The 37-year-old fado singer of mixed Portuguese and Mozambican descent took the haunting beauty of the Lisbon working classes’ unique folk music and created an international phenomenon. Not familiar? Allow us to get you acquainted.
Frank Gehry makes her stage sets. ‘Frank loves Lisbon and has designed for me before. This time he has created a [Lisbon] taverna and we’re going to use it on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. It will be very intimate. I used to listen [to music] in my parents’ taverna when I was a child. My parents still live in the same neighbourhood, and I still go to a small taverna to sing, to listen, and to be near the people I like.’
She started singing fado when she was five years old. ‘I never decided. I never had a choice. It happened. I never had to book a lesson, I never had a teacher. For me, everything is very natural, very pure and it always was. I just go on stage, I close my eyes and I sing. I don’t know how it happens, but it’s like that.’
She really does suffer for her art. ‘My heart suffers a lot, and I feel an actual pain. But, at the same time, it’s good. I’m singing and I’m saying all the things I want to say, all the things I’m feeling, all my visions about life. It’s important to share because, when you don’t share, you start feeling like a stone – you know, you get cold and nothing makes sense. And I want to make sense. I want to share my emotions and I feel privileged to do it.’
She has no special preparations. ‘Nothing to drink, nothing. I just close my eyes and everything comes up. The pain, the smiles, the romantic things, the lust. It’s like exorcising the soul: you know, letting out feelings and feeling open again, feeling clean again.’
Fado is cathartic but not sad. ‘It is melancholic music. Sad is something dark but, when you’re melancholic, it’s a magical thing. It is emotional. All the fados I sing now are very emotional, because I only sing what I feel, what I feel inside my soul, inside my heart. If that doesn’t happen, I prefer not to sing.’
She makes no plans for her albums. ‘They just happen. I know I need to make a new album, because I start getting tired of the same concert and I have new emotions to explore. So, when I decide to do a new record, I don’t have anything specific in my mind. I talk with the producers, we go to the studio and suddenly things are happening and we have the material. I don’t know how to make music in that terrible way: mathematically. Actually, I’d love to know how to do it. Sometimes it’s easier.’
She is surprised that the world has taken to her version of fado. ‘Even if they don’t speak the same language as me, I feel that people understand when they come to my concerts, but sometimes it really is a surprise. They don’t know about my culture, sometimes they’ve never been in Portugal, but they feel connected with the music, and that makes me feel proud and happy at the same time. I don’t know if it’s a success. I don’t know exactly what it is. We have to ask the people at my concerts over the past 10 years what it is, but I do think they understand the message, even if we have different realities.’ Mariza’s latest album, Fado Tradicional, is available in stores now.