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Music with international appeal

Maria Smith | Thursday, October 14, 2004

It is perhaps a curse of opera singers and international musicians alike to be singing constantly for people who do not understand a word they are saying. Much of the meaning of a performance is obviously lost when the words are incomprehensible.On the other hand, a language barrier can be a blessing for some performers. Attention taken away from lyrics is refocused on stage presence and on the details of the actual music.At Wednesday night’s performance Mariza and her musicians gave the audience plenty to focus on besides words. Fado is a beautiful style of music, and whatever was lost with the words, plenty was left in the Portuguese singer’s voice and interpretation.A good performer has to be able to convey emotion to an audience, and this becomes especially important for a musician performing in a language their audience does not understand. Mariza portrayed an emotion in her music that might even have been lost had the particulars of what caused it been known.At one point Mariza sang a fado set with a text by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who lived from 1888 to 1935. This was beautifully set, but probably lost the most for non-Portuguese speaking audience members.Mariza is rightly famous for her voice, but her presence on stage was vital. The contrast between her short peroxided hair and colorfully feminine dresses seemed appropriate for a kind of music in which personal interpretation is so important. When the singer reflected on stage about the feeling of singing fado and the way her own life had changed since she began making a living through music, it was hard not to wonder what the life on and off the stage was actually like.Mariza performed in the Decio Mainstage Theater instead of the Leighton Concert Hall, which is usually used for musical performances. The venue allowed for dramatic lighting as well as a more decorative stage setup that suited the music well.The performance by guitarist Antonio Neto, Portuguese guitarist Luis Gerreiro and bassist Laurindo de Sousa was beautiful in its own right. The three worked well with each other and with the singer to bring the haunting and highly rhythmic melodies together.At times during the performance Mariza narrated scenes of beaches and Lisbon cafes. Microphones do not always suit guitars as well as fully acoustic performances, and it was easy to imagine that the music, like many forms of urban music, might sound better in a more natural setting than a concert hall.Still, the concert gave a sense of a style of music that is wonderful and not often heard in the United States. People with an adventurous taste in music might try picking up a CD and getting their own sense for what the national music of Portugal is all about.