Fado is the “ultimate” expression of Portuguese music for Cristina Branco. Used to singing for foreign audiences, she says people do not need to understand the language to fall in love with the music, as fado is an expression of the Portuguese culture. In this side of the world, she says audiences are enthusiastic, falling often in love.

At Macao Cultural Centre, on March 12, part of The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival programme, the audience can expect a “unique” concert. In an interview with mART, she says she brings a bit of her path with Portuguese piano player and composer Mário Laginha, including some songs from the Brazilian artist Chico Buarque, and some new themes from her latest work.

By Luciana Leitão


Literature and fado are a vital combination?

For me, it’s vital. I cannot imagine singing without that. It doesn’t have to be poetry, but it needs to have a poetic character. I need to really like the words — these need to be beautiful, with an appropriate context.

What do you bring to this concert, at the Cultural Centre?

This concert is unique — I bring a special guest, which is [piano player and composer] Mário Laginha. In a way, this will be a bit of my history — and Mário is part of my musical path. Not only did he compose a few albums, but also he arranged my own songs for the orchestra.

Then, as a curiosity, the Óbidos International Literature Festival [in Portugal] invited me to do a concert with songs from Chico Buarque [Brazilian musician]; I was very happy with the invitation and I thought it would be the right thing to do with Mário Laginha. I prepared everything and that concert was in October 2015. We had several invitations later, because it was a very popular show, from São Luiz Theatre. There were five shows, but these had so many people coming that we had to organise more. And it would make sense to show a bit of that [in Macau].

We will have three traditional fado songs with the Portuguese guitar, without Mário Laginha. Then, we will perform six songs from Chico Buarque; the second part of the show will feature themes that Mário did for me or arranged for me. It is a unique concert. And we will bring songs from the new album — there is a theme from Mário [Laginha] that will be interpreted for the very first time in public, without orchestra. We’ve done it once before, with an orchestra, in Luxembourg.

You say this is a unique concert. Is it because Macau is a special place?

It is a special occasion. Macau usually is not on my path. There is a natural path that goes through theatres and world agenda and Macau is not included. Hong Kong is, but Macau not really. It is not a première, but it is not usual to come here. Then, this is a literary festival — it is not that common to sing in literary festivals; now, it is starting to get more common, because there are more literary festivals in Portugal and fortunately the music starts to be a part of these. Music also carries the word.

What kind of audience do you expect to see, at the Cultural Centre?

Comparing with the other literary festivals I know, I imagine there will be a more international audience, diversified. I remember on the other concert I gave in Macau [in 2009], there was some Chinese in the audience and a lot of foreigners — some Portuguese, of course, but not so many.

You are used to singing fado, which is something very traditional, for non-Portuguese audiences. For instance, in Hong Kong, would you say people understand it, considering the richness in language?

For them, it is exotic. People want to find and know more. I think they are in love with our culture and that’s what takes them to concerts, not the names [of the artists].

The Eastern audience is beyond loyal — when they fall in love they surrender, they want to learn the language, live for some time in the country to absorb the language, they follow the artist everywhere.

In the last decade, fado exploded. Is it sill booming?

It’s starting to decrease [the interest]. Now, people are coming for the names [of artists].

Is it changing again?

These are cycles. Fado exploded, like blues or salsa. Now, you have the names. After the foreign audience got to know fado, they wanted more. Fado has a limitation and we, singers and musicians, have to reinterpret it and look for other things.

Is there still room to reinterpret fado?

Fado is always the same, but you need to diversify. The concert cannot exclusively feature fado. We listened to that for ten years and now people want more. You [musician] need to evolve together with the societies.

You asked me before about the need to know the language. Fado is a concert of Portuguese culture — it is about us and what we have to give to people that do not understand the language. There is a presence and an attitude of being Portuguese, which is unique and ours, and people want to see that. There is a permanent mysticism on stage. The sound of the guitar is something very engaging.

You don’t need to understand the language to fall in love with fado?

At the end of the concert, they say ‘I didn’t understand a word, but I’m in love’. This happens to me constantly — it doesn’t have to be in places as far away as Macau.

What is fado’s secret?

It has to do with that energy when you are singing and playing. That energy involves everyone — fado is not written, of course you can have a musical sheet, but, naturally, it is not a written music, it is something that you feel at the moment.

Cristina Branco

Why did you choose fado?

It is the ultimate expression of our music. I started studying media, and I never even had dared to think of becoming a singer. It was miles away from my idea of future. My grandfather gave me an album from Amália, when I was 18 years old — and I fell in love. I fell in love with her voice and the way she interpreted those songs, that weren’t fado songs.

Later, I started wanting to know more and I started singing. One day someone invited me to listen to fado — and the impact of the sound of those instruments had big impact on my future perspective to become a journalist. Naturally, people started to ask me to sing and I was always accepting — to discover more about me. For me, shows are not really shows, they are more about discovering more about myself. I am a singer for 16 years, but it’s something very personal. It is an exorcism, it is a need. There is something religious, but not orthodox about fado.

What can we expect from this new album?

It is called “Menina” and it is going to be recorded in two weeks. We have been doing try-outs. Usually, I have the songs and I never show them to the audience before recording. This time, they are already finished, so I though ‘what if I show them to the audience?’.

And if the reaction is bad?

It has never happened to me. If it were bad, it would be complicated. Music is a place that unites people. People react to the whole, to the whole show, to the environment. Fortunately, I’ve never had bad reactions.

Have you written any of the lyrics of the songs?

They are not mine. This time, we have a lot of young people writing. Of course we have Maria do Rosário Pedreira and Lídia Jorge — which are Portuguese authors already used to writing fado. Then, we have authors from the Portuguese Indie music — Pedro da Silva Martins [from Deolinda band] writes for me again, this time two themes; we have a poem from Ana Bacalhau [lead singer of Deolinda], and it’s the first time she writes; we have Kalaf [from Buraka Som Sistema].

Is it still fado?

It is fado. Ricardo Cruz is the producer. We’ll have piano, contrabass and Portuguese guitar. In this show [at the Cultural Centre], we’ll have two traditional fado songs, with lyrics by Maria do Rosário Pedreira, which we will show also in the concert. These are people used to write Indie music and, suddenly, they are writing fado and for Cristina Branco. There won’t be anything silly, it is a controlled madness.

Was it easy for people like Kalaf and Ana Bacalhau to accept the challenge?

I never though they would make it. I thought they wouldn’t accept or that what would come out would be something very outside the scope — but these are people now becoming famous and they have respect for our work.