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Mariza cozies up to Portuguese fado

October 21, 2005|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Most of the time, concerts are simply a way for performers to bring music to where their fans are. But on rare occasions, the best artists are able to transport listeners to other realms -- a different culture, a faraway place or the musician's own inner space.

At all these levels, Portuguese singer Mariza swept away her audience Wednesday night during an entrancing show at UCLA's Royce Hall. For two hours, the arresting vocalist demonstrated why she has emerged as one of the most acclaimed exponents of her country's emblematic music known as fado, a centuries-old style once scorned, like tango, as low class.

Though she carries herself aristocratically, her demeanor is hospitable and humorous. She has often said she likes to imagine she's performing for friends in her living room. Her chats between songs Wednesday (in sweetly accented English) were so gracious and good-natured that the ornate hall may as well have been her father's Lisbon tavern where, as a child, she heard and emulated the taxi drivers, butchers and fish peddlers who sang on fado weekends.

Today, Mariza is one of a wave of young Portuguese artists who are preserving while transforming the tradition. Though fado is often described as a sorrowful folk style, her multidimensional interpretations were at turns as feisty as the tango, tender as the bolero, rhythmic as the samba and joyful as a jaunty polka.

Even for those who didn't understand the words of the Portuguese songs -- many from her latest album, "Transparente" -- Mariza's marvelous voice clearly communicated the meaning, especially the melancholy, loss and loneliness. At times, even her silences and breathing conveyed such deep emotion that the hall became as hushed as a church. The suspenseful pauses were often followed by cathartic vocal explosions that demonstrated her stunning vocal range and control.

Mariza cuts a figure of slender elegance on stage, poised as a ballerina, chic as a high-fashion model with wavy platinum-blond hair and a long black dress with sheer sleeves sheathing her wonderfully expressive arms.

This is at least her third appearance in Los Angeles since 2002, when she played the Conga Room. Last year, she performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

All due respect, it's hard to imagine any venue could provide more resonant acoustics than did Royce Hall for Mariza's backup band, an accomplished seven-piece ensemble of strings and percussion, including the mandolin-like Portuguese guitar that gives fado its high and bright accents.

For an encore, she sang with no mike, backed by unamplified guitars and bass. Just like at her family's tavern.

Another modern fado singer, Dulce Pontes, comes to the same venue Nov. 5, also part of the UCLA Live concert series.

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