fall arts preview

Portuguese star finds new level of instrospection

 Fado singer Mariza.
Carlos Ramos
Fado singer Mariza.

The hype feels far away now to Mariza.

Once anointed the symbol of the revival of fado, the melancholy Portuguese song form, and the genre’s sales leader since the 1999 death of its icon Amália Rodrigues, the Lisbon singer with the tall, glamorous presence and dramatic flair has scaled back across the board.

Gone is the grueling tour schedule of up to 140 concerts per year around the world. Mariza now prefers small venues, or staying at home. Her new album, “Mundo,” released last fall in Europe and this week in the United States, is her first in five years. When she performs in Boston, on Oct. 14 at the Berklee Performance Center, it will be her first visit since 2009. (The tour includes two other stops in the region, in Amherst on Oct. 20 and New Bedford on Oct. 22.)


“A lot of things have changed in my life and made me have a very different perspective,” Mariza, 42, says by phone from Portugal. Unprompted, she cuts straight to the core of it: “I became a mother, and when my son was born, he almost died. We had a lot of problems and difficulties. I’ve come to realize that life is much more simple. Love is amazing. And humans are the most beautiful construction ever made.”

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

This intimate information goes some way to account for the grace and feeling that pervade “Mundo” – not least the near-whispered lullaby for her now-healthy son Martin, “Meu Amor Pequenino,” that closes the album. But there’s more to it than just that.

Part is the repertoire, with its mix of classic songbook (“Rio de Mágoa,” by Rosa Lobato Faria; “Adeus,” by Cabral do Nascimento) and fresh compositions by current songwriters. Part is the impeccable production by Spain’s Javier Limón. And there’s a confidence to “Mundo” that suggests fado’s revival has found a new phase, leaving behind the battles over tradition and crossover, in favor of organic growth.

Indeed, “Mundo” finds Mariza treading new creative ground. She sings one song in Spanish – “Alma,” written by Limón. She interprets a tango from the 1930s (“Caprichosa”) and a Cape Verdean morna (“Padoce de Céu Azul”). And notably, she allows a touch of electronic effects, the result of working hands-on alongside her producer in the studio.

“I did something I had never done before: I went to the mixing,” she says, “being in the studio, and understanding how it works.” One result, for instance, is the orthodoxy-defying choral overdub effect that layers her voice on “Saudade Solta,” a new song by Pedro da Silva Martins of popular “neo-fado” group Deolinda.


“Javier suggested a chorus, and I was like, no way, fado doesn’t have that,” Mariza says. “But then I thought, why not? And listening to it, I thought, this is fantastic. I’m recording this, and it’s me.”

In the fado tradition, a singer of substance attracts the attention of top lyricists, who pen songs specifically for him or her. Mariza enjoys influence across the Portuguese music scene. One song, “Melhor de Mim,” was written by A.C. Firmino, himself a rapper; another, “Sem Ti,” is by Miguel Gameiro, from the rock band Pólo Norte.

“My friends will say, ‘I wrote a song for you,’” Mariza says. “They come to my house. I don’t play any instrument, but I bought a piano. They appear in my house, and they show me the song on the piano and they say, ‘I did this for you.’ That is really special. That is love. I love that I am singing a song that was made for me.”

These days, fado seems in good hands. Where a decade ago it was finding its way back to fashion in its own country, let alone the world, it now boasts a new pantheon – Mariza; the cool, jazzy Cristina Branco; the veteran Misia, with her Goth-punk edge; the pop-friendly Ana Moura, who once played with Prince – and global popularity. Tourists flock to the fado houses of Alfama, in Lisbon. A fresh new crop of artists is rising.

“It’s an international market now,” Mariza says. “And here in Portugal, there’s a new generation that wants to study and understand fado, and they’re unbelievably good. Sixteen or 17 years ago, nobody in the record industry here wanted to make fado. Now there’s no type of record label that doesn’t want to have a fado singer.”


As the burden of carrying the music has eased, and in tandem with her focus on home life, Mariza finds herself entering a new phase as a performer.

‘A lot of things have changed in my life and made me have a very different perspective.’

“I just want to do good concerts, and not in big arenas,” she says. “I want to make my music approachable, as close as possible to the people.”


At Berklee Performance Center, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $30 to $69. 617-876-4275,

Siddhartha Mitter can be reached at