For Portugal’s Mariza, fado is like breathing
Mariza is back on the road. Two years ago the reigning queen of fado, Portugal’s traditional soul music, took an extended break from major engagements to start a family. However, the charismatic and glamorous singer couldn’t resist the call of the international stage for long. This summer, accompanied by her acoustic quartet, she set out on a tour that takes her to five continents, feeling not just refreshed but renewed.
“I’m a completely different person from before,” she says, on the line from her home in Lisbon. “Being a mother is the most beautiful thing that happened in my life. I discover emotions I didn’t know I have, so when I sing now I’m exploring all of these different emotions.”
Fado, meaning fate, is usually associated with saudade, a Portuguese word that means an intense state of nostalgia and longing. But the genre has a much greater emotional range. “In fado, you can sing about joy, love, lost love, jealousy, happiness, sadness, as well as saudade—every part of being human,” says Mariza. “It’s something that moves you deep inside. You don’t have to be a melancholic or sad person to sing this type of music, you just have to feel it. For me fado is something completely natural, it’s like breathing. I grew up listening to it and singing it.”
The 39-year-old diva was raised in Mouraria, an old working-class neighbourhood of Lisbon and one of the cradles of fado in the early 1800s. Her parents ran a small taverna that became a gathering place for local fado singers, musicians, and aficionados. She was only five when she began to sing for them, standing on top of the tables. “I don’t remember the first doll that I had, but I do remember my first fado. I never had a teacher. There are no schools for singing fado– it’s an oral tradition, and you learn it on the street, in the tavernas, and in the fado houses.”
Mariza’s precocious love for the music has stayed with her, and matured into an enduring passion. After many years of performing around Lisbon she released her debut Fado em Mim (2001), which quickly became a bestseller at home. Since then she’s recorded another six albums, inspiring a younger generation of fado artists in Portugal and taking its national music to new listeners all over the world. “Fado is very powerful,” she says. “When I sing I become aware of my transparency. I see me, my experience of life, and I can share that with everybody.”
“I don’t really know what happens for people in other countries who are not understanding the words,” Mariza continues. “I can only speak from my own experiences, but I never had a bad concert because of this. I think that music is like a kind of religion that we all have. Just a few days ago I was performing in Oman, and I saw Arabic people in the audience who were really connecting with this very different culture. Fado does not have any frontiers.”