MISIA

"Ritual"

Erato The Portuguese song style known as fado takes its name from the Latin fatum, meaning fate or destiny, so it's hardly surprising that there's ineffable sadness as well as inherent drama to this formal, traditional music embracing both folk melancholy and classical formality. Spawned in the brothels and taverns of Lisbon 150 years ago, these were the songs of lonely sailors far from their homes and loved ones, and of weary prostitutes who tapped memories as well as wallets. These are sorrowful songs of longing -- what the Portuguese call saudade, what we might call the blues, songs of lost love, separation and solitude so poignantly etched that mere expression belies translation. When you listen to Misia, for example, you may not recognize a word she's singing, but you won't have any trouble connecting to the anguished emotions of songs like "Nao Guardo Saudade a Vida (I Don't Long for Life)," "Desespero (Despair)" and the unaccompanied "A Beira da Minha Rua (In the Nearness of My Street)."

Much of Misia's new album honors the late Queen of Fado, Amalia Rodrigues. A decade after she first recorded it, Misia readdresses Rodrigues's "Lagrima (Tear)," whose funereal pace has the texture of reluctant grief, and she closes the album with a lovely piano-scored "Vivendo Sem Mim (Living Without Me)." On the day of Rodrigues's death in 1999, poet Mario Claudio sent Misia several verses evoking her legacy; she eventually drafted Rodrigues's longtime guitarist and composer, Carlos Goncalves, to create "Xaile de Silencio (Shawl of Silence)," which conjured both the mystery of music and and the mastery of its great popularizer: "What a shawl of silence you left us/ What a strange way of living/ oh voice that burns in the shadow, thorn and stem/ handkerchief beckoning at each dusk."

It's not all dusk-drenched music -- "Formica (Ant)" and "Desespero" both have a turn-of-the-20th-century gait, and the trebly 12-string Portuguese guitar that gives Misia's music its distinct flavor sometimes sounds like a harpsichord or hammered dulcimer. But the music's power resides in Misia's guiltlessly dramatic vocals and her mesmerizing confessionals of the soul. Translation reveals these songs as poetry; performance confirms them as catharsis.

-- Richard Harrington

Appearing Sunday at Lisner Auditorium. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Misia, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8134. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

Misia's dramatic vocals are spellbinding.