News update: Mariza performed on the Late Show with David Letterman, October 11, 2007; view here!
A river runs through Lisbon. At the mouth of the River Tagus sits a 500 year-old tower whose construction represents its era with Moroccan architectural influences and standing as a military and symbolic entrance to the small but powerful player during the “Age of Discoveries.” The Tower of Belém looks in one direction onto the river and towards the sea, the departure point for Portugal’s famous sailors. In the other direction it looks over the city of Lisbon. Looking forward while looking back.
One recent rainy summer evening, at the invitation of the city’s mayor, 25,000 people gathered at the Tower’s gardens to hear Mariza, Portugal’s reigning ambassador of fado, the country’s bittersweet musical gift to the world. She performed favorite songs from her young-but-full career with a full orchestra, the Sinfonietta de Lisboa, conducted by Jaques Morelenbaum. The magical night is captured on Concerto em Lisboa, released on CD with a bonus DVD documentary by Times Square Records earlier this year. North American audiences will have the chance to see Mariza with her Portuguese ensemble during her month-long October tour and on The Late Show with David Letterman on October 11, 2007.
Mariza’s North American tour includes a return visit to the Walt Disney Concert Hall where renowned architect Frank Gehry will transform the inside of the theater to a taverna just for the night. He will also draw a dress design for her to wear that night (October 28th). As Reuters put it in an article last month, “Powerful people all over the world would do just about anything to get renowned architect Frank Gehry to design for them. All Mariza had to do was sing.” Gehry told the interviewer, “When I met Mariza and heard her sing I was immediately connected to a whole bunch of things and Lisbon became symbolic of the greatest place on earth."
Though born in Mozambique, as a child Mariza sang in her father’s Lisbon fado taverna. She told the BBC, “Half of me is very, very Portuguese and the other half is very, very African.” Her African roots and emerging Brazilian sensibility subtly demonstrate to the outside world Portugal’s longstanding ties to other Portuguese-speaking lands. Her new recording of that enchanted evening, an opportunity for the outside world to see just how well-loved the multi-Platinum star is in her hometown, has her literally standing on the edge of Lisbon singing over the ocean for the rest of the world to hear.
“Having the river and the Tower, the place where the boats left to make their discoveries in the 16th Century… going to India and Africa… Being in that place, singing fado was very emblematic that night,” says Mariza. “Even if I didn’t want to think about it, the sea was so near, and all these things came to mind that night. I never thought a girl with roots in Africa would have all that!”
When Mariza recorded Transparente, her last studio album (also on Times Square Records), she recruited Brazilian Jaques Morelenbaum to help her create the sonority she wanted. “He gave me a more velvet, more intimate, more romantic sound,” Mariza dreamily recalls. When Lisbon’s mayor invited Mariza to perform for Lisbon in this way, she brought Morelenbaum in once again for the arrangements and conducting duties. The results—combining songs from all three of her prior albums with the new sonority—show Mariza at a new peak in her career. And her musical development is paralleled by a growing fan base.
“I was not expecting so many different ages, from a younger generation, to grandmothers with grandchildren. There were traditional people from my neighborhood and people coming from the north and the south, even from Spain!” exclaims Mariza. “When I saw the images, showing my Lisbon people, and not only people from Lisbon, but a very eclectic audience, all clapping and singing along, I realized what a beautiful night it was. It was not a typical fado audience. I was so surprised. I loved it.”
Maybe the audience is responding because of Mariza’s own responsiveness to the world around her. “We recorded the Transparente album in Brazil,” explains Mariza. “I am looking for fado from a different perspective, because I now travel a lot. One month I am at the Sidney Opera House, another month I am in China or Thailand. I am starting to find that this music that belongs to Lisbon, to Portuguese people, is starting to feel more and more universal. It speaks about universal feelings. Each country interprets it in its own way. We are crossing cultural lines now. And I feel so proud about it.”
Outside interest in Mariza abounds, from her recent sell-out concert at the 6,000-seat Royal Albert Hall in London, to her BBC World Music Award, and, more recently, being picked by Germany’s “100 most important women in Europe.” She performed a duet with Sting for the Athens Olympics album, and became a UNICEF Ambassador. All of this stands as a strong foundation for a huge year she is about to have in America and worldwide.
Mariza performed in a few select North American cities in March, around the time of the CD/DVD release and returned for a two-week July tour with orchestras in major North American cities. After having performed at the Hollywood Bowl with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri last summer, Mariza takes the symphonic show on the road.
“Sometimes when you talk about classical music, people have a cold approach and they get a little bit distant,” Mariza says. “But with John Mauceri, it was amazing. He had a very, very special way of treating the music. Always explaining it to the audience and saying funny things. It was unbelievable! I learned from him that even if you have a light approach, it doesn’t mean you are not respecting the music.”
Mariza has also been getting her feet wet in the film world. The BBC recently released a documentary titled Mariza and the Story of Fado, compellingly profiling both the artist and the genre. There will be a special limited edition version of the Concerto em Lisboa album that includes the full BBC documentary. And this month Mariza has been playing the lead role in a new film called Fado by Carlos Saura, whose past works include the Oscar-nominated Tango and Flamenco, giving fans a chance to see her in an acting role.
The year 2007 is set to be a big one for Mariza. Starting with the release of her live CD and DVD, she will capture the hearts of more American fans. Like a musical sailor launching from the shores of Lisbon, surrounded by legions of Portuguese fans, and buoyed by her country’s longstanding tradition of discovery and exploration, Mariza looks forward while looking back, creating a new form of fado, while respecting what came before.