two major fado traditions in Portugal. In the ancient university town of Coimbra, it is one traditionally of professional men — doctors, lawyers, and university students (Dr. Edmundo de Bettancourt being the most well known); whereas the Lisbon tradition is both men and women usually from the working class. It is this Lisbon tradition that fadista Mariza comes from. Although she was born in Mozambique, her family moved to Mouraria, a traditional neighborhood of Lisbon, when she was 3. Her parents owned a restaurant and fado house where Mariza heard fado performed on the weekends. She began to sing fado when she was five. Since she couldn’t read yet, her father drew pictures illustrating the words for her. Now, at 26, she has cultivated a powerful singing voice combined with a warm and elegant style that belies her youth.
I recently saw her in concert at the Cocoanut Grove in Santa Cruz, California on her first tour of the U.S. She proved herself not only to be lovely and elegant, but also warm, friendly and humorous. For her encore piece, she came down off the stage with her musicians. They set up in the middle of the large, packed ballroom and she sang “Povo Que Lavas No Rio” without any amplification, completely filling the room with her astounding voice — even reaching those sitting in the balcony far above. The audience was well represented by the Portuguese population of the central coast and cries of Bravo and Ay Fadista! could be heard throughout the room during the standing ovation.
Her first CD Fado em Mim lives up to the fanfare that has surrounded its release. Although she sings many classic fados associated with Amalia such as “Barco Negro”, she endows them with her unique style and delivery; thus avoiding sounding clichéd. She is a highly emotional singer whether it be expressing saudade (roughly translated, the unendurable sadness of the Portuguese) or great joy and humor.
As Nuno Nazareth Fernandes describes her in the liner notes to the CD, Mariza is “someone sent by the Great Creator to reinvent the fado.” Quite something to have to live up to; but when one hears her sing “Chuva”, “Ó Gente Da Minha Terra”, and even “Barco Negro” one is convinced that his words are indeed true. (She actually sings ” Ó Gente Da Minha Terra” twice on the album, one with the traditional instruments of fados — Portuguese guitar (a twelve string, tear-dropped shaped national instrument), double bass, and classical guitar. As a hidden track at the end, she adds jazz elements for a mournful, more modern sounding one with just piano accompaniment.) Like Dulce Ponte’s version of “Lagrimas” or Cristina Branco’s “Ay Vida”, Mariza’s rendering of the original song “Chuva” is one of life’s great experiences.
On Fado Em Mim, Mariza sings six traditional and six original fados. Three of the fados on her CD are ones that are associated with Amalia Rodrigues — “Maria Lisboa”, “Barco Negro”, and ” Há Festa Na Mouraria”. Mariza speaks with reverence of Amalia and calls her the great diva of Portugal. She feels complimented when people compare her to Amalia; but also feels that she has many differences and is still young and developing her style. Nonetheless, she feels that Amalia Rodrigues left a legacy of many great fados and in reverence to the diva, Portugal’s young fado singers need to keep Amalia’s repertoire alive and vital. With outstanding young singers like Mariza, there is no chance that Portugal’s musical heritage will be lost.