Mariza sings the Portuguese <em>fado</em> in a modern version of the style popular in Lisbon.
Paul Wellman

When my wife and I first heard the music known as fado in Portugal earlier this year, we couldn’t help but compare it to the Argentine Tango in that they are both sorrowful cries of anguish tinged with African roots. Fado, which means “fate” in Portuguese, started in Brazil and made its way back to the Iberian peninsula during the 19th century. It even has an air of the jarocho music of Vera Cruz, Mexico, to it, since they both descend from the culture of the mestizo, a blend of African, Native American, and European peoples. So it was a thrill to hear one of the prime adherents of fado music at the Lobero Theatre in the person of Mariza, a woman born of a Mozambican mother and Portuguese father who learned to sing in the cafes of her native Lisbon.

Accompanied at times by three guitarists and a drummer, Mariza performed to the nearly sold-out crowd like the youthful diva she is, hitting high notes with the intensity of an opera singer, and at other times crooning with the mournful howl of the blues. It was truly a poetic performance, her melodic voice playing with the dulcet Portuguese language in heartfelt emotion. Mariza’s stage presence is majestic. With her platinum blonde hair and lithe figure, she dances like a whirling dervish when the mood strikes her.

After an intense hour-and-15-minute set, it looked as though she was about to walk off the stage, but the audience rose up as one and applauded so loudly and persistently that Mariza returned and sang for another half hour. During her encore she performed some songs in English, most notably “Summertime,” by George Gershwin, which confirms that fado, like the American form of blues, is born of pain and sings of the common folk. In Argentina it would be the song of los descamisados, or “shirtless ones.” Can a crossover album in English be far behind? Like the Columbian-born Shakira, Mariza is a star waiting to be launched into the firmament.


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