Mariza | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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When singer Amalia Rodrigues was alive, she was practically synonymous with fado--a gorgeous, bittersweet Portuguese song form that's roughly analogous to the American blues. Even though she rarely performed during the last years of her life, it was as though her presence alone frightened away potential heirs to her mantle. Since her death in 1999, a number of important female singers have emerged, but fado fans are a conservative bunch, and every one of these women has at some point been compared unfavorably to Rodrigues: Misia, who's broken with the legend's traditional approach, is considered irreverent; others who've stuck to convention have been dismissed as imitators. The latest contender is Mariza, a 26-year-old born in Mozambique but raised in Lisbon from the age of three. She's a traditionalist, but she's blessed with enough personality and skill that she hasn't been branded an Amalia wannabe yet. She grew up singing the music, but turned her back on the style as a teenager, thinking it old-fashioned. She concentrated on jazz, soul, and Brazilian styles, but while performing in Brazil, where fado has had a profound influence, she reconnected with it. In 2000 she was named the best voice in fado by Portugal's national radio station, Central FM, and this week her first U.S. album, Fado em mim (Times Square/World Connection), was released. The album consists of six classics and six new compositions, and on old and new alike, a dense lattice of Portuguese and Spanish guitars supports her vocals, although here and there the songs are lightly limned by piano, cello, and hand percussion. Her voice is lighter and less dramatic than Rodrigues's, and her accents owe more to contemporary pop, but her place in fado's rich lineage is undeniable. Chicagoans don't get many chances to hear the real deal--Misia, the last important fado singer to come to town, played here in 2000. Saturday, April 13, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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