A friend of mine insists that you have to be Portuguese to understand fado. In one sense she's rightfado is
intimately associated with poetry, and you pretty much have to be a native speaker to grasp that part. And the feeling of the music is also intimately associated with saudade.
The fact that saudade
has no direct translation into English is an important point (close ideas include nostalgia, loneliness, yearning, and missing). My Portuguese friend's eyes immediately glaze over when she hears that word.
But words are just one form of language. Music is another. You don't have to be Andalusian to appreciate flamenco, and you most certainly don't have to be African American to dig the blues. Folk music is the music of the people, passed down the generations by ear. And needless to say, it goes quite well with dance.
The twenty-something singer known simply as Mariza attracted a whole mess of attention with her 2001 debut Fado en Mim, which referred to the late fado queen Amélia Rodrigues both in material and song. (To be honest, it's really hard to avoid that comparison. Fado and Rodrigues go together like a reflex.) This time around, Mariza has more emphatically asserted her own identity, and the results have a stirring potency.
After reading and collecting poetry for the last year, Mariza finally chose the lyrics for the songs on Fado Curvo. "O silêncio da guitarra" opens with the very essence of saudade, projecting silence, happiness, grief, suffering, and soul (literally and metaphorically) through intense, smouldering vocals over first spare solo guitar and then a more jaunty guitar arrangement. The combination works. Carlos Maria Trindade's production overall is uniformly unassuming and warm.
What's most striking is that while Mariza sings with uninhibited emotion, she never goes all the way. Her voice, powerful as it is, would be wasted if it were thrown around wantonly. While she can travel close to the flame, she can also roll like butter and creep along in a near-whisper when the right time comes. And given that most of these pieces are four minutes or less, she never stretches the music too far.
Holding true to her refusal to place fado "in a kind of museum," Mariza includes a nice range of material which always draws from Lisbon roots but doesn't always fit into a particular mold. The pure melancholy of "Cavaleiro monge" yields to skipping adventure on "Feira de Castro." Mário Pacheco and António Neto's guitars play a dominant role throughout, but cello and piano bring a softer, more impressionistic edge to "Retrato." The odd wind noises of "O deserto" wrap around intertwined 2/4 accompaniment from guitar and piano, Mariza's voice yielding to muted trumpet in a jazzy interlude which seems to really twist (and modernize) that traditional fado sound.
But then I'm not Portuguese, so what do I know.
A quick rundown of informative words from the English translation: silence, fire, happiness, grief, kiss, weeping, suffering, sadness, soul, bitterness, hurt, live, ashamed, peace, smiles, fury, exile, lost, learned, know, destroyed, dead, enchantment, nearness, turmoil, madness, emotion, discovery, immensity, escape, free, love, broken and undone, fatal, spring, died, condemned, weeping, forgetting, enchantment, love, fear, distress, freedom, alliance, secrecy, solitude, fun, dancing, truth, passion, the heart, happiness.
And don't forget saudade. That one couldn't be translated.