Monday, May 16, 2005

Music to my ears

My musical weekend began with a trip to Oxford to see Canadian "gay messiah" Rufus Wainwright perform at the New Theatre. Usually I love Wainwright's grandiose and melodramatic warblings, but in Oxford on Friday the sound was so appalling that Rufus' adenoidal drawl ricocheted painfully around my skull and the instruments blurred into a single, flat noise. Sack the soundman, I say.

The monotony was only relieved in the last 15 minutes, when the very cute Rufus exchanged his respectable shirt and suit for a buttless sequined thong, lipstick red stilettoes and blue stockings as Miss Oxford.

But even this frivolity couldn't beat the real highlight of my night, when I returned with my friend to her house in Summertown and she made us chocolate fondue with organic strawberries (at last, strawberries that taste of my childhood rather than of water). Scrumptious.

On Saturday, we enjoyed a moorish stew of smoked sausage, black beans and rice, followed by a gooey carrot and orange cake at the wonderful Brazilian-Portuguese restaurant and bar Canela in Covent Garden. Then we crossed the river to hear fadista Mariza sing her soulful brand of Portuguese fado at the Royal Festival Hall.

Fado ("fate") perhaps developed out of the Portuguese presence in Brazil during the 19th century, as a blend of African slave rhythms, traditional music of Portuguese sailors and Arabic influences. Linked to the word saudade and embodying nostalgia, longing, sorrow, loss, love and happiness, this mournful music typically features lyrics such as, "Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you're not there." The Portuguese Blues, indeed.

29 year old Mariza is often billed as the current crown princess of fado, which is the main reason I wanted to experience her melancholia live. Born in Mozambique and of mixed parentage, she grew up in a traditional neighbourhood of Lisbon, surrepticiously listening to the amateur fadistas who sang weekly in the smoky, dark confines of her parents' cafe. She herself began singing at 5 years old.

On Saturday, she swayed across the stage in a long and black diaphanous dress, wrapped in a traditional black shawl, with her trademark helmet of bleached, cropped hair glowing out of the dark. Flanked by musicians -- also swathed in black -- playing violin, cello, Spanish guitar, Portuguese guitar, acoustic bass and an adufe drum, she sang with the strength of a woman twice her age. She doesn't quite have the depth, range and passion of a diva such as the Cape Verdean Cesaria Evora, but she is very close.

A wonderful performance that had me swinging between elation and sorrow all evening.

Related link:

+ Fado figures. Mariza and Portugal's other female fadistas.

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