MARIZA IS one of the most successful singers to come out of Portugal since Amália Rodrigues. Even though her career is only four-years-old, she has quickly gained worldwide fame and helped lift Fado towards global recognition.
Fado music has been described as Portugal’s answer to the Blues. It is often beleaguered by the misconception that it only connotes grief and can be very monotonous, but Mariza is living proof of how Fado has evolved into a popular style.
The music is usually based on what the Portuguese call saudade, a word that doesn’t have a literal English translation, but can be described as a longing for something that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in the distant future. Few other languages in the world have a word with such meaning, making saudade a distinct mark of Portuguese culture.
Mariza is a quintessential representation of this music, which developed in the bars and brothels of Lisbon in the early 19th century. Since her debut in 2002, Mariza has released three critically acclaimed albums, Fado em mi, Fado Curvo and 2005’s Transparente.
Talent emerged early
She began singing Fado as a child, before she could read. At the age of five she used to join in the spontaneous singing at her parent’s restaurant in Mouraria, one of Lisbon’s most traditional neighbourhoods. Although she was born in Mozambique, she has spent her life in Portugal and has taken every opportunity to immerse herself in its culture.
Despite her love for tradition she presents herself in an entirely modern way. The flowing evening gowns, elaborate hairdos and theatrical gestures are a refreshing change from Fado’s sombre image. She adds her own personal twist to her live performances, which make the shows accessible, even for those who don’t understand Portuguese.
Traditionally, Fado music is a combination of vocals, Portuguese guitar and classical guitar, however, Mariza performs with a variety of modern instruments, including an orchestral ensemble and a rhythm section, giving her a much more contemporary, popular sound. The presence of the Portuguese guitar ensures that she retains the essence of the music. The 12 string instrument – the Portuguese guitar – came about as a result of the period after the Renaissance, when people started to tire of the tone of the classical guitar and decided to create something with a more distinctive sound. It has remained popular in Portugal ever since.
Awards and honours
Mariza’s success has been recognised with numerous awards and accolades. She has received the Portuguese Golden Globe Award for best performer of the year for her latest album Transparente and has been honoured with the prestigious Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique, an award given to distinguish personalities who have contributed towards promoting Portuguese culture, history and values around the world. She is also a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
Her albums have sold more than 200,000 copies in Portugal and around half a million worldwide. Fado em Mim went triple platinum after its release, while her 2003 follow-up, Fado Curvo, reached number six on the Billboard World Music chart. This success caused Sting to invite her to record a duet with him titled A thousand years. The track appears on the album Unity, issued to commemorate the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Mariza also has a large UK fan base after appearing twice on the popular TV show, Later with Jools Holland.
In the US, the Washington Post has recognised her “powerful voice, impeccable intonation, and feel for the dramatic”, while Canada’s Globe and Mail says: “You have to see Mariza perform to understand how physical her art really is.” Even Billboard magazine has hailed her performance as “nothing short of a genuine revelation. The world has met its next great Fadista (a female Fado singer).”
Last year, Mariza was one of the many musicians involved in Live8, performing as part of the Eden Project concert held in Cornwall.
In her own words, Mariza states how she feels she can bring new waves to this culture. “I don’t want to sing the same Fados with the same chords and poems for the next 20 years. I want to do something different and show what I feel. For me, Fado must be a living tradition. I want to use the body of Fado, but dress it in a new cloak.”
In November 2006, Mariza is releasing Concerto em Lisboa, a live CD and DVD and is touring extensively in support of it, including a much anticipated performance at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London.
Here in Portugal, she is appearing at the Lisbon Coliseum on November 1 and the following night at the Porto Coliseum. Tickets are available from www.ticketline.pt or call 707 234 234.