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World Music Features

Cristina Branco

By Marty Lipp
Published May 5, 2006

Cristina Branco is often considered one of the rising stars of the newly resurgent genre of fado, which was born in Portugal in the 19th century. In Portugal and among fado purists, Branco is something apart.

With her latest album, Cristina Branco poses the question, “Why isn’t sexuality a part of traditional music?”

            The 32-year-old Branco is often considered one of the rising stars of the newly resurgent genre of fado, which was born in Portugal in the 19th century. In Portugal and among fado purists, Branco is something apart—“on a different shelf,” as she says it—since she has tastefully pushed the boundaries of the genre by adding subtle overtones of jazz and blues. With Sensus (Decca), Branco again breaks free of tradition, though this time it is due more to the album’s lyrics, which focus on sensuality.

            While she admits readily that she hopes the album will be “corrupting some taboos we have in our society,” she is not an angry revolutionary. “I thought it might be interesting to erupt through these barriers,” she said, adding she thought, “I think it’s much nicer than talking about wars.

            “I never intend to break rules,” Branco said. “I just do it in my own way. I never put aside the idea of doing any kind of music. I consider myself a singer, period. You can call [my music] whatever you like. I don’t mind.”

            Branco’s music, while not strictly fado, is certainly rooted in the genre and for the casual observer certainly resembles the highly dramatic form. Her music is darkly hued and shimmers with the sounds of a Portuguese guitar, a lute-like 12-string whose jangly timbre is the traditional accompaniment for fado singers.

            For Sensus, Branco, a self-described lover of poetry, assembled poems that dealt with sensuality or sexuality and worked with her husband, Custódio Castelo, who set them to music.

            “We [Portuguese] are romantic,” she continued, “but in a very poetic way. We don’t tend to approach the physical in itself, especially when related to poetry. We don’t tend to read or talk about these things as clearly as some other countries do.”

            Branco searched for poems from contemporary Portuguese poets, but also reached back to the 12th century for poems and even tapped a sonnet by Shakespeare, as well as works by Brazilians Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes.

            While certainly not vulgar or graphic, the lyrics on Sensus are sometimes quite bold and stark. Take, for example, the words of “Segredo [Secret]”: