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The modern voice of fado

Concerto em Lisboa
Concerto em Lisboa
By Mariza

Times Square Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in July 2007.

Much as Astor Piazzolla shook up tango with his incorporation of American jazz and other threads into the Argentinian/Uruguayan folk music, so is Mozambique-born Mariza changing the face of fado, the national music of Portugal.

Okay, it's a reach to compare Mariza, just now releasing her fourth album, with Piazzolla. For starters, Mariza is hardly the only fado singer melding the uniquely Portuguese strains with other musics – where Piazzolla almost single-handledly dragged tango into the modern age and became perhaps the single most important figure in that music.

Such a role in fado is unlikely for Mariza. But if bands like Madredeus have been reshaping fado for a decade or more, few have achieved her levels of popularity, both in and out of Portugal. Her new live album (which also includes a second disc, a DVD documentary) shows a fado singer with a crystalline voice, powerhouse lungs and sparkling stage presence.

And while fado's fans embrace tradition and the past, Mariza is most definitely a non-traditional fado singer. Her bleached white hair is cut short, and (more importantly) she sings with a looser style than other leading fado singers, with elements of jazz, blues, pop and Afropop.

She can still impart a heartbreaking passion into any song, though, and has the kind of intensity in her voice that Americans may recognize as similar to that of Edith Piaf and other French singers of chanson.

And it's that talent as singer that's at the heart of her popularity: Mariza is a world-class singer, no matter the style. For anyone interested in fado, this live disc in front of an appreciative audience in Lisbon is a remarkable example of contemporary fado.