Mariza Blossoms From Her Portuguese Roots

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Fado, the soulful music of Portugal, has been likened to the blues, to tango, to flamenco, to the rebetika of Greece. And the similarities are valid, to the extent that each genre represents a music that has been transformed from the language of the streets into a rich, aesthetic expression.

In the case of fado, that expression is tinged with the inherently dramatic concept of saudade, usually described as a combination of longing, sadness and sorrow. All those qualities, and much more, are present in the voice of Mariza, a 26-year-old Portuguese singer who is rapidly emerging as one of the music’s bright new stars.

On Sunday at the Conga Room, accompanied by a traditional ensemble of Portuguese guitar, classical guitar and string bass, Mariza gave a stunning performance. Singing for a fervently enthusiastic audience, she presented a program ranging from such classic fado numbers as “Primavera” and “Senhor Vinho” to the newly composed (by guitarist Jorge Fernando ) “Oxalaa.”


Mariza did not hesitate to move past traditional styles. Rejecting the familiar black garb, she performed in a gown with a voluminous skirt of colorful, tapestry-like fabric. Enhancing her already great height with spike heels, she was an impressive sight, a long, slender figure with willowy arms and close-cropped blond hair cut in overlapping waves.

But it was the music that mattered the most. Mariza is a mature artist for someone still in her mid-20s, fully in command of a rich array of vocal timbres and a subtle sense of theatrical timing. Whether singing traditional numbers or new songs, she remained firmly in touch with the fado roots while spreading her own newly blossoming creative interpretations.