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Mariza: Fado in the 21st Century

 On Tuesday 19 Portuguese sensation Mariza gave an unforgettable performance at the Cairo Opera House, the first show of her new world tour. The curtains opened with the band members in place, Mariza came out on stage and from that moment on the sold out audience was hypnotized.

The opener was a powerful yet sorrowful tune and the guitarrada (Portuguese guitar) masterfully provided the unmistakable sound inseparable from fado. Mariza has taken the world by storm, familiarizing her audiences with an old Portuguese genre sang in tavernas for centuries. "Fado means fate or destiny," she says on stage, "We [Portuguese] are a little bit melancholic, but it’s a sweet melancholy."

Fado is a concoction of influences ranging from African percussion to Brazilian rhythms and Arabic melodies. These songs of anguish and torment are often about the life of the poor or the sea, like her song “Vozes do Mar”(Voices of the Sea). Mariza explains that her songs relate to many themes in her life, from her childhood to traveling the world.

On Tuesday night, she came to Cairo to promote her latest album “Terra” (Land). The 2008 album was produced by Javier Limón, a Grammy-nominated Spanish flamenco guitarist and producer known for his work with Paco de Lucia, Bebo & Cigala, and Buika. As with many of her live performances, she engages the audience with a quick explanation of the title. “For eight years I have traveled the world and I make music with friends, by friends,” she explains. “The music was for the people of my land, but now I understand that the sadness I bring, I give to you. I sing for the people of my land, Portugal, but now I realize that the people of my land is all of you who wish to learn of my country and culture.

The mesmerizing beats of the drummer El Piraña along with the Portugese, acoustic, and bass guitars filled the hall with dramatic surges of emotion. The piano and occasional trumpet complimented these instruments to produce a sound that turned upbeat and energetic at times with songs like “Rosa Branca” (White Rose), while Mariza danced to the rhythm subtly. Her rendition of Amália Rodrigues’s “O Gente da Minha Terra” (Oh People of My Land) featured her famous long-winded voice soaring over the magnificent music of the string instrument ensemble.

Despite the night’s melancholic theme, Mariza knew how to provide a balance with her beautiful smile and light hearted speeches, which elicited chuckles from the audience. She has successfully revived fado with her experimentation in singing these time-honored songs. Incorporating flamenco, jazz, and a few Cuban elements into the music, she has brought fado to a global audience of all ages. In doing so, she has launched herself onto the world music scene as a great diva comparable to Edith Piaf and Amália Rodrigues, also known as the Queen of Fado.

Although most of her time was spent in Portugal, Mariza has not forgotten her roots. She was born in Mozambique and lived there till the age of three. “My father was a typical Portuguese man, and my mother was from Africa,” she explains. Her family moved to Mouraria, the old Moorish district of Lisbon. Her infatuation with fado led her to learn the passionate art at her father’s taverna. She first learnt the songs through cartoon depictions since she was still too young to read the lyrics.

Since her recording debut in 2001, she has accumulated numerous awards, including Most Outstanding Performance at the Quebec Summer Festival the following year. She has been elected to become a Portuguese National Ambassador for UNICEF and their mission to promote and defend children’s rights. The Kingdom of Denmark chose Mariza as one of the international ambassadors for the work and the spirit of Hans Christian Andersen. She has topped the charts in Finland and was crowned Best European Artist by BBC Radio 3 in 2005 and 2006.

At the end of the concert she spoke of the difference between singing in a taverna and a concert hall, pointing to the microphone. As in many of her performances, she set aside the microphone and gave the listeners a taste of how the music sounded in times past. She sang a phenomenal nostalgic piece with two guitarists by her side who joined in with their deep voices as Mariza stepped into the shadows, giving them a chance to shine. The audience was gripped in silence as they eagerly anticipated the climactic finale, and then erupted into applause and gave her a standing ovation, displaying their admiration and gratitude for such a majestic night.

When Mariza finished the encore segment, she explained that she had a choice of several locations to start her world tour, and with such as a warm reception, she knew she had made the right choice. Although she apologized for not knowing the language, she offered a final “shukran” before ending the show festively by having the audience stand up and dance, with many in the crowd shouting “obrigados”. Obrigados indeed Mariza, you are welcome in Cairo anytime.

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