Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Interview with Mariza

Mariza, the striking, single-monikered singer who has become the international face of the traditional Portuguese song form called fado has broken a barrier or three in her career.

Born 33 years ago in Mozambique, of African and European background (her mother was from Mozambique, her father from Portugal and her full name is Mariza Reis Nunes), Mariza grew up in Lisbon's Mouraria-Alfama district whose clubs and taverns frequented by sailors, prostitutes, the children of slaves and working men and women were said to have been the 19th-century birthplace of fado.

It was there, as a precocious five-year-old, that she began to sing the slow, rhythmic, often melancholic songs, what some have called the Portuguese blues. Though steeped in the traditions and enamoured of the greatest fado singer of the 20th century, Amalia Rodriguez, when Mariza returned to singing fado in her early 20s, after a teenage flirtation with jazz and pop, she began to make small but significant changes to a style largely unchanged in 150 years.

With her closely cropped platinum blonde hair and a penchant for colourful necklaces, rather than the traditional black bun and severe black clothes, Mariza would have stood out anyway.

But when she added hints of Brazilian rhythms, jazz and, more recently, a full orchestra rather than only the Portuguese guitar as backing, the slender singer ran the risk of offending the purists even as she opened up fado to a generation more interested in rock and pop than the "old" music.

However, any opprobrium at home was quelled as soon as she opened her mouth to sing. A similar effect was obvious among fado novices as we discovered last year when Mariza was a success at the Sydney Festival.
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