Well before start time the crowd starts to gather.
Endless preparations are underway on the open stage. Chairs are placed at intervals to form a shallow arc. Mikes are set up,
each at a measured distance from the chairs. In front of each seat an instrument rests. All is unhurried, meticulous. Setting up takes a long time.
When everything has been perfected, the lights go down and Lucky Oceans appears on the stage. As usual, his familiar full-bodied voice is soaked with affection and respect for the music he describes. He introduces us to “Fado”, the Portuguese style of sung lament: “Like the blues, like tango, Fado sings of sorrow. But unlike those others, Fado’s grief is absolute, irretrievable. The Fado singer laments a loss that cannot be redeemed.”
With a few laudatory remarks about Mariza, Oceans recedes, the instrumentalists take their seats and Mariza appears. Immediately arresting, she is slim and very tall, in her long black dress, a manifestation. In stationary moments she is a silhouette, a sculpture shaped like a tall letter “A”. Olive Oyl in a ball gown.
Mariza takes the mike, takes in the endless vista of expectant faces, and booms: “Good evening!”
The audience returns the greeting.
Mariza shakes her head, dissatisfied, and bawls again: “Good Evening”.
We try harder this time, creating a decent roar in reply.
But the diva shakes her head in theatrical disappointment, decides to give us one more chance, and cries out her challenge once again.
This time our reply is thunder and she deigns to accept the greeting
of her clients.
She looks down, looks heavenward, and gives voice, plunging into a full-throated lamentation that is at once black and bloody, a cry that sweeps across octaves, rising, roaring its implacable grief. Now the sound slows as a phrase is articulated, the voice a churchbell, tolling out sorrow, syllable by syllable. The bellowing voice descends to a sob, a note is held, then falls, and abruptly the song stops.
Mariza faces us, her left arm flung upward and backward, arrested in its flight of pain.
And instantly feel a little foolish… and delighted, and relieved of a growing tension, for Mariza has resumed her broken note and her song shakes and throbs again into swooping flight.
Minutes pass and we hundreds seated in the dark on the grass are transfixed as Mariza roams the breadth and sounds the depths of human griefs. She wails, roars, moans, gulps; then subsides, seemingly faint with the wrenching pangs of her song. In every phase and with every phrase, Mariza’s long left arm dances in waving spasms above her sinuous body. Mariza is a choreography of fado.
While she sings, no eye can be drawn from Mariza. We have spent but three minutes in her company and we are utterly captive, witnesses to a witness of compelling human woe.
It is only later that we register the contribution of her instrumentalists, the beauty and the felicity of their work. We note their playing at the command of the imperious Mariza who leads our gaze first to the violinist by dancing towards him as she sings. Presently the stage lights focus upon the two alone as fiddle and voice create an unforgettable duet. Dancing, Mariza advances, the violinist rises, and – still bowing his instrument – dances with the singer. The tempo and the pitch of their music rise faster and higher. Now Mariza sits, swaying in her seat before the violinist, who sits and sways and plays, until Maritza falls silent. Now the cadenza gathers speed, the sound becomes an hysterical wail, then an inhuman sobbing, finally a scream.
And once again, Mariza resumes her fado, and we note the cello, the percussion and the three guitars (one a round bellied Portuguese, one acoustic, the third a base), as the ensemble brings the song to its finale.
“That”, announces Mariza, “Is fado. And fado is Portuguese for fate.”
And that, we realize is high art. And the uttermost wrench of human feeling.