Mariza marvels Ferst Center

Portuguese pop phenomenon Mariza performed at the Ferst Center last Sunday. Along with five other well-known artists, she brought the Portuguese sound of fado to Atlanta.

Mariza comes from a multi-ethnic background. Born in Portuguese-administrated Mozambique, she is the child of a half-German, half-Portuguese father and a native African mother. When she was three, she moved back to Portugal with her family, who set up a tavern in the traditional quarters of Lisbon.

Performing over a dozen songs for a two hour show, Mariza’s energy was unparalleled. Even those who did not understand a word of Portuguese found a way to enjoy her resilient voice and her established stage presence.

Wearing a beautiful black gown, which did not stop her from dancing, culture and class were both apparent as she led her band, shaking her hips.

Her band included three sets of strings, a drummer and a pianist/trumpeter. Angelo Fereire played Portuguese guitar, a small guitar with a lighter and higher pitch. Diogo Clemente was on acoustic guitar, usually playing rhythms throughout the show. Marino DeFreitas played acoustic bass and also provided a humorous touch by interacting with Mariza.

Englishman Simon James accompanied by both piano and trumpets, while the drummer, simply known as Vicky, played with a series of different types of sticks, as well as his hands.

Highlights of the show included Mariza’s “Rosa Branca” and “Ó Gente Da Minha Terra.” The former song is on her new album, Terra, which was also sold at the show.

Other key moments of the show were the intermittent instrumentalist showdowns. Diogo, Angelo and Marino all provided a wonderful tangent of the traditional fado sound, and ended by continually increasing the tempo of the song until it was barely playable. Nonetheless, their talent was impressive.

Vicky’s two drum solos were almost exhausting because of their intensity. With an array of drums of various cultures, Vicky switched between different sticks and his hands to show off his pure skill. Not unlike Rush’s Neil Peart, Vicky had audience members at the edge of their seats.

While Mariza’s booming voice carried the audience into a confident but ambient mood, her expression and conviction helped listeners understand the meaning of her words. Her commentary of the songs and their history and importance also gave non-Portuguese speakers a greater understanding of the fado sound.

Most of her songs were about identity and saudade, which means longing or yearning. As a maritime environment, many husbands used to leave for weeks or even months to go fish and bring food back home to their wives and families.

As such, Portuguese women wrote poetry and created songs from those poems. The melancholy sound is intrinsic to the music, and Mariza did an excellent job keeping the audience’s attention while delivering such a somber sound.

She ended the show by first covering the Arthur Fitzgerald “Cry Me a River,” using her beautiful, silky voice. Then, she left her mike and sang as Diogo and Angelo leaned with one leg forward on a chair in the center of the stage. This last piece was a direct adaptation of the performance variation of fado in its most pure form.

Many Portuguese-speaking audience members enjoyed her frequent soliloquies, where she discussed the finer points of their culture and the music. She also taught the non-Portuguese speakers a few Portuguese words, interacting with the audience almost informally.

By connecting with the audience and switching around various styles, especially towards the end, it felt as if though the audience was part of her father’s tavern in Lisbon, seeing her performing live and singing songs of longing as is the custom with much of fado.

Just like her songs about yearning, the end of the concert left the audience spoiled and wanting more of her brilliant music.