Written by Gwen Kallio
Like many other great musical traditions, the roots of the Portuguese music known as Fado lie in a hybrid of origins. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs sung by homesick sailors and fishermen. With a mystique all its own, slow, melodramatic and poignant, fado incorporates folk ballads, strains imported from Africa and Brazil and Portugal’s rich poetic heritage into a unique and compelling music. Fado translates as ‘fate’ but reflects a gamut of emotions: submission to destiny, resignation, the mixture of yearning and sadness known as ‘saudade’. It is the heart of the Portuguese soul, and arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world.
Like the music she sings, fado’s world music superstar Mariza’s roots are complex and intertwined with world influences. Born in Mozambique to a mother of mixed African -Indian ancestry and a Portuguese father, her family left the country in 1976 when Mariza was three years old. She grew up in multi-cultured Lisbon’s working-class port district of Mouraria, where her parents ran a fado house known as Anabele’s (after her mother, who cooked the African food they served).
By the age of five, Mariza was singing fado – learning the lyrics from cartoons her father drew for her. “Discovered” singing fado in a bar in her twenties, the rest, as they say, is history. Acclaimed albums, prestigious awards, high-profile appearances and world tours followed. With her glorious voice, impassioned performances and striking beauty she has, in a few short years, became a reigning diva of world music charts and sold out concert halls around the globe, winning worldwide acclaim by giving traditional fado an exciting new edge.
Mariza brought her music to her birthplace in 2005 – her first visit to Mozambique in 30 years. With Terra, her latest release, she remains nurtured by the fado tradition – but incorporates Cape Verdean, latin, flamenco and other elements into her music. In taking fado new places, Mariza’s music transcends culture and language – and in many ways explores fado’s rich and varied roots. Mariza performs at the Chan Centre on April 18th.