The interview with the famous Portuguese Fado singer Cristina Branco was originally published in Greek, in the March 2010 edition of the DIFONO magazine (www.difono.gr), Greece's best-selling music magazine.
A new album is out, and you are currently in the middle of a new global tour. What do you prefer, to be on stage or in the studio?
Both are extremely important, although in the studio you learn how to understand poets and the composers, so it helps you bring out your emotions on stage. Without the studio, the stage would be artificial. By understanding what others meant with these words and with these music, you are able to be honest to your public.
Your latest album “Kronos” approaches the theme of time. Why did you pick this particular theme?
Nine albums later, I just had the feeling it was the right time to reflect on time. What did music do to me? How did it help me develop in artistic terms? What are the professional but also physical transformations it involves? How do you react to time? How does time stay in your skin, in your mind, in your family? As a traveler and as an artist, life makes you think about time. Today I woke up missing terribly my children, asking myself “what am I doing here without my kids?” Sometime it is really hard, you have to be very structured mentally and psychologically to handle this imposition on your personal life.
Also, I decided to associate with all those authors and composers because I like to link every new album of mine to the previous one. My previous album is “Abril”, a homage to an amazing musician called Jose Afonso, and all the authors I invited to Kronos are contemporaries with Jose Afonso, they made music with him, they performed with him and I thought “well, this is a good way to enchain Kronos to previous works” Also, these people also had a very particular role during the dictatorship in Portugal and the revolution of ’74. That period in Portugal was hard for everybody, I was two years old when the revolution occurred, and all those people lived it, and I suggested to them to describe what happened to them since then.
You mention the dictatorship, you mention Jose Afonso. Is there any political dimension in your work?
No, not in my work. Of course, I am a political human being, because I think it is necessary for all of us to be active, to understand better our society, and to link to other people. But I do not have a political message in my work, my message is for peace and love only. Well, if that’s politics, then… good!
There is a paradox in your career: You firstly became famous in Holland, before turning to your home audience. Were you born as a Fado singer or did specific events and conjunctures take you there?
I was a student and suddenly I received a phone-call, inviting me to a talk-show in a TV programme in Portugal. Since I was a student of Social Communication, I felt really curious about it. I wasn’t thinking I was going to perform, I was just looking around as a journalist. Then, suddenly, I performed. A few days later, somebody called me, asking if I’d like to go to Amsterdam and perform two concerts to celebrate the Revolution of ’74. I said “yes” without thinking, I had no repertoire, I had not prepared! It was a terrific challenge for me and for the two musicians who came with me: my husband and Alessandro. We prepared the concert, we went to Amsterdam, we made two concerts, it was quite successful, they made an album out of it. This was in April. In December, they called me back, telling me that it was a serious matter and that I should make another album. So, I did it, I did “Murmurius”, which was considered the best world music album in France, and this is how I begun.
One of your new songs is titled “I Carry a Fado”. Is Fado a way of being, a way of loving? How do you carry it?
I am carrying it more and more every day, more nowadays than before. I have the feeling that I’ve got deep into it, I am really in love with it, and I wasn’t before. Fado for me was something extremely old-fashioned, a kind of dramatic song that you couldn’t develop. And I didn’t know how to develop it, I wasn’t raised in Lisbon, I had no experience with Fado before, only by listening to Amalia Rodriguez and a few others. Only by singing it, by experiencing it, by living it, I understand it better now, I am getting deeper and deeper into it, and I don’t know where the bottom is.
You claim that you “have studied Amalia’s soul down to its smallest part”. What did you discover? What has Amalia meant to you?
She’s been extremely important to me. She made me sing, I owe it to her, if I had not listened to her voice I wouldn’t be here. By listening to her repertoire, by knowing her story and her life, I found out how profound and sad she was. All that dramatism and nostalgia that you raise from her image and her voice was not artificial, she was totally like that. She was a terrific story-teller, her life was the best example to sing, she did not need anything else other than her life and her personal experience to be performed. More than the dimension of her voice - which was absolutely astonishing - was her ability to say words and to make you understand the importance of each word. Somehow, you could touch these words, they had texture. She was not singing for the sake of singing, she was singing for life, and that made an important revolution inside me.
Talking about words, one notes immediately that you have brought poetry into your work, not only by Portuguese poets but even by foreign ones, such as the Dutch poet Slauerhoff. Is this a conscious decision of yours, or a general fashion of Portuguese music?
Both. Bringing poetry into Fado began with Amalia, we must not forget it. In a certain moment, Amalia took the best Portuguese poets to the people, most of our population in the’60s and ’70s could not read or write. Whenever she sang poetry, she was bringing culture to people. I decided to do it because I do not disassociate my voice and singing from poetry and the Portuguese language. I like words, I like poetry, I like beautiful images and phrases. Amalia was the first to do it, and nowadays everybody sings poetry. You can somehow make a bible of Portuguese poetry by following Portuguese music.
Why is Fado so topical today for young people and for such a large international audience?
I don’t know! In the beginning, Fado was not well received, not even in Portugal. People were not prepared for Fado, because somehow Fado represented the dictatorship. It took a gap of 15-20 years for people to digest all that music and all that background. It took a revolution for people to accept Fado and react to it. It is so stimulating nowadays to have all those young people in concerts in Portugal and abroad. Ten years ago, all was totally different, my audience was on average 50 years old, and now most of my audience is young. It feels great to know that you are spreading the word, spreading Portuguese culture abroad. I remember that six or seven years ago, when I visited the US, some people did not know where Portugal was on the map. Now, they know where it is, they want to know more about my culture, they want to learn Portuguese. Fado put Portugal into the map again, culturally speaking.
Tradition is one of your primary raw materials in your work. What is your attitude towards the tradition?
The way of bringing something new into Fado is respecting its roots, trying to make the path to understanding contemporaneity while also bringing the roots back into their deserved place. You bring a lot of your urban stories and experiences and mix them with tradition. It is a huge mixture of feelings and emotions and historical moments that you should bring into the table whenever you perform, whenever you begin a new Fado. It is a huge responsibility towards the people who listen to you and trust you.
Your CDs are often found in record shops abroad under the label of “ethnic”. Is music globalised? Should it be globalised?
This is a very controversial issue. No, music should not be globalised. I am a traveler, I meet a lot of people, I am curious, it is natural that all these people and cultures make part of my personal experience, and this experience reflects in my work. Would you call this globalization? I don’t know if it is, somehow it is part of the concept of globalization. But there is a thin line between that and what is happening nowadays. Globalizing is losing every people’s memories, and you shouldn’t do it. As I said, you must respect your tradition, your roots, so as to develop. We must be very careful, otherwise we will turn to the others without any reference, any seal of our culture. This is not good at all. We have done bad enough to the world, to Earth, so let’s try at least to keep culture, our culture.
Looking back into your career, did you ever feel that you were asked to do compromises in order to follow the rules of the global or national market?
More than once, and it is terrible. I accepted some of them, like signing with a major label. But I did not accept most of these demands. I am very stubborn, some people call me utopian and tell me “you still believe in Santa Claus”. I am an earthy person. I love divas, I worship a few, but I don’t want to be one. I want to be a normal person and I want other people to understand this. I am not untouchable, not at all. Of course the market and merchandising pushes you into that. That’s why one day I woke up and thought “this is so glossy, so dangerous, I can really turn into something I don’t want to”. So, I decided to have children and family, and they bring me down. It is easy to fly in this world, and I don’t want that, not for me. I respect others who do it, but it is not for me.
You have sung “Alfonsina y el mar” which became popular with the voice of Mercedes Sosa. How did you feel of her loss?
Now, I am re-singing this song, we added it once again to our repertoire. We lost an amasing singer, we really did. I did not know her as a human being, so I cannot judge who she was. She was an amazing singer, and an opinion-leader, an opinion-maker. She was a friend of Jose Alfonso as well. The ’60s and the ’70s were extremely rich culturally speaking, and Mercedes Sosa was part of that movement. I owe all my respect to her life and career.
Finally, would you like to address a message for the readers of Difono who are fans of your work and of the music of the peoples in general? Plus, will they see you again anytime soon?
Yes, they will! Actually, next year we are coming there. We received an invitation from a very well-known jazz club in Athens, and we will perform there for eight days. I really want to return to Athens, I have nice memories from there.
My message is the following: All readers of Difono are on the right track, because every time you follow music, it means that you have a message to pass and a message to learn. Music is harmony, and we really need harmony at this point in our world.