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World Music CD Reviews Europe

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Times Square

By Marty Lipp

Published July 27, 2006

When it comes to strictly adhering to the traditions of Portuguese fado, Mariza respectfully declines. While she has remained faithful to her first musical love (she has been singing fados since she was five), she has done it her own way, embellishing fado while staying true to its heart and soul.

On her latest, the Mozambique-born singer has not “gone electric,” done any house remixes or dipped into fusion, but she has tinkered lightly with the aesthetics of the tradition, partnering with Brazilian cellist and producer Jacques Morelenbaum and a team of Brazilian musicians.

Mariza has called this, her third album, a “turn of the page” because she now feels at ease with her own instincts and creative judgment calls. While she will probably always be hounded by the flattering, but ultimately besides-the-point comparisons to fado queen Amália Rodrigues, Mariza now has the economic and psychological freedom to just be herself. The title cut hints at her emancipation—she is no longer hiding, but “transparent.”

The title song is about a woman who is Portuguese, but has a black grandmother from Africa, which is Mariza’s case. “My black grandmother knew/How to read destinies/In the palm of each glance/Whether life wants it or not/Said god to the enchantress/I was born to sing.” Mariza, in fact, felt such a kinship to the song that she renamed it “Transparente” to better express her goal with the album: to open herself and connect with listeners more directly.

Although the song list here is exclusively new and old fados, Morelenbaum’s signature subtle orchestrations makes the tunes simultaneously of and above the genre. Like his chosen instrument, the cello, Morelenbaum has a sound that is soulful and elegant, one that comfortably inhabits the mellow middle of the orchestral sound spectrum.

The album opens with “Ha uma musica do Povo (There’s a song of the people),” which, like many of the songs, is about fado itself. The lyrics speak about how expressing emotions through song, as Mariza does, can bring one forth into life. “Somehow I sing/And end up with a feeling.”

On the next tune, “Meu Fado (My Own Fado),” Morelenbaum’s subtle orchestrations ease into the picture, an ethereal counterpoint to Mariza’s big, front-and-center voice. Morelenbaum himself opens the fourth cut, “Quendo me sinto so (When I feel alone),” with a quiet, but richly textured cello solo, then bows out to voice and guitar, which are accented by a few daubs of strings.

Mariza salutes Rodrigues herself with the dark-themed “Medo (Fear),” about solitude and the fundamental fears we keep to ourselves. “And soon because I am cradled/In the to and fro of solitude/It speaks in the silence,/Like the cracking of furniture.”

In contrast to the more dramatic moments on the album, Mariza sings the quieter ballad, “Ha palavras que nos beijam (There are words that kiss us),” which anthropomorphizes words and how they can channel deep-seated emotions. “There are words that kiss us/as if they had mouths/words of love, of hope....naked words that you kiss/when the night loses its face./Words that are refused/at the walls of your sorrow.”

One tune that lightens the mood has hints of a Brazilian pedigree: “Fado Português de nos,” which ironically personifies fado. “Born from being Portuguese/Making its way through the world/It came from a dream, a vagabond....It sometimes lets out a lament/and asks to be found/It is cherished, it is loved/The fado.” The tune bounces along on the whistling bellows of Agostinho Silva’s squeezebox, with a distinct flavor of northeastern Brazil.

While there have been a half-dozen young singers all distinguishing themselves in the newly resurgent field of fado, Mariza’s latest puts her at the head of the pack. Transparente is simultaneously a celebration of fado in all its nuances, but also proof that it can stand next to any of world’s<

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