Mariza and the Fado Renaissance

After being pivotal in the recent Fado revival (the blues-like genre native to Lisbon) with her honest and impassioned interpretation, this Mozambique-born songstress dares to take the genre into a new direction by adding different instruments and influences on her new disc, Terra (World Connection).

Continuing her love affair with Brazil (two of her previous CDs were produced by Jacques Morelembaum of Jobim and Caetano Veloso fame), she welcomes pianist Ivan Lins, who performs on his jazz-inflected “As Guitarras” and also on the English-language bonus track “Smile,” where Mariza reveals a softer side that is hardly ever heard from fado singers.

We caught up with her last month in New York hotel as she prepared for her 90-day tour of North America – the most extensive ever in the history of Portuguese singers. As she sipped from a warm cup of coffee, she spoke (in Portuguese) about her expectations for the shows, the new disc and some humorous aspects of the process of recording her latest disc.

How is the tour going?
This is the first time that a Portuguese artist does such an extensive tour around the US and Canada, it is a little scary but it is also exciting – I will certainly miss home – three months is a long time to be away from family, friends and everything that my life is about, but I have the concerts, which feed the soul and the heart – and there's also this fantastic audience that I have encountered in North America, who has been very affectionate to the music I make

Is there any fundamental difference between the musical direction of Terra and your previous releases? You seem to have taken the melodies somewhere else this time around...
This has to do with the fact that I have been touring internationally for about eight years, and I have traveled all over the world – this has influenced me in a very positive manner – I saw different cultures, and felling different musicians, rhythms, songs, films, paintings, and all this affected me as a person, as a woman and as an artist. Though we preserved the basis of the music I have learned since I was a child, but at the same time we sought something based on what we've been hearing for the last 7 years. It would not have been truthful if I hadn't done so, because to make an album is sort of a selfish activity – at least on my part.
I always think about what I would like to hear if I were listening at home, or in the car? And I know what I want to hear, and that's what I do, and in the end the result is my own truth, so that is what this disc is – Terra (Earth) has its feet in Portugal while traveling around the world, with friends that participated in it. The name is Terra because the music is very organic – there is movement, the heartbeat of the [Portuguese] people, of a culture, a country, and this turns it into something with a movement that is not at all static.

What kind of music – outside of Fado – has inspired you over the years?
Everything – it's incredible, but I do listen to everything.

Anything special?
I love classical music, and I love the opera. But I am also able to listen to [Malian singer] Salif Keita, [Senegal's] Youssou N' Dour or Miriam Makeeba, with whom I was fortunate to sing with before she departed – it was a great dream of mine – Cesaria Evora, while I can also listen to Limp Bizkit, Tina Turner... the other day I was watching a YouTube clip of Tina Turner at the [2008] MTV Awards, I couldn't help but wonder how she – at her age – can have so much energy. I like to try a little of everything, Rufus Wainwright – I don't know, there is so much music – I listen to one thing more than another, but I like to listen to everything – Alicia Keys, Beyoncé... people might think that I don't listen to this kind of thing, but I do.

Would you like to record a pop album someday?
Not just yet – I like to do what I do, I love acoustic instruments, and I can't see myself doing something more electric – but it might happen as an experiment, but I do have a preference for an acoustic atmosphere created by guitar, piano, cello, violins, trumpets and percussion.

About the new record, how was the process of selecting the songs included on it?
[Sting guitarist] Dominic Miller wrote a song for me – he sent a melodic line on the guitar, and I didn't know what to do with it, because I usually have a different system. First I will locate a poem [note: many fado songs are based on existing poetry] and select a composer to write the music. After that I will decide if I am happy with the result, and we work together from there. With Dominic it was completely different – he just sent a melodic line and I had to invent a song to go with it. When we went to the studio, I was very nervous, because there were no lyrics or poem, and the only thing we had was a song I'd based on that melody. Dominic liked what he'd heard, but we still had no words, so my guitar player asked Dominic what he was thinking about when he wrote the piece, and he said 'the wind,” so we came up with the tune, which we named “The Soul of The Wind (“A Alma do Vento”).

And there was also [Brazilian singer-songwriter] Ivan Lins' participation, how did that happen?
I have always been a great fan of his work. I met him through some common friends, and we became fast friends after that. I am a very direct person, and once I got to know him, I said 'Ivan, I need to ask you for something, could you write a song for me?' and he said 'of course!” So a few months went by and I thought he had forgotten. He was in Lisbon during an European tour, and he called me and said, “I have a demo with a few tunes here, listen to them and choose what you'd like.” I was extremely happy, and went over to his hotel and thanked him for it. So this is the song he wrote, which is “As Guitarras” (The Guitars). But Ivan is the kind of guy that cannot keep quiet, he cannot see a piano around that he has to play – he is a true musician – he can't sit around and talk for too long, and that is why he is not allowed to drive, because he will be listening to music and will rear-end the car in front of him.

So there is no radio in his car?
No, he is completely forbidden to drive – he gets edgy if he drives without music, but then if he turns the radio on, he will get distracted and then will have an accident.

So, he was in the studio...?
So he was jamming around, and the tapes somehow kept rolling – so I said, “Ivan, do you know that song 'Smile'?” and he said “I've never played it, but let's give it a try.” So we started it in a playful manner, and I began singing in an impromptu manner, and when when we finished everyone was staring at us so seriously that I thought that we had done something really silly – like we'd broken a cable or something. And then someone said 'this song has to go on the album,' and I said 'Forget it, I can't speak English well enough to have a song on the record.' So the result appears only in the North American edition as a bonus track for our audiences here. This was a moment that happened – I later showed it to my friends, and no one could guess it was actually me singing.

What do you miss the most when you are away from home?
My own place – when you are going from hotel room to hotel room, it's not home. Every day you are packing your bags, leaving, getting on a plane, checking into another hotel... our own home might be simple as can be, it can be a shack on a mountain, but there are the smells you are familiar with, your own bed --- it might not be much, but it's yours.. that is what I miss the most.
Sat., March 28, 8 p.m., 2009
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