Tag Archives: Cristina Branco

The Passionate Story of Fado

Fado star Mariza

Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is one of the oldest urban folk music styles in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs created by homesick sailors and fishermen.

Whatever its origins, fado’s themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: “Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.” It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.

All fado is dominated by the sentiment known as saudade. While there is no precise English definition for this word, it may be translated roughly as ‘yearning.’ Essentially it describes the soul of the music and is the measure of understanding that passes between performer and audience.

Cover of A Origem do Fado by José Alberto Sardinha

Fado History

By the early twentieth century, fado had become popular in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class. It was played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of life. Skilled singers known as fadistas performed at the end of the day and long into the night. Fado was the earthy music of taverns and brothels and street corners in Alfama and Mouraria, the old poor sections of Lisbon. (Another strain of fado, Coimbra fado, was favored among university students and professors.)

The fado is normally sung by men or women and accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classical guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. This song reached its golden era in the first half of the 20th century, when the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar (1926-1968) forced the fado performers to become professional and confined them to sing in the fado houses and the so called “revistas”, a popular genre of “vaudeville”.

The main names of that period were: Alfredo Marceneiro, Amalia Rodrigues, Maria Teresa de Noronha and guitar players Armandinho and Jaime Santos.

The Queen of Fado Amalia Rodrigues

From the 1940s until her death in 1999, the towering figure of Portuguese fado was Amalia Rodrigues. She was the diva of fado, worshiped at home and celebrated abroad as the most famous representative of Portuguese culture. When she died the country’s prime minister called for three-days of national mourning. Such is the hold of fado over the people of Portugal.


The essential element of fado music is saudade, a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind.

Like other forms of deeply moving folk music such as flamenco, American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rembetiko, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance.

Duarte at EXIB 2016 in Evora – Photo by Angel Romero

Fado can be performed by men or women, although many aficionados prefer the raw emotion of the female fadista. Dressed in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders, a fadista stands in front of the musicians and communicates through gesture and facial expressions. The hands move, the body is stationary. When it is done correctly, it is a solemn and majestic performance.


Aside from the Lisbon fado there is another completely different form of this song, sung by the students of Coimbra University whose ancient roots can be found in the medieval songs called trovas. Here the subjects are mainly love, friendship and nostalgia. This form of fado reached its most famous period in the 1950s and 1960s when names like Edmundo Bettencourt, Luis Gois, José Afonso and the musicians Artur Paredes, Carlos Paredes and Antonio Portugal among others, combined new forms and lyrics to a song which was limited to student circles.

Fado guitarist Antonio Chainho playing the Portuguese guitar – Photo by Alexandre Nobre

The traditional accompaniment for the fadista is a Portuguese guitar, or guitarra, a 12-stringed instrument, and a bass guitar, or viola. Sometimes a second acoustic guitar is added. In recent years, fado recordings have added piano, violin and accordion, instruments which sometimes accompany the music on the streets of Lisbon.

Fado Today

Cover of the album New Queens of Fado (Arc Music, 2016), featuring Joana Amendoeira, Ana Moura, Carminho, Mariza, Cristina Branco, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, Misia

Today the younger generation in Portugal is respectful but not dedicated to fado. However, a new generation of young musicians have contributed to the social and political revival of fado music, adapting and blending it with new trends.

Contemporary fado musicians like Misia have introduced the music to performers such as Sting. Misia and fadistas like Cristina Branco and Mariza, Amelia Muge, Antonio Zambujo, Ana Lains, Ana Moura, Joana Amendoeira, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, walk the fine line between carrying on the tradition and trying to bring in a new audience.

Cover of the album Queens Of Fado – The Next Generation (Arc Music, 2017) featuring Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Carminho, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires and Joana Rios

One of the biggest names in the new generation of male fado singers is award-winning Marco Rodrigues.

2018 saw the rise of a new fado revelation, Sara Correia, who released her debut album Sara Correia.

(Sources: World Music Central, World Music Institute, World Music Network)

Coimbra Fado

Coimbra Fado is a genre of fado originating in the city of Coimbra, Portugal. This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear black capes during performances, the remaining part of the students outfit. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares, streets, or fado houses. (source: Fado group Verdes Anos)

Recommended Fado Recordings

Portugal: The Story of Fado
Fado: Exquisite Passion
The Rough Guide to Fado
Queens of Fado
Fados from Portugal
Great Voices of Fado
Queen of the Fado by Amalia Rodrigues
Rough Guide: The Music of Portugal
Queens Of Fado – The Next Generation

Fado Artists:

The following artists perform fado or fado-influenced music: Ala Dos Namorados, Almaplana, Amélia Muge, Ana Laíns, Ana Marina, Ana Moura, Antonio Chainho, Antonio Zambujo, Armenio de
Melo, Bicho de 7 cabeças, Camané, Catarina Cardeal, Cristina Branco, Custodio Castelo, Duarte, Grupo Cancao de Coimbra, Joana Amendoeira, Jorge Fernando, Katia Guerreiro, Lula Pena, Mario Pacheco, Madredeus, Mafalda Arnauth, Maria Amelia Proen, Mariza, Melian, Mike Siracusa, Misia, Nem Truz Nem Muz), Ramana Vieira, Sonia Tavares, Teresa Salgueiro, Verdes Anos – Fado group, Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires, Marco Rodrigues, Joana Rios, and Sara Correia.

Fado Books:

A History of the Portuguese Fado by Paul Vernon (Routledge, 1998)
Fado Portugues – Songs from the Soul of Portugal by Donald Cohen (2004)
Fado and the Place of Longing, Loss, Memory and the City by Richard Elliott (Routledge, 2010)
A Origem do Fado [includes 4 CDs] by José Alberto Sardinha (Tradisom, 2010)
Fado Resounding: Affective Politics and Urban Life by Lila Ellen Gray (Duke University Press, 2013)
Fado and the Urban Poor in Portuguese Cinema of the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Colvin (Boydell & Brewer, 2016)

Fado sites:

Portal do Fado, Portuguese portal dedicated to fado.


Artist Profiles: Cristina Branco

Cristina Branco

Cristina Branco was born on December 28, 1972 in in the village of Almeirim, Portugal. Her grandfather had fled the dictatorship of Salazar and she was raised in Almeirim, in the Ribatejo countryside north of Lisbon, away from the traditional Bairro Alto fado houses of the Portuguese capital.

As each and every young Portuguese person of her generation, born during the Pink Revolution, she preferred jazz, blues or bossa nova rather than the traditional fado singing. “My ears were turned toward so many different rhythms and styles,” Cristina said, “that fado made no sense compared with the capabilities of other music.”

She fell in love with fado on her eighteenth birthday, when her grandfather presented her with a record of unpublished songs of Amalia Rodrigues. Suddenly she discovered the passion and emotion within the music and the close ties linking poems, music and voice.

The same applies to a whole new generation of young musicians who in the past decades have contributed to the social and political restoration of the music, adapting it to and blending with new trends.

Little by little, this amateur singer who studied psychology and thought about forging a career in journalism, took advanced courses in vocal technique and took up her new vocation. Cristina Branco’s stage debut in a Dutch club brought immediate success (first in the Netherlands, then in France) and spawned the release of her album Live in Holland in the Netherlands.

In 1999, her first widely released album, Murmurios was unanimously praised by critics and awarded the Choc de l’année du Monde de la Musique in the World Music entry. Murmurios was followed by O Descobridor.

Post-Scriptum, released in 2000, Post-Scriptum, was again the Choc de l’année du Monde de la Musique thus confirming the promising and dazzling start of the young fado singer. Her art is completely linked to the stage by her presence, both restrained and sensuous, radiating over the audience. Her voice literally entrances the hall. Cristina Branco has now sung in every major scene of World music: in Lisbon, in the famous Belém neighborhood, at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, at the Theâtre des Abbesses in Paris and at the magnificent Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, where the exceptional acoustics allowed her to sing without amplification.

Cristina Branco has also performed in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy. In January, 2001, she made her American debut in New York. The art of Cristina Branco is inseparable from that of Custodio Castelo, her husband. He plays the Portuguese guitar and composes most of the fados she sings. His sense of melody, the subtlety of the connections he achieves between words and music and his instinctive understanding of Cristina’s tones are all integral ingredients of the expressive fado.

Fados convey passionate moods with the famous ‘saudade,’ the fatalistic sadness inherited from the country’s maritime past, alternating with subtle, light episodes, to create a unique and haunting atmosphere. One cannot but recognize Cristina Branco’s style within the genre. Guitar, Portuguese guitar and bass guitar blended with a voice, both warm and light, create mesmerizing traditional fados and original pieces.

The words are carefully chosen pieces from famous poets (such as Pessoa) and the not-so-famous, so Cristina is on the edge of modern Portuguese culture. In 2000, she dedicated a whole album to a Dutch poet of the beginning of the 20th century, Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, who had known Portugal, loved it and written about it. Released only in the Netherlands, the album has gone platinum.

Cristina Branco

Corpo Iluminado, released in 2001, brought Cristina international recognition and put a face to the more modern, blues-inflected fado style that has become her signature sound. Her sound continued to evolve with Sensus (2004) a graceful blend of Cristina’s former albums, along with her experiences in life, on stage, and in the studio.

From there, Cristina embarked on the next voyage other musical journey with Ulisses (2006). Along the way, she was fortunate to find some outstanding traveling companions. On this journey, Cristina moved beyond the acoustic frontier with the piano playing of Ricardo Dias. He gave new color to Cristina’s titles, and also played one of the most beautiful original works on the album, the composition “Navio Triste.” Joining Dias were Cristina’s usual companions: Castelo on the Portuguese guitar (in homage to his spiritual master, Carlos Paredes, Castelo plays on the guitar owned by Paredes, who passed away in 2005); Alexandre Silva on the Spanish guitar; Fernando Maia on the bass guitar; and finally, Miguel Carvalhinho on classical guitar, a guest performer on “Choro”.

Ulisses, is more than just a collection of beautiful songs: It is a journey. This journey gently picks up where her 2004 album, Sensus left off, taking the listener on a pastoral voyage of love, leaving, and returning. Throughout Ulisses, Christina gracefully intertwined the myth of Ulysses with the Portuguese idea of ‘Saudade” — a feeling of longing for something you are fond of that is gone but might someday return.

Cristina’s Ulissesinvites the listener to travel with her, to explore this longing in places throughout her native Portugal, and in other lands that have brought her a sense of melancholy. “Ulisses was a challenge,” Cristina said, “full of comings and goings, stories of lives, long trips –sometimes inside of us, voyages in love, paths rejoined.”

As the various lands are explored, so, too, are the languages of those lands. Cristina takes the listener to Argentina for “Alfonsina y el Mar,” sung in Spanish; to the United States for the reprise of “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell; to France for the musical adaptation of “Liberte,” the poem by Paul Eluard, sung in French; and even to Africa for a moving rendition of “Choro,” which features the music of composer Custodio Castelo, inspired by African rhythms and colors.

Cristina and her musicians have long been interpreting “Choro” on stage, but Ulisses offered the first recorded cut of this song. The Portuguese musical tradition called “fado” was born of the mixed-race population in Lisbon. Fado musically reflects the city’s African and Brazilian heritage, with songs built around poems, often utilizing a 12-string Portuguese guitar and a six-string Spanish guitar.


In Holland (Live) (Circulo De Cultura Portuguesa Na Holanda, 1997)
Murmúrios (Music & Words, 1998)
Canta Slauerhoff (Harmonia Mundi, 2000)
Post-Scriptum (L’Empreinte Digitale, 2000)
Corpo Iluminado (Universal, 2001)
Sensus (Universal, 2003)
Ulisses (Universal, 2004)
Live (Universal, 2006)
Perfil ‎(Som Livre, 2007)
Abril ‎(Universal Music, 2007)
Kronos ‎(Universal Music, 2009)
Fado – Tango (Universal Music, 2013)
Menina (Universal Music Portugal, 2016)
Branco (Universal Music Portugal, 2018)