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Mariza & Friends at Carnegie Hall

Ernest Barteldes By

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Mariza & Friends
November 21, 2009
Carnegie Hall
New York, NY

It was a special night for Portuguese singer Mariza when she took the stage at Carnegie Hall backed by her group (Angelo Freire, Portuguese guitarra; Diogo Clemente, acoustic guitar; Marino de Freitas, acoustic bass; Simon James, piano and trumpet), kicking off the set with a song that speaks of why fado—her country's national genre—is so important. Drummer Vicky joined in for the next two numbers, which included "Maria Lisboa," a number that celebrates the streets of Lisbon and specially the Alfama district that gave birth to fado and its main muse, the late Amalia Rodrigues.

This show, however, was not solely about Portugal, but the journey that informed the music on her latest disc, Terra (Four Quarters Entertainment, 2008), which translates as "Earth." Mariza visited different styles throughout the concert, also singing in Spanish and Portuguese.

The first guest to appear was Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon, who sang a heartfelt rendition of "Gracias A La Vida," a song made famous by Mercedes Sosa, who passed away in October 2009. Mariza returned to the stage and brought the house down with "Rosa Branca" ("White Rose") before inviting Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, with whom she sang Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," a Spanish-language version of Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and a jazz-inflected arrangement of The Beatles' "Yesterday."

It was eye-opening to notice how Mariza sounded comfortable singing other musical styles other than the one she has made her name with, as can be heard on the new disc. "Terra has its feet in Portugal while traveling around the world, with friends that participated in it," she told this writer in a recent interview. "The name is Terra because the music is very organic—there is movement, the heartbeat of the [Portuguese] people, of a culture, a country, and this turns it into something with a movement that is not at all static."

When Mariza returned to the more familiar material, her Portuguese fans were ready to dance and sing along, and that is precisely what happened when she got to "Gente da Minha Terra" (People of My Land"), a highly emotional tune that speaks of the longing one has to return to his homeland after a long period of absence.

Following in the fado tradition, Mariza closed the concert by singing with absolutely no amplification—showcasing not only her powerful pipes but also the room's fine acoustics. She returned for a more up-tempo rendition of "Rosa Branca," which got the entire audience to their feet. It was a suitable closing for what could be described as a near-perfect show.

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