Mariza, the budding Portuguese superstar, was in a talkative mood Wednesday night. The tall and stunning fado singer not only expressed appreciation in her remarks, she took a rapt audience deep into her childhood spent listening to traditional Portuguese songs in her father’s tavern and absorbing the culture of her African mother and grandmother. It made her breathtaking singing that much more special.
Singing in a traditional style that has few reference points for most U.S. listeners, Mariza pulls in listeners through her far-reaching soprano and generally supple accompaniment of guitars and a string quartet. Fado is a mournful song style that she has enhanced with gentle rhythms from Mozambique, the south of Portugal and, perhaps, a smidgen of Brazil. Mariza’s music is connecting with global auds: Her latest disc, “Transparente” (Times Square Records), became the first fado album to debut at No. 1 on the Portuguese album chart.
Love songs make up most of her material, and she sings them dramatically with lifted arms, a shake of the hips or a distant look. She does not bring out the dusty darkness that ruled the music of Amalia Rodrigues, and she rarely misses an opportunity to let in fresh air or sunlight. When she works within fado‘s traditional boundaries, she marches; left on her own, her music skips and hops.
UCLA show was the penultimate concert of a 15-date North American tour that she’ll follow up with an international trek that takes her through April. This was her fourth time in L.A., and like other international stars who have found a devoted audience here — Cesaria Evora, Femi Kuti — she proves her merit beyond the novelty of newness. There’s true, grounded art here, and while other fado singers may possess superior voices, Mariza is the one capable of spreading its gospel.