Those who know and love Portuguese music and those who frequent and listen to fado, know that Mariza is the queen of this sound, of this “condition of the spirit” transformed into music. Born in Mozambique, she grew up in the alleys of Lisbon, in the heart of the Mouraria district, the cradle of Portuguese fado. It is an old quarter of the city that has always been inhabited by the poor and marginalized that then became a multicultural and multi-ethnic area of Lisbon, and on its streets, the first fado singers were born. Fado started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and became the style of Portuguese folk music, gaining enormous popularity throughout the country. “Modern” fado in the 1960s experienced its golden age, when great composers, poets and performers brought the genre to a pinnacle of expression and international notoriety, mainly due to Amália Rodrigues, but also to Ericilia Costa, Alfredo “Marceneiro,” composers such as Alain Oulman and Frederico Valéiro or fado poets such as Joao Linhares Barbosa or Frederico de Brito, to name a few of the most famous and beloved figures. Amália Rodrigues brought Fado into contemporary times. She interpreted the Portuguese heart in a way few others have been able to do, had a long and extraordinarily successful career that took her around the world, and left a legacy that has been picked up by a new generation of performers, such as Ana Moura, Camané, Cristina Branco, and, above all, Mariza. Marisa Dos Reis Nunes, known as Mariza, discovered the magic of fado almost by chance in the alleys of Mouraria. Like all young people, she was enamoured with the 1980s, pop music, soul and funk, and she listened to fado at home on her father’s records, slowly becoming fascinated with it. It is when she is invited to perform in a tribute concert to the “Queen of Fado,” Amália Rodrigues, after her death in 1999, that Mariza lends not only her voice but also her soul to the genre for the first time. The performance is so beautiful and intense that everyone – her father, friends, and fellow musicians – encourages her to make a Fado album.

So, in 2002, Mariza debuted her first record, Fado em mim, and immediately became a star. Because fado, for her, is not a genre or style, but a condition of the soul, just as it was for Amália Rodrigues. She does not perform fado, she lives it, she lets it flow through her veins, lets it breathe through her skin, puts it in tune with the beat of her heart. She is faithful to her Portuguese musical roots, but at the same time, she is able to open herself to the world, to renew themes and atmospheres, making sure that what she sings is always wonderfully contemporary, not nostalgic, or tied to the past. Over the years, Mariza has been both an ambassador of Portuguese music to the world but also extremely receptive to the influences the world has on Portuguese music, opening the door to ever-changing feelings, sensations and sounds Her fame grew very quickly beyond Portuguese borders and led her to perform all over the world, on five continents, in the most famous theatres, from Olympia to Carnegie Hall, from London’s Barbican to Sydney’s Opera House, winning awards and recognition in so many countries and becoming an ambassador of Portuguese culture around the world. She is particularly attached to Lisbon, where she still lives: “It is a city from which I can’t detach myself,” she says, “to compose my music, I must breathe its air, see its light. When I return home, I feel like I belong to the place, I feel in tune with everything. I love to travel, I love the places where I have been, I am always greeted with great affection in every part of the world, but Lisbon is where my heart beats, where my feelings take shape and turn into songs.” It is said, mistakenly, that fado music is sad. “But that is not correct,” says Mariza “It is music filled with melancholy but not sadness. Fado is a way of life, and life is made up of many different feelings that this music expresses. Since this music was born among the poor, among the marginalized, it is heavy with a sense of melancholy that is impossible to erase, as is also true of the blues, but it is a music of life, love, passion.” Mariza is connected to the history of fado and the traditions of Portuguese music, but she does not see tradition as something static and immovable, but rather as the brick upon which to build a building that can always be renovated. “Although I do like to respect the tradition of fado. I prefer contaminations with jazz and blues, which have many elements in common with Portuguese music, to electronica or contemporary rhythms.” She was also new in her approach to the stage, with her short, platinum blond hair and her colourful, tight-fitting dresses, a far cry from the black dresses and shawls hung on the shoulders of female fado performers. The bright, significant example of Amália Rodrigues was always clear in her mind, but Mariza was never a follower. Instead, she always tried to find her way, paying tribute to Rodrigues’ greatness but constantly seeking her originality.

There’s nothing static about her. On the contrary, hers is a “curved fado,” as she calls it in one of her album titles: “something not unique,” she says, “that can be looked at from different points of view, remain the same but always appear different.” And this diversity also exists in the poetic languages that Mariza often uses, from that of the people to that of great Portuguese literature, from José Luis Gordo to Ferdinand Pessoa, “because music is a very broad vehicle, that holds different, seemingly distant elements that are linked by a common passion,” she says. “My musical research walks hand in hand with the search for words, and I love the Portuguese language very much because it gives me emotions that are different from any other language. I could also sing in English, I could take fado to pop territories, but I don’t care, I don’t seek fame at all costs, I like to bring the culture and music of Portugal to the world.”

Mariza offers the best of her art and soul when performing live. She manages to be passionate and entertaining, engage the audience, make each song exciting. And her stage presence is very strong. She moves on stage with joy and confidence, conveying her feelings with her beautiful voice but also with an extraordinary physicality. “When they think of a fado concert, everyone expects something sad, but I believe that you can also go to see a show of mine and have fun.”

Ernesto Assante