Agenuine late bloomer, Cristina Branco reportedly had never listened to fado, the most famous popular music form of her native Portugal, until she was 18 and her grandfather loaned her a record by Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal's greatest singer. Like most Portuguese who grew up in middle-class comfort following the revolution of 1974, she was more interested in folk, jazz and bossa nova. Fado, which means "fate," was the music of the urban poor of Lisbon, and invariably describes lives of hardship and heartbreak.
Branco was smitten by Rodrigues. Though she was studying communications at the time in university, determined to become a journalist, she was also an amateur singer. The deep connection that the fado stressed between poetry, music, and vocal feeling made a deep impression on her, and she worked on her own unique interepretation of the style.
Branco understood fado's key concept of "saudade," which is usually translated as "longing," and learned how to express it with true empathy, she did not want to be chained to tradition for tradition's sake. Thanks to her guitarist and composer, Custodio Castelo, Branco has been able to break free of the somewhat confining requirements of saudade. Though the pair's music can be sad and bitter, it can also be uplifting. Not surprising, it took some time for her brand of fado to catch on in Portugal. Her first album, in fact, was initially released in Holland. But even though she has since become the heir apparent to Rodrigues, she's maintained her catholic outlook. Her second studio disc was Dutch verses set to conventional fado arrangements. She knows her roots, but she knows other things too.
Cristina Branco: April 19, Aichi Expo, Nagakute; April 22, 7 p.m., Shibuya Duo Music Exchange, Tokyo, 6,000 yen (Plankton,  3498-2881); April 23, 6:30 p.m., Mito Geijutsukan Concert Hall, 3,000 yen & 4,000 yen (Box office,  227-8111).