Mariza – the bewitching diva of destiny

{mosimage} Many countries and cultures have their dark side expressed musically that mirrors people’s sorrow and suffering. USA has its blues and old country, Argentina and Finland their tango, minorities such as some Sámi joiking or women keening at funerals. 

 

Portugal has fado – which as Mariza explained at her Helsinki concert (11 October) at Finlandia Hall means destiny. However, one of her songs Meu Fado Meu does not make it clear if it will be happy or sad, good or bad, or perhaps all and more. It was the ideal setting for anyone who has had sad news such as the untimely death of a recent romance (saudade – see below). This was reflected in the sixth number: Beijo de saudade  recalling a lost lover. Off her latest album, it was sung with Tito Paris, a Cape Verdian, and clearly harks from the West African islands' own form of desperation: the morna.  

Small and slim – she looks much taller due to her slender form and full-length black dress and arm stockings – the only colour is supplied by her hair and narrow hoops of ribbon on the garment. 

Straightaway the first few songs are sad, soul-searing and full of excruciating loss – it isn’t necessary to understand Portuguese to get the meaning as they are all delivered with total intensity, passion and utter involvement. She almost pleads with the audience to share her angst, pain and even tears. The song Tasco de Mouraria, recalls her parents’ bar when she was only five years old and the catalyst to become a singer in the eponymous Lisboa district, had teardrops filling her eyes reminiscing a childhood lost that can be only remembered, but never re-lived. Honestly portrayed and conveyed. 

As the dark clouds gather for a series of inevitably bad conclusions, the lyrics are wrung out in loud notes, long piercing soft monotones or a soulful, lilting voice. This is all combined with facial expressions, serpentine hand gestures and, of course, the eyes that glittered, glistened and glowed according to the situation being sung demanded. 

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A good example was Barco Negro which had a haunting percussion-only backed opening lament, which floats the listener down into the depths of the inner self, before suddenly lightening up in the middle, only to finish with another series of frighteningly worrisome notes and ending with a violent stormy crescendo.  

The backing musicians were all in tandem and equally talented, playing wooden guitars, piano and brass trumpet plus a drummer that used his hands as much as a range of sticks. They all plucked, blew and struck without sheet music – except the horizontal hand-held bassman (viola baixo). However, all was revealed by Mariza later that in fact it was where he kept his watch for some reason! She spoke a lot, mainly in English, introduced the musicians several times illustrating their harmonious rapport and gave short explanations of fado, some songs and about her life and philosophy – sometimes witty, often serious. 

But it was not all pure doom and gloom in a melancholic melodic setting. After the instrumental guitarrida (which the audience was taught to say en masse), the remaining songs became lighter in mood, even joyful at times. The last song, a Mariza favourite Primavera returns to the theme of loss and hopelessness, a Gibraltarian afficionada informs.  

Two encores followed: the first featured the Portuguese and six-string guitarists with herself – but unplugged with all three singing, assumedly, a traditional folk song. It proved that despite their stature, the sound system could have been dispensed with. The third, obviously unplanned, encore after a visible weakening on stage to the audience’s entreaties, was back to routine, but with everyone invited to stand up and dance along. 

{mosimage}By the end, most had realized they had been taken down a path where introspective Finns rarely go willingly – unless led by someone who knows what they are doing. Mariza is an artiste who does not hold back one iota, and as such the on-looker is dragged through a gamut of emotions that ends up with a flickering message of hope – perhaps to recapture that amora perdida or its mere memory. It’s a soul-searching emotion-jangling experience for all concerned. Fado is a darkish genre with a now-bright future with the youthful Mariza as its message-bearer for a long time to come. 

Mariza dos Reis Nunes – vocals

Diogo Clemente – classical guitar

Ângelo Freire – Portuguese guitar

Marino de Freitas – Portuguese bass guitar

Hugo Marques – percussion

Simon Wadsworth – piano, trumpet & synthesiser 

CDs: Fado em Mim (2002); Fado Curvo (2003); Transparente (2005) & Terra (2008). DVDs: Live in London (2005) & Concerto em Lisboa 

Fado can mean destiny or fate and derives from 1820s Portugal. It is mournful, but follows a set pattern and full of saudade – pining for something or someone such as a lost love. It plucks at the heart strings and is not for the weak-hearted or strong-willed. There are two forms: the Lisboã and Coimbra – the latter based round the university that had many Brazilian students and their modinhas songs. Fado always has a Portuguese guitar, but the Coimbra style has male singers only dressed traditionally in academic garb (traje académico). The Lisboã districts of Mouraria and Alfama, Bairro Aalto and Madragoa (bairros típicos) still have their casas de fados where the dimly-lit streets and alleys echo to dark strains of emotional suffering.