Fresh Fado

Mariza's sweet melancholia

Mariza at Rancho Relaxo (300 College) tonight (Thursday, April 11). Free. 416-920-0366.

Rating: NNNNN

fado is portugal’s blues, musicwith African roots that’s full of emotion. The debut album from 26-year-old Mariza, Fado Em Mim, features six traditional fados and six new compositions and has reached silver status in Portugal.

The singer, born in Mozambique and raised in Portugal, has been performing fado since the age of five, when, before she could read the lyrics, her father sketched little cartoons to help her remember them. Now she’s being credited with reinventing the form.

“Someone asked me that yesterday,” Mariza replies, sounding surprised, when I ask her about shouldering this massive responsibility. She’s so green, she’s obviously not used to answering the same questions over and over again.

“I don’t know that I’m reinventing the fado. I just do it my way. Perhaps people feel it’s different because I have influences in different kinds of music.”

She’s spent time in Brazil performing soul, jazz and Brazilian music, but fado, which she brings to Rancho Relaxo tonight, is her first love.

In fado, a 12-string Portuguese guitar is traditionally flanked by the classic guitar and acoustic bass guitar. The instruments are set up onstage in the shape of the crescent moon, in the middle of which stands the fadista, in this case Mariza, who has one of those perfectly melodic, mournful voices custom-made to touch your soul.

She may be an interview novice, but she knows the kind of impact she has onstage.

“When you see someone at your show crying and they don’t understand what you’re talking about (because the lyrics are all in Portuguese), it’s powerful. I feel powerful because I feel like I could put out my hand and move something inside of you. I feel the power to mix your emotions.”

It’s all about emotion. Fado is full of passion, grief, jealousy, unrequited love and often satire.

Some observers attribute this depth of feeling to a general sense of longing and a unique Portuguese fatalism. Just as I’m about to get stuck on an image of a nation of cordless bungee jumpers playing Russian roulette in schoolyards instead of taking final exams because “What does it matter anyway?,” Mariza corrects me.

“All Portuguese people have a little bit of melancholy, not fatalism. We are at the end of the continent and have a very heavy past history, a huge legacy. It’s inside of us. If we didn’t have it, we would not have this magical music we call fado.”

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