“O Fado nasceu um dia/ quando o vento mal bulia . . . ” José Régio’s words sketch out the legend of the genre: fado born on a day when the wind barely stirred, the sea mirroring the sky, a sailor singing sadly of longing for his homeland, for his mother, for his lover.
For more than two centuries, this national music of Portugal has crystallised nostalgia, loneliness and regret in the singing of, mostly, women; none more celebrated than Amália Rodrigues. Equally, for more than two centuries, the decline of fado has been lamented by purists who insist that any deviation from the standard template is a sacrilegious dilution. Even Rodrigues was not immune: eyebrows were raised at her use of orchestral backings, at her setting of classical poetry, at her Spanish inflections, at her collaboration with the songwriter Alain Oulman, who had French-Jewish roots.
Mariza has also irked fado’s more nationalist fans: she was born in the Mozambique capital of Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), although she came to Lisbon at the age of three and put in the long hours singing in bars; she has brought influences from African and Brazilian music. All this has freshened up a genre once so insular and national that it came to be identified with the Salazar regime (although the dictator despised it) and had grown stale by the time Rodrigues died in 1999. Mariza returned fado to the world stage, with massive international concerts. This new album celebrates both 20 years of her own recording career and 100 years since the birth of Rodrigues: it is her first album composed entirely of songs associated with the older diva.
They play with notions of destiny. “With what voice,” Mariza demands as the album opens, to mournful cello, “am I to lament my sad fate?” The words are those of the 16th-century playwright and poet Luís de Camões (his worldview that of a fadista avant la lettre), but they resonate with the narrator’s complaint in “Foi Deus” that God is responsible for the woes that have made her sing fado. Jaques Morelenbaum, who produced the album, adds lush orchestration that echoes the original recordings; accordion and piano are to the fore, never overshadowing Mariza’s rich vocals. She closes with that sailor in his boat, longing and yearning.
‘Mariza Canta Amália’ is released by Parlophone/Warner Music