MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
(Soundbite of Cristina Branco's music)
Ms. CRISTINA BRANCO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)
BLOCK: I dreamed that I was in Portugal one day. We're listening to Portuguese singer Cristina Branco.
Ms. BRANCO: (Singing in Portuguese)
BLOCK: Cristina Branco is part of a younger generation of Portuguese singers who've rediscovered and transformed traditional fado songs. But her new album ULISSES veers away from fado. She sings in French, English and Spanish, as well as her native Portuguese. She only sings songs written by others, not her own songs.
Ms. BRANCO: I do write a lot, every day of my life, since I'm 15, about that. But I never exposed my poems. I did it once on stage and it was so personal, so, I became so transparent that I really said, Jesus, this scares me a lot. I don't want to do this anymore. So I quit.
BLOCK: You picked an interesting career path for a very private person, I think.
Ms. BRANCO: I know, tell me about it!
BLOCK: Cristina Branco came by our studios after her recent U.S. tour. She's tiny and beautiful and was looking forward to going home to her young son, Martim. She told me she never intended to be a singer.
Ms. BRANCO: I sang for myself. I never sang, not even for friends. Even when my friends were saying, well, you have such a great voice, you should sing, I always shut myself and said, you're crazy, no. I still have a lot of difficulties facing the audience. I do a kind of exorcism with myself.
BLOCK: Can you tell us what it is?
Ms. BRANCO: It's nothing special. I just have to be very concentrated and just forget that there's people there and that they like to hear me, of course.
BLOCK: It must be hard to forget that they're there. I mean, they're responding to you, you hope?
Ms. BRANCO: Yeah, it is. But then after five minutes, I just relax and well, things just roll on and, but at the beginning, it's very hard.
BLOCK: Do you try to think about singing to one person? Is that part of how you get your brain going on that?
Ms. BRANCO: Yes, I sing for myself and I always, the lyrics are very important so that's where I concentrate. I go for, what does this mean for me? What did the author meant by those words. And I'm there. That's my environment, that's my bubble, I think.
BLOCK: There's a song that's a lot of fun that's called Seven Gusts of Wind. In Portuguese it's --
Ms. BRANCO: Sete Pedacos de Vento.
(Soundbite of Seven Gusts of Wind by Cristina Branco)
BLOCK: What instrument are we hearing here?
Ms. BRANCO: Two Portuguese guitars.
BLOCK: Two Portuguese guitars.
You have the biggest smile on your face as you listen to this, it's like you haven't heard it before.
Ms. BRANCO: You know, why? Because I never listen to my records.
Song about seven things.
BLOCK: Which in Portuguese is --
Ms. BRANCO: Pedacos.
BLOCK: Pedacos, okay.
There's this recurring theme in the song of seven gusts of wind, seven roses in a garden.
Ms. BRANCO: Yeah.
BLOCK: Seven silences to bear. Seven carnal desires. What about that?
Ms. BRANCO: Yes.
BLOCK: You've called your CD ULISSES.
Ms. BRANCO: Yes.
BLOCK: I don't think it comes up in the songs itself. Were you thinking about the sea, about voyage, about --
Ms. BRANCO: About, yes, about journeys. It's kind of reflection after 10 years, because I'm singing now for 10 years. And I wanted to sing things that really meant something for me, you know? I always listened to Joni Mitchell at my parents' place, so why not singing it if I like it?
BLOCK: You would have been listening Joni Mitchell growing up?
Ms. BRANCO: A lot, especially the blue album.
BLOCK: And you do the song A Case of You from that album.
Ms. BRANCO: Yes. And I picked up that song because it really marked a period in Joni Mitchell's life. So from then on, she changed her approach to music and to life. And that's why this song is there because it meant something for her as well.
(Soundbite of A Case of You)
Ms. BRANCO: (Singing) Just before our love got lost, you said I am as constant as a northern star. And I said, constant in the darkness, where's that at? If you want me, I'll be in the bar.
I still remember that I was shaking like crazy when I recorded this, it seems, for the responsibility of singing in a foreign language and the responsibility of singing such an important song because it meant so much for me.
BLOCK: You were shaking in the studio?
Ms. BRANCO: Yes, I was. I was just feeling, Jesus, everybody's going to listen to this.
BLOCK: I was wondering if it's a hard thing to do, to take a song that you know so well, and from a singer who I imagine you idolized in some ways and so many people do.
Ms. BRANCO: Yes. Yes.
BLOCK: And to take on a song like that.
Ms. BRANCO: It's not easy. You discover so many things. The urgency of singing.
(Singing) I could drink a case of you, I could drink a case of you. Still I'd be on my feet. I'd still be on my feet.
And especially here, especially in this song. It was urgent to sing it. And it's like, I must do it, but I'm very afraid of doing it and excuse me for doing it so, but I have to.
BLOCK: That's all wrapped in there.
Ms. BRANCO: Yes.
BLOCK: You have a young son. He's two and a half.
Ms. BRANCO: Yes.
BLOCK: Do you sing songs to him?
Ms. BRANCO: Yes, and he recognizes a lot of songs. He goes to sleep with my songs.
BLOCK: What might you sing to him?
Ms. BRANCO: He doesn't want mommy to sing her songs now because, that's what he's always saying, I don't want mommy to go away, so. Yeah, he doesn't want me to sing my songs because then he recognize that when I sing them, that's when I go away. So now, for the moment are songs about animals. There's a very beautiful song about a butterfly and that's his favorite for the moment.
BLOCK: What's it called?
Ms. BRANCO: Butterfly.
BLOCK: Can you sing it for us?
Ms. BRANCO: Come on. You would laugh. It's like this.
(Singing in Portuguese)
More or less like this.
BLOCK: That's great.
Ms. BRANCO: And he laughs like crazy because I like to play with him while I sing it and he really gets very happy with it. I miss him a lot.
BLOCK: I'm sure. Cristina Branco, thanks so much for coming in.
Ms. BRANCO: It's wonderful to talk with you, thank you.
BLOCK: There is more music from Cristina Branco's CD ULISSES at our Web site, NPR.org. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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