Music & Words | Cristina Branco

Cristina Branco
Suffering, melancholy and impotence in the face of fate are the tragic emotions that people expect when listening to traditional fado music. The long tradition of the fado has brought forth several fixed formulas to express these feelings. Their faithful repetition does, however, wear down this wealth of expression and flatten emotions, eclipsing the singers' lyrics.

Cristina Branco has chosen a different path. She has not sought a naive break with tradition but, in preserving the best of it (just listen to some of the classics she sings), she uses her authentic interpretation to breathe new life into the fado tradition. With her beautiful voice and sensitive rendition, she aims to merge the lyrics with the fado music, to make someone experiencing them hear them as inseparable.

Cristina Branco (1972) grew up far from the fado houses of Lisbon and nothing suggested that she was predestined for the fado. Like almost all young Portuguese born after the revolution of 1974, she was interested in folk music, jazz, blues, bossa nova but not in fado. She regarded it as a genre for a different generation. This lasted until her 18th birthday, when her grandfather gave her the album Rara e Inédita by Amália Rodrigues. Suddenly, Cristina Branco discovered all the emotions that the genre could offer in the close connections that arose among voice, poetry and music. The amateur singer - then studying communication sciences and still full of her ambition to become a journalist - began to develop her vocal technique and to take her new vocation seriously.

Halfway through the nineties, other young musicians also found a new means of expression in the fado and this contributed to a surprising renaissance. Just as they did, Branco began to make clear choices in which respect for the tradition went hand in hand with the desire for renewal.

Cristina Branco's art is not easily distinguished from that of Custódio Castelo, her most valued composer and her accompanist on the Portuguese guitar. Castelo has succeeded in the challenge of combining the originality of his music with the tonality and trills of Branco's voice. His melodies bear the memory of the fado but they go further; they are not limited by the well-known spinning out of generalities around the word saudade. His music can be sad and fatalistic, but it can also be happy and light-hearted. The subtlety of his approach to the fado lies precisely in this delicate balancing of the atmospheric impact.

There can be no doubt that Cristina Branco is developing her own style from a number of primary components. She employs a traditional group (voice, Portuguese guitar, guitar and bass guitar) and offers us concurrently a light, warm and experienced voice; she mixes the traditional fado with themes and folk songs that are personal favourites and seems always to choose the words of the best Portuguese poets with discretion
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