Adjust font size:
The Scene meets fado singer Mariza to hear about Portugal's rich musical history and hear how Lisbon has inspires her work.
The Scene: Tell us a bit about fado for those who don't know what it is.
Mariza: The word fado means destiny, it means fate. Fado is a music that come from the traditional neighborhoods where the working classes settled down centuries ago, like the Alfama in Lisbon. They were the ones who started singing in the beginning. Fado happened in the taverna, with wine and people sitting around tables just singing. Fado players weren't professional; they had other jobs -- a plumber, a taxi driver or something like that. But they knew how to play the Portuguese guitar and they knew another person who knew how to sing it. It's a non-professional thing. People are there just drinking a glass of red wine and suddenly someone starts singing. That's what we call free fado. The Portuguese guitar is very important because if you sing something melancholy it is like the guitar is almost crying but if you sing something happy the guitar comes alive and makes very up tempo rhythms so the guitar is the base to make fado music. If you sing fado only with an acoustic guitar it would just be another folk song. Each guitarist has his own technique because we have no schools. You learn from the traditions.
TS: How did fado become so popular?
M: We have about 200 traditional fados. Everybody could sing to the same music but each person chose their own poem. Everybody knows the traditional fados. If you look to a Portuguese guitar player and say Fado Mouraria he knows exactly what it is and he starts playing the tune. So fado started in the tavernas. But suddenly, in the 19th century, kings and counts started enjoying it. Fado started appearing in high society. The real thing was in the taverna but it was good because it showed that fado was not a minor music but a very rich music. At the end of the 19th century the poetry was one of the richest poetries, the most popular poetries in all of Europe. So it became part of the poetry of the Portuguese people.
TS: How did you start singing fado?
M: I grew up in a neighborhood like Alfama. I started listening when I was five years old when Fernando Mauricio -- in some way he was the king of the fado -- used to come to sing in my parents's taverna. He had a jazzy way of singing but he was such a traditional person. He never wanted to sing in a big theatre, on big stages, he never wanted to travel. For him, to make him happy, you just had to give him a taverna and some friends and he was happy to sing. It was the way he used to live his life. I try the whole time to listen to the old fado singers because we don't have schools or conservatoires. It is an oral tradition; we have to live on the streets, in the old neighborhoods. They don't explain anything to you. You just have to be there at the right time and you just have to listen. The message is passed on from the old singers to the younger generation.
TS: And fado became an important means of expression when Portugal was a dictatorship?
M: In that time we were living in a regime in which everything had to be disguised. Fado was important to that. People were singing in a kind of poetry that didn't reveal what they were trying to say but always had a second meaning. I heard a musician talking about hip-hop, saying that in some ways hip-hop was the CNN for black people. In a way I think fado was the CNN of that time for the working classes because it was the fadista who used to bring all the news and he was the one who used to open the people's eyes to what was happening in the country. In the beginning fado was about saying what is happening but later they started revealing the feelings and sentiments of the people that couldn't be expressed in an open way because we were living in that box.
TS: What do you like about Lisbon?
M: Some places have a magical thing. I've been to other places and I've always wanted to return to Lisbon. It's peaceful. I miss the food, I miss the light, the people, the peace. It's so beautiful, you don't feel like any other place you don't have a lot of stress. People live normally, they don't really bother me and they're very gentle. Sometimes I think I could live in another country, another city, but I always return to Lisbon.
TS: What inspires you in Lisbon?
M: The places where I can see other fado singers, where I don't feel an obligation to sing like at a concert, it's just for fun. And walking in the streets of Lisbon inspires me. It's inspiration all the time. It's like having a big painting and it's changing all the time because it has life, the light changes and suddenly you see a bird or you see an electric [tram] passing.
TS: What would be your advice to a tourist visiting Lisbon?
M: First, I would say to come with an open mind and visit the traditional neighborhoods. This is a very old city that is trying to become modern and that combination makes it a magical city. But don't expect to find a big, big city but a small city.
TS: Where do you go out in Lisbon?
M: If you are in the mood for seeing fado you could go to Clube de Fado. Or you could go to Tasca do Chico -- that's a little bit underground but very nice to see in Barrio Alto. Or you can go to Senhor Vinho where I actually started singing fado. If you are in the mood for seeing different bands you could go to Speakeasy and have a nice meal and see different bands playing, jazz, Brazilian music, or you could go to Tito Paris's Casa da Morna, where you could eat African food and hear some Cape Verdean music. It's very, very good and the place I usually go.