Earlier this month I was given a genuine introduction to Fado in the Lisbon neighbourhood near where Mariza was raised and the music genre is said to have been born.
In a dimly lit intimate nook in Alfama — the oldest district of Lisbon whose name is derived from either the Arabic Al hamma, meaning hot fountains or baths, or Alfamm, meaning the mouth — which barely sat twenty while creatively tetris-ing the band among the crowd, one could not help but be moved by the powerfully melancholic voice that sang of longing and loss a few feet from me.
In spite of the contrastingly grandiose setting of the Emirates Palace auditorium on Wednesday (March 29), the Queen of Fado seemingly transform the concert hall into the personal venue she prefers playing in.
Mariza’s distinctive voice and charming engagement of the audience between songs — “I know I talk too much,” she said — served to diminish the distance between her and the crowd.
From the onset, it was her unaccompanied commanding voice which arose from the unlit stage during her opening traditional Fado number Fadista Louco.
This signalled the beginning of the concert’s first and classic chapter with an initial solitary spotlight revealing the diva dressed in Fado’s customary black.
Additional simple lighting highlighted Mariza’s backing, a talented acoustic trio playing Portuguese, classical and bass guitars.
While introducing Ricardo Silva at the heart of the line up she pointed out the origin of his 12-string Portuguese guitar as emanating from the similarly pear-shaped Arabic oud.
This first section featured a handful of Fado classics, such as the Portuguese stars’ favourite Primavera, which drew attention to her voice’s formidable arsenal, capable of turning the subtlest of tones into a howling wail in an instant.
Adding to her dramatic virtuoso were her audible gasps and suffocating pauses which left listeners on constant tender hooks.
Determined to demonstrate that Fado was more than anguish and craving Mariza turned to what she said was the first upbeat Fado song she sang at the age of 7, Dona Rosa, encouraging the willing audience to clap along.
But Mariza did not become Fado’s foremost ambassador singing the genre’s classic and artist’s ‘new Fado’ was being served for the evening’s second course.
Enter percussionist Vicky Marques, who transformed the acoustic trio into a driving quartet, and the new Mariza who traded in the black dress for a bright red.
“This is the crazy part of the concert,” she explained.
The previously dimly lit stage was now fully lit with an array of colours reflecting the music’s alteration.
The Fado master performed pieces from her latest album Mundo, which she said explains her profound metamorphosis as a result of becoming a mother.
The concept of Fado was broadened with the song Alma sung in Spanish with influences from Brazil, Argentina, Cape Verde and Spain.
Examples included the Cape Verdean morna Padoce de Ceu Azul when the global artist asked her audience to chime in with the English part of the chorus.
The word Fado comes the Latin word fatum, or ‘fate’ and Mariza explained that if she had broken boundaries or traditions in the field, it was her fate to do so.
Having brought the audience in, evident in the multiple standing ovations she received, it was the Queen who descended on the people during herthree-song encore.
Making her way down in front of the audience with her original trio in-tow, Mariza shed the microphone, telling the audience she wanted to take them back to Fado tradition and demonstrate the power of her voice by filling the auditorium with it.
She then followed this by walking up both isles making eye contact during the night’s penultimate piece.
She followed this up by shaking every one’s hand in the front row, including a noticeably impressed Yo-Yo Ma.