Beside Portugal’s iconic fado genre, recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2011, music scenes in Lisbon have diversified throughout the 2000s along with the affirmation of Portugal’s capital city on the stage of global attractiveness. This paper examines some music scenes in Lisbon in the late 2000s and early 2010s—especially hip-hop and Angolan kuduro played by the Luso-Angolan bands Buraka Som Sistema, and Batida, based in Lisbon. It discusses the ways in which the sampling technique has allowed for diverse forms of musical cosmopolitanism, performing connections with Africa, and the tentative affirmation by some Portuguese media in the late 2000s, of a musical Lusofonia.
Sampling in rap is a process of cultural literacy and intertextual reference . . .
It affirms black musical history and locates these “past” sounds in the ‘present’.Trisha Rose
In this paper, I look at the sampling technique as a tentative form of musically coding and representing socio-cultural experience and belonging.1 More specifically, I listen to contemporary popular music of the late 2000s in Lisbon—essentially hip-hop and Angolan kuduro played by Portuguese bands—and their specific practice of sampling.2 I watch some documentary films produced in that period up until more recently in some cases,3 and look at the narratives being built in that direction of sampling as (also) a cultural metaphor, and a metaphor of a multicultural Lisbon. I contend that both hip-hop and kuduro attempt at connecting Lisbon with Africa—a powerful source of musical identity both effectively and symbolically. Although I focus on the sonic/musical dimensions of sampling, I take sampling as not only a trace of contemporary popular music practices, but also a modality of the appropriative logic that widely governs contemporary cultural and creative dynamics. In this sense, to critically decode the practice of sampling may represent a new kind of semiotics whose goal is to turn explicit some aesthetic/cultural choices that otherwise may not be easily understood.
IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Since the explosion of hip-hop and the “cut and scratch” technique in the late 1970s, rapid technological changes have had a profound impact on music making. The practice of sampling, where pieces of music are stored and reused in a new context, has emerged within hip-hop culture and has spread ever since to various other musical genres, while the transition from analogue to digital technologies has generalized its use. With the ever-growing digitization of all recordings available, the virtual sonic map of the world has also expanded rapidly. The digital revolution has in fact created an impressive, virtually infinite worldwide music library accessible from any laptop computer for all sorts of manipulations: sampling, remix, mashup, etc. Such eased digital access to music is certainly transforming the ways in which it is created and produced, as DJs themselves acknowledge willingly.4
In the digital age, the act of sampling is a performative statement, a metaphor for a wide variety of musical reconfigurations. It certainly contributes in critically documenting bits and pieces of “repetitive society,”5 “remix culture,”6 or even “identity in the age of its technical reproducibility.”7 Is remix culture the mere extension of repetitive society, or does it in fact translate into new forms of creative agency and social change? In the digital, post-colonial age, diasporic identities revisit the territories of the past and resignify the present, as Paul Gilroy has suggested.8 It may be argued that the dialectic of territories and identities is also (re)rooted within and through contemporary techno-culture.9 The sampling technique is also a form of appropriation; it allows for diverse forms of musical cosmopolitanism.10 As an interplay between indistinctiveness, confusion, appropriation, and re-territorialization, it tends to create musical “thirdspaces”11 dynamically, as well as imagined territories and identities, or their blurring.12
As suggested above, I allow for a loose definition of “sampling”, which may include “digging”, “mixing”, “connecting”, “combining”, “uniting”—both musically and culturally. That is, music sampling sometimes seems to operate as a conscious metaphor for mixing culturally, or multiculturally. Hence, “Sampling Lisbon” is also an attempt at decoding Lisbon musically, an attempt at seeing how music narratives and interpretations open for new definitions became attached to contemporary Lisbon.
IMAGES OF LISBON
Throughout the 2000s, the images and representations of Lisbon have diversified substantially, as Carvalho has suggested.13 Besides a traditional image, defined aesthetically by fado14 music and neighborhoods, such as Mouraria and Alfama, two new images have emerged: “African Lisbon” (for example African migrants gathering in the central neighborhood Rossio, yet living at the periphery), and “Diversity Lisbon” (for example, the culturally diverse neighborhood Martim Moniz, or the World Exhibition Expo’98—a celebration of multiculturality in itself, also momentum in city-making). Extending Carvalho’s argument, I contend that Lisbon’s underground hip-hop is somewhat connected to “African Lisbon.” That may be also the case with kuduro, yet the Angolan music genre played in Lisbon is in fact a more complex case in point. On the one hand it grows on a similar terrain as hip-hop and has an obvious musical connection with Angola. On the other hand, kuduro’s popularity has helped put Lisbon on the map of global music scenes. This is significant, especially within the context of Lisbon’s political agenda of the late 2000s (marked essentially by the Treaty of Lisbon and the EU-Africa Summit that both took place in 2007). Along with kuduro reconnecting with Africa during such a political context, I am also interested in exploring how kuduro has contributed in turning Lisbon (even maybe Africa in Lisbon) global: reinforcing the multicultural narrative of “Diversity Lisbon.”
TERRITORIES OF LISBON HIP-HOP
From the beginning in the 1990s (Rapública, the first compilation of Portuguese hip-hop, was released in 1994 by Columbia – see Figure 1), hip-hop in Portugal takes roots in the segregated suburbs of Lisbon along the metropolitan train line to Sintra, or the south bank of the Tagus river, considered the “Mecca” of Portuguese hip-hop, where families of African migrants live in precarious conditions barely compatible with European standards.15 Portuguese hip-hop finds a natural geographical and mental proximity with Africa: a fertile ground for the assertion of a local, social, cultural, and linguistic difference—relevantly depicted for example in the 2007 and 2009 documentaries, respectively Nu Bai. O rap negro de Lisboa, and Music of Resistance. Finding Dignity in Portugal. A form of resistance, the young rappers’ African heritage and memory mixes with a relocated Afro-centrist imagination and takes ground at the outskirts of Portugal’s ex-empire capital (decolonization took place only after the Carnation Revolution in 1974).16
Often the children of migrants from former Portuguese colonies in Africa, many of the young Portuguese rappers delineated their hip-hop territory by rapping in Portuguese or Cape Verdean Creole, sometimes mixed with English words. Melo D was the first artist to rap in Cape Verdean Creole – an expression that has since become one of the characteristics of Portuguese hip-hop.17 For rappers like Chullage, Boss AC, or Nigga Poison, rapping in Cape Verdean Creole is also a form of resistance against Portuguese—a language that has become synonymous with a dominant society maintaining its migrant and poor populations at the periphery.
In Portugal, “conscious” rap is also called “rap de intervenção” after the name of the protest songs sung in the 1960s and ‘70s during the Estado Novo: “música de intervenção.” The relative invisibility of “real” hip-hop in the media has contributed in reinforcing the dichotomy between “good” hip-hop, and “commercial” hip-hop, i.e. committed, politically involved hip-hop that speaks “the truth” about social injustice, racism, or discrimination, versus a sanitized hip-hop, acceptable by the media.18
STAGING “NEW AFRICA” AT THE 2007 EU-AFRICA SUMMIT IN LISBON
Fifty years after the birth of the European Economic Community established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, Lisbon hosted the second European Union-Africa Summit for two days in December of 2007—an occasion to show its renewed cosmopolitanism to the world. Earlier in 1998, Lisbon had been the site of Expo’98, the World Exhibition that successfully engaged Lisbon’s new competitiveness and visibility in global affairs and culture. In 2007, Portugal would exhibit its capacity to facilitate a new partnership between the EU and Africa. The positive reinterpretation of a many-centuries-long “Portuguese way of being” in the PALOPs, the Portuguese-speaking African countries now part of a wider Community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP), created in Lisbon in 1996, could become an example of good practices for the world to see. The historical and cultural ties with Africa fed the idea that, more than any other member state of the EU, Portugal was capable of gaining the needed trust to initiate a new cooperation with Africa.
Unanimously considered a success, the Summit was an opportunity to actualize the old rhetoric of the specificity of Portuguese cultural contact: integrative, assimilative, syncretic, humanistic, universalistic. Contrary to the “exclusive culture” of former colonizers, such as the Spanish, the French, the English, or the Germans, Portugal was (promoting itself as) a country with an “inclusive culture.” If the Summit in Lisbon was (staged as) a bridge between two continents, the argument put forward by the political actors and some journalists was that the capital city had in fact always been building bridges between different peoples and cultures.
The 2007 Summit also contributed in promoting a new image of Lisbon as the perfect facilitator for global harmony. Celebrated by some conservative Portuguese media, the coming of age of a “New Africa” appeared to combine perfectly (at least rhetorically) with such a new image. It had all begun in Angola when, in April 2006, Prime Minister José Sócrates paid a visit to the capital Luanda. In a special issue on “New Angola,” the weekly magazine Visão announced: “The country of opportunities is gaining a second life. Because of the galloping development, the Portuguese and the national companies return without nostalgia.”19 Post-independence Angola was staged as a land of economic opportunity for Portuguese migrants and entrepreneurs. In 2007, during the EU-Africa Summit, the “New Angola” rhetoric was as if by magic extended by the same magazine to the whole African continent. In a “historical issue” titled “New Africa: what is changing on the continent we love,” Visão greeted the “New Africa” as “Sister Africa,” while the continent was dramatically reduced to the former Portuguese colonies (still overlooking the sixth Lusophone African country, Equatorial Guinea):
The five Portuguese-speaking African countries are living in winds of change. Cape Verde is highlighted as an example of democratic stability, economic growth accelerates in Angola, São Tomé is preparing for the impact of oil exploration, Mozambique this year will receive one million tourists, only Guinea-Bissau cannot break the cycle of economic stagnation and political instability, being now a platform of the global drug trade.20
A short-sighted vision indeed, Visão’s particular treatment of a supposedly “new” Africa could not escape the affective, nostalgic, and possibly neo-colonial longing, as if the continent were still an imaginary extension of Portugal. So it is, at least rhetorically and according to Visão’s vision(s), that the EU-Africa Summit was an opportunity for Lisbon and Portugal to regain pride and confidence, showing the world that it could indeed pursue a civilizing mission in the twenty-first century.
LISBON’S LUSOPHONE IMAGINATION: LUSO-TROPICALISM RELOADED?
Progressively throughout the 2000s, the idea that Lisbon is the scene of a unique fusion of Lusophone music with roots extending across the five continents over the course of a five-century history of Portuguese maritime epic, and discoveries become a central argument in the projection of the empire’s ex-capital as a cosmopolitan city finding its way on the world stage once again. In such discursive self-redefinition, the ambiguous place of Lisbon itself remains problematic: inevitably, the idea of Lisbon as a center also raises the question of its peripheries; any reference to the spatial contours of the former colonial empire is likely to convey a somewhat dubious sense of post-colonial nostalgia. Unlike during the Estado Novo, Portugal no longer extends “from Minho to Timor,” as former Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar used to say. Still, when it comes to promoting Lisbon as the center stage for Lusophone cultural diversity, the idea of an imagined “Greater Portugal, from Brazil to Mozambique” almost inevitably comes to mind.
It has been discussed that this may be the product of a lingering imagination, as much as it is in fact the product of Portugal’s history itself. Eduardo Lourenço argues that Portugal is suffering from a complex of “hyper-identity.”21 Also, the country’s continued attempt to reconnect with the myths and greatness of the discoveries may be even stronger today, when Portugal feels that it may in fact be deprived of any form of historical relevance.22 It has also been argued that the very concept of Lusofonia23 is only the continuation of yesterday’s Luso-tropicalism, under new and more acceptable forms.24 Whether Lusofonia itself is a symptom of Portugal’s “hyper-identity” complex, the uses of Lusofonia as an idea of Portugal’s grandeur still echo with a colonial ideology that during the Estado Novo refused to grant independence to the African countries long after other colonial empires had been dismantled in the 1960s (independence in Lusophone Africa took place in 1974 with the Carnation revolution).
Like “cultural diversity,” the idea of Lusofonia may have gained new contours; its celebration in the late 2000s cannot so easily discard the significance it has had in the (not so distant) colonial past. As a case in point, the idea of Lusofonia also connects with a “Lusophone dream in the imagined territory of cultures.25 Thus, the imagined community of Lusofonia becomes an instrument that helps assemble the bits and pieces of the former empire but differently. As shown elsewhere,26 the narrative production of a newly cosmopolitan Lisbon has found an important symbolic resource in the concept of a musical Lusofonia. Equally, Lisbon’s latest popular music genres have tended to be reframed by various media discourse and cultural agents within the narrative of a centuries-old history of cultural contact in the Lusophone space, as a trendy rapprochement between contemporary cosmopolitan-cool and ancestral cultural diversity.27 Such a creative utopia will find in kuduro made in Lisbon one of its most effective ambassadors. This is particularly evident in the mid- to late 2000s, where the bands Buraka Som Sistema and Batida are named by some Portuguese journalists as direct promotors for a musical Lusofonia that would have Lisbon as its center.
APPROPRIATIONS OF KUDURO
In 2006 the Lisbon-based Buraka Som Sistema reached success with the festive sounds of their “progressive kuduro made in Portugal.” “Buraka” refers to Buraca, a working-class neighborhood with a large population of immigrants from former Portuguese colonies in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, São Tomé & Príncipe), located in the municipality of Amadora. The band’s first EP, From Buraka to the World (Figure 2), came out on the eve of the EU-Africa Summit, in perfect harmony with the cosmopolitan mirror images that were being built at the time: new, multicultural, festive Lisbon, and new Africa. Buraka’s debut LP, Black Diamond (Figure 3), was released by Sony BMG in 2008; it reached the 8th position on Billboard’s Top World Albums Chart in 2009.28
As if it so perfectly embodied the imagined space of a possible musical Lusofonia, kuduro rapidly became a new sensation.29 Buraka Som Sistema may well have been the perfect symbol for a musical fusion invented and performed in Lisbon throughout the 2000s; it was also highly marketable for a young, urban, and international audience, and greatly contributed to kuduro’s “international wave.”30 In 2006 the band’s producer, João Pedro Moreira (aka Lil’ John, aka Branko,) declared:
But, like musically, what fascinates me is a scene of no boundaries, you know? Like there are absolutely no boundaries of any kind at the level of formatting that kind of music that defines kuduro music. There is a total freedom, like from the moment in which the sound starts until it ends, in mixing everything and a little bit more into the music without any kind of boundaries.31
In a 2009 interview for Portugal Tourism Office’s magazine My Own Lisbon, some members of Buraka Som Sistema referred to their city as a synonym for mixture. In his article suggestively entitled “Lisbon influences the sounds of the new generation,” the journalist commented:
The different cultures that cross each other in the Lisbon streets influence the rhythms of the new generations of musicians . . . . It can be said that Buraka was only possible because it was born in Lisbon. No other place in the world but Lisbon could bring together the musical influences that Buraka has.32
Kuduro had brought Lisbon to the world stage of popular music as it seems; enjoyed in the London or Paris dancefloors, kuduro—“the voice of the peripheries of Angola”33—confirmed musically a festive redefinition of the city of Lisbon as a potential destination for global tourism. As the members of Buraka Som Sistema commented (still in the interview mentioned above), “[Buraka places Portugal] more on the pop side of the global music map and less on the world music side.”34 Let us note that what is implied here by “world music side” is essentially fado (Portugal’s most iconic genre). On the contrary, the “pop side of the global music map” should remind us that Buraka Som Sistema in fact mixes Angolan kuduro with Brazilian funk carioca and various other urban dance/techno genres, such as British grime or dubstep, or Jamaican dancehall. In other terms, Buraka Som Sistema had become “global pop”35— with the underground edge that may account for their success on the cutting-edge dance floors and venues of Lisbon, London, or New York.
Digging a little deeper into the Angolan musical repertoire, Batida, a dance music project idealized by Portuguese-Angolan DJ and producer Pedro Coquenão (aka DJ Mpula) came up in 2009.36 Batida was named after the numerous cassettes compilations—the batidas—circulating informally in the streets of Luanda. In Lisbon, the album Dance Mwangolé (Figure 4) caused a sensation and, although it did not reach the frantic success of Buraka Som Sistema, it still illustrates, according to some media narratives, how Lisbon creates a new form of musical Lusofonia in the digital age. Batida’s Dance Mwangolé is a remix and sampling of Angolan music recorded in Luanda at the studios of Portuguese record label Valentim de Carvalho during the colonial 1960s and ‘70s, with today’s trendy sounds of techno/dance music. Mixing kuduro and kizomba with various other genres, such as kwaito, funk carioca, decalé, or afro house, Batida thus reinterpreted Angola’s musical past, “bringing it firmly into the modern day.”37 Interestingly, such sampling and remixing served as a reason for a musical/digital celebration not devoid of (post? neo?) colonial nostalgia.
[Batida] is a collision between the Angolan music of yesterday and the rhythms of today. Born of the ‘new nostalgia’ of a new generation and mirrored in it is Luanda rediscovering itself as it opens to the world. Batida is this [. . .]. That may not tell us what exactly batida is, a project developed [. . .] between the past of the Angolan music preserved in the archives of Valentim de Carvalho and the present of a Portugal that now dances the kuduro that Angola invented [. . .] Batida is this: such a happy collision between the Angolan music of yesterday and the rhythms of today.38
Here, the “new nostalgia” is perhaps also one that helped constructing the narratives of “New Angola” and “New Africa” in the first place. It may also account for Lisbon’s desire to remain (if only rhetorically) at the centre of a continued civilizing project.
What you hear here, in this magnificent ‘Dance Mwangolé’ [. . .] is not the past reviewed with the eyes of the present. These are not sembas transformed into kuduros [. . .] this is not a joke from urban guys pretending to be from the musseque [urban slum]. ‘Dance Mwangolé’ crosses all of this to celebrate the creative spirit (which is also the spirit of a life, Angolan, African, [and]Portuguese, that sees Angola as an emanation of a shared culture).39
Batida, bridging the gap between Angolan and Portuguese creators who feel close to Angola, is quite an inspired proof [that Luanda is moving]. In a country where war belongs to the past but continues to have traces in the present, people want to look forward, and there are those who demand change. Batida makes all of this celebratory, dancing to whatever is out there. In the contagious, celebratory rhythm.40
Contrary to what Lopes (music critic at Ípsilon, the cultural supplement of the newspaper Público) seemed to imply, Batida was not only celebratory as a musical and aesthetical project. They were decidedly critical of the Dos Santos rule, sometimes from the easy position of living outside of Angola. They conveyed a more nuanced stance than simply remixing semba or other music genres; they weaved in interviews, old archives of sound material; they worked very explicitly on the visual and performative levels as well. As kuduro researchers Siegert and Alisch have suggested,
Batida authenticate its work not unlike Buraka did in the Sound of Kuduro. Where Buraka Som Sistema refers to the urban contemporary Angola, Batida resorts to using references evoking an earlier and more mysterious Angola. The band positions itself problematically at a nexus within a field of traveling signs where they have access to both technological and cultural material.41
Still, with the festive and amnesic celebration of such newly rediscovered musical mix at the time, perhaps the labyrinth of such “new nostalgia” had to be left behind finally, without trying too hard to make sense of what exactly was being celebrated and with what samples, and not really questioning what exactly was the source of nostalgia, anyway.
Siegert and Alisch have proposed to look for the kuduro scene under the prism of three distinct “platforms,” where kuduro is practiced: Luanda, Lisbon, and dance floors around the world. They explain: “the platform model aims to avoid discussing questions of the local and the global, which would distract from discussing kuduro in the light of angolanidade (“Angolanness”).”42 According to the platform model,
(. . .) the second platform Lisbon is situated between Luanda and the global dance floors. Elements of both are integrated in kuduro progressivo. What differentiates the Lisbon scene from the other diasporic Angolan kuduristas is their claim of an “authentic” relation to the source. By emphasizing angolanidade, they try to establish a sustainable and legitimate link to the Luanda scene.43
And the authors recall Buraka Som Sistema’s video clip for “Sound of Kuduro”, shot in the streets of Luanda,
(. . .) in 2007 Buraka Som Sistema travelled to Luanda for the production of the song Sound of Kuduro and the accompanying video clip. The clip «Sound of Kuduro» opens with images of the band members driving through Luanda, saying: “We made it . . . . We are here . . . pela primeira vez (for the first time).” In this video kuduro artists from all three platforms are brought together in what is regarded as the source of the style, thus the clip can be seen as an attempt to re-essentialize or the work of Buraka Som Sistema. Discussion of this band centers on the “authentic” cultural knowledge of the Angolan producer Conductor, who grew up in Lisbon, and the Angolan-born MC Kalaf. They are known for bringing extensive knowledge of kuduro music to the Lisbon music scene. In fact only Kalaf lived in Angola during his childhood years, but still Angola and its music serve as a blueprint for the group’s musical concept: a fusion of Angolan kuduro with twenty-first century bass heavy club music. Buraka Som Sistema displays a playful approach handling angolanidade. In their recent single “Restless” as well as solo projects like J-Wow they are leaning towards more abstract electronic styles with less emphasis on obviously Angolan sound elements, using English lyrics44
As it seems, Buraka Som Sistema’s kuduro progressivo made in Portugal complexifies Siegert and Alisch’s platform model itself, as it not only “displaces” kuduro from Luanda to Lisbon, but also transcends kuduro made in Lisbon itself, taking the genre to other places, such as dance floors around the world but also other musical genres, within—and increasingly without—the Angolan diaspora. Following Siegert and Alisch’s platform model, the music of the peripheries of Luanda (platform 1) is only performed and enjoyed in the dance floors of Lisbon (platform 2) or around the world (platform 3) under the condition that it has been rebranded as mainstream, which translates as kuduro progressivo (i.e. Buraka Som Sistema and Batida). This may well be the irony of kuduro made in Lisbon: “From Buraka to the world” indeed—overlooking Lisbon’s peripheries, and its music: underground hip-hop, and real kuduro alike.45
As Siegert and Alisch have suggested with their platform model, there is indeed a battlefield of identifications and definitions within and across the kuduro scenes. Such battlefield should be understood also in terms of symbolic boundaries, and in the terms proposed by Frank Nilton Marcon where, depending on the context, kuduro may respond differently to claims of angolanidade (Angolanness), Africanidade (Africanness), or Lusofonia.46 There is certainly a point in considering both Buraka Som Sistema and Batida, not as kuduro bands per se, but rather as electronic music experiments with African (Angolan) styles.
Buraka Som Sistema has become a sales phenomenon; it is present in several advertising campaigns aimed at young people in the Portuguese media, and is associated with a post-colonial cosmopolitanism of Lusofonia, with its imaginative senses of racial, cultural and linguistic harmony. (. . .) Kuduro has become a symbolically disputed style in this context of global transits involving African immigration in Portugal and the significations that are being produced about it in the political and social spheres.47
For various reasons,appropriation is indeed always problematic. Buraka Som Sistema’s take on kuduro may be criticized as “a self-congratulatory exercise in post-colonial appropriation.”48 Yet considering specifically the biographies of Kalaf Ângelo and Conductor, both of Angolan origin, readers should be reminded that “critiques on grounds of appropriation disregard the input of long-standing diaspora communities to the cultural and political life of Lisbon, as well as the backgrounds of individuals within the group and the history of cultural contact.”49 By definition, the tropes of appropriation are not always compatible with the artist’s agency, even if, as Sheridan has suggested, “Buraka Som Sistema glosses over the long history of Portuguese colonialism, the ongoing relevance of Luso-tropicalism, and a wider (post)colonial context in which the cultural industries still operate.”50
BEYOND SAMPLING: DIGGING (THE DJ AS CURATOR)
In this section I stress an interesting development in the careers of João Barbosa (aka Branko, from Buraka Som Sistema), and Pedro Coquenão (aka DJMpula, from Batida): both DJs managed to extend their skills as they became more involved with “digging” – and curating.51
Since the release of Black Diamond in 2008, Buraka Som Sistema has gained international acclaim with their self-titled kuduro progressivo which, as New York Times journalist Donadio has suggested, should be understood as a practice of searching and appropriating: “They search the web for new sounds from South America and Africa (lately, Ghana and Nigeria), listening for fragments and chord progressions that could become the basis for new songs.”52 As the band became more famous this was also an occasion for Branko to become actively involved in the production of various documentary films, first about his performance as a member of Buraka Som Sistema53 and more recently, as a curator “digging” underground music in various cities across the globe. Below, Branko explains how the “concept of digging” has been central to the band’s creativity.
The concept of digging was introduced to larger audiences in the late 1990s by artists like DJ Shadow or Madlib. And it was explored by the whole hip-hop community. It’s basically going around basements and old record collections, in search of that perfect timer’s loop to sample and recreate in your own songs. In a way, this is a large part of what Buraka is all about as well. But instead of searching for old seven inches vinyl and dusty records, our search is based on what’s going on in the world right now, outside of the main music circuit. It’s about discovering new and exciting local scenes, and study how these kids are producing beats that sound like nothing else ever created. It’s about the present and the future, in locations such as South Africa, Mozambique, India, or Venezuela.54
With the two documentary films series Atlas Unfolded and Club Atlas recently produced, Branko proves he became an “ambassador,” a curator for underground dance music around the globe. Branko has been “digging” indeed, for yet unknown underground music, “in search for the cities’ original soundtrack,”55 in such diverse cities as Amsterdam, São Paulo, Cape Town, New York, Cape Verde, Lima, Montreal, Bombay, Goa, Acra, Paris, and—last but not least—Lisbon (each episode takes place in one of these cities).
In May 2013, Batida performed at the Lusotronics Festival, which brought to Berlin’s multicultural neighborhood Kreuzberg, electronic music from Lusophone countries—Portugal, Angola, Mozambique, and Brazil.56 The dynamics of a tentative musical Lusofonia were being challenged interestingly on the occasion, that is, outside of their usual center—Lisbon. Also in 2013, DJ Mpula participated as a curator for the Ten Cities project promoted by the Goethe-Institut at Nairobi, Kenya. The project aimed at exploring new perspectives on public sphere, urban space, and club culture, bringing some 50 DJs, producers and musicians together, from ten European and African cities (Berlin, Bristol, Cairo, Johannesburg, Kiev, Lagos, Lisbon, Luanda, Nairobi, and Naples). The idea was to foster collaborations between participants, so that bridges between cities could be conceived musically.57 Representing Portugal, Mpula was invited to collaborate with a DJ from Kenya (not Angola, which may have sounded too obvious). In a 2013 interview with journalist Bertuzzi for the blog Africa Is A Country, Johannes Hossfeld, the director of the Goethe-Institut Kenya, which was running the Ten Cities project with different partners, explained his views about this “bridging” concept:
Lisbon and Luanda are for historical reasons well-linked, and so are their contemporary music scenes. What did you consider in building bridges between European and African cities and their respective delegates?
In our experience of collaborative projects, this mix of connectedness and difference creates the most intense productions. Our team in Nairobi and Adaptr in Berlin tried to match producers and musicians who can relate to each other but who are also working in ways that differ enough from each other. Hence not Lisbon-Luanda. Instead, we paired Batida from Lisbon and Just a Band from Nairobi because both make very different music while sharing an interest in the musical history of their city and experiment how to include it in their contemporary practice. It’s important to point out that bridges are not built here by workshops. The European guys are not teaching anything to the African colleagues. That would be ridiculous. The bridges are built by producing music together. The symmetrical and equal exchange is crucial here. And this exchange has in our experience always been as important and productive to the Europeans as it is to the Africans.58
As an echo to such far-stretching, bridging activities beyond both the post-colonial and Luso-tropical alike, Mpula declared in 2013 during an interview for the Barcelona online music magazine Rockdelux that
Electronic music can be as traditional as folklore. And since traditions can be as sophisticated as electronica, I do not have to choose between one and the other. (. . .) Portuguese culture is present in some countries in Africa and traits of those countries are also in our culture, and all I do is try to enhance communication between both parties.59
With Branko’s and Mpula’s recent developments as curators, sampling, digging, connecting, bridging become performatives, powerful cultural metaphors. Thanks to the symbolic authority of their fame as DJs, these DJs-turned-curators operate as floating signifiers; they appropriate, produce, represent, promote and give voice. Kuduro is taken to other places until it reconnects with another music genre in another city; and then again, it becomes something else.
Often considered a shortcut for specific configurations of migration, circulation, and cultural encounters, music-making gets easily naturalized, essentialized, and a somewhat frozen history is produced:
In a country better known for its mournful fado music—and for the general gloom induced by the euro crisis—the band [Buraka Som Sistema] reveals a side of Portugal and of Europe as a multi-ethnic musical melting pot. This is post-colonialism you can dance to.60
As founder of the Paris-based online world music and culture magazine Mondomix, Marc Benaiche suggested in an interview with New York Times journalist Donadio, that Buraka Som Sistema is
a typical example of world urban music, music being created, being mixed and developed in suburbs of big European cities. (. . .) It’s a very genuine and very new mix and it’s why, in a way, it works very well. (. . .) It’s a music which is talking more and more to young people because young people themselves are more and more of mixed ethnicity.”61
The practice of sampling in the digital age seems to have no boundaries; this may apply also for visions of a global world, where free, open circulation is key. What remains intact in Branko’s and Mpula’s views, besides their digging of the world for new samples and talents, is their attachment to Lisbon as a reference for uniqueness and inspiration. For Lisbon may well have been the place where these DJs-curators-ambassadors found how to discover and tour the world to begin with. Here, Branko states that
Lisbon has a characteristic sound. It has the necessary melting pot, of social characteristics in the city and its surroundings, with its relation with Cape Verde and Angola, to become a musical movement that has a proportion of elements that only exists here. It’s the exposure of rhythms like kuduro, afro-house to a European vision, a vision of people who grew up listening to things from London and Paris. What do you call it? I call it Lisbon music, Lisbon sound, Lisbon beat, this is not just a name, it is a way of life that is about believing that there is in Lusofonia a series of equations and possibilities for music that have much to give and that can be transported to the whole world.62
Still, Buraka Som Sistema “stays true to its Lisbon roots and influences: Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde.” (Donadio, 2014). Yet again, singer and writer Kalaf Ângelo declares that “Lisbon is quite unique. The whole aesthetic. The dance, the colors. The city has all these secret sounds.”63 And again, Branko confirmed in a 2018 interview about his experience as a producer for the documentary series Club Atlas, that “it is impossible for a person not to have his own city as his favorite. I live here and try to represent this idea that there is a unique music and energy in Lisbon.”64
In his curatorial piece for the Ten Cities project that took place in Nairobi in 2013, suggestively titled “Lisbon: Melancholia and Kuduro,” Batida’s DJ Mpula Pedro Coquenão wrote:
I am a son of the dialogue that took place when Portuguese started traveling between Asia, Africa and South America, mostly Brazil, centuries ago, having Lisbon as the main port. My story is not so different from that of countless people who live in the Portuguese capital. I was born in Angola but, like many families that came to Lisbon running from both independence and civil wars in former colonies, I grew up in the city’s suburbs, hearing about our former country every day.65
And also, echoing Gilberto Freyre’s famous Luso-tropicalist trope of Portugal being “the most Atlantic, the most African” of European countries,66 Pedro Coquenão stated that “Lisbon is a collective synthesis. You just need to look at a map and see the history of this place. It’s easy to understand from where we brought our food and inspiration. Portugal faces the Atlantic Ocean and is so close to Africa.”67
HIP-HOP MEMORY VS KUDURO AMNESIA
The virtual migration of the world’s cultural heritage (music, literature, film, photography) toward a single digital format, the instant access to such a format and its easy manipulation from any laptop computer all account for the dissemination of sampling as a practice gone mainstream, of contemporary music-making within and beyond hip-hop: all participate in what has been called a “remix culture”. Besides fado (a genre that remains central to the city’s musical imagination), two conflicting narratives around recent popular music have emerged in the past twenty years in Lisbon: hip-hop, and kuduro. Of Buraka Som Sistema, Público music critic Belanciano once said provocatively, “They’re the opposite of fado.”68
A reference to the imagined community of the “Hip-Hop Nation” invented by Afrika Bambaataa, the cosmopolitanism of resistance in Portuguese hip-hop has asserted itself as the underground. Descendants of migrants from Portugal’s former African colonies were rapping in Portuguese or Cape Verdean creole, mixing Afro-American soul and funk with Portuguese, Brazilian, or Luso-African sounds. At the outskirts of Lisbon where this has developed and consolidated, hip-hop culture has proved to be a potent form of artistic expression and social involvement (see for example the school aid association Khapaz, created by Cape Verdean descendent rapper Chullage, also shown in the 2009 documentary film Music of Resistance. Finding Dignity in Portugal).
Throughout the 2000s, however, another musical narrative has been more successful in representing Lisbon’s musical cosmopolitanism. Mixing Angolan kuduro with various other danceable music, Buraka Som Sistema had reached success, nationally and internationally. Wanting or not, kuduro became also enrolled in the whirlwind representations of “New Angola” and “New Africa.” Quoting Angolan musician Paulo Flores in the 2007 documentary film Kuduro, fogo no musseque,
Kuduro represents a voice of a new Angola. An Angola that wants to be heard, and more than that, has to be heard. An Angola of the youths, an Angola of the neighborhoods, an Angola of the suburbs . . . An Angola that has a message to say and tell. It seems to me that the only way to know ourselves is to have this space to listen to others.69
The Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa has suggested that in post-civil war Angola, kuduro music and dance represent a form of “amnesia”:70 despite a huge social divide, an indestructible optimism was emerging within Angola’s new generations.
Still, this (northern) side of the Mediterranean, a new, repetitive mystique of “newness” (“new Africa,” “new Angola,” “new nostalgia”) had also emerged, and helped reinvent the territory and identity of a festive musical Lusofonia, in . . . “new Lisbon.” As performed by the 2009 Batida project, the sampling of Lusofonia had become a festive celebration of the “new Africa.” The revisiting of the Angolan musical heritage, beats and sounds (themselves tied intrinsically with its colonial history) had allowed for a renewal of the Portuguese imagination itself, in times of digital, global imagination. As Africa was reconnected as a place that “once was ours” and that “we (still) love so much,”71 it was in fact not difficult at all to trace back in its colonial roots the source of a dubious “new nostalgia,” or “post-colonial melancholia.”72
As we have seen, “new Africa” had become the terrain for a musical appropriation of the music/cultural relations between Luso-African countries and Portugal in the post-colonial context. Naturally, these mediated (i.e. sampled) appropriations are remote from the traumas of the colonial and civil wars; they are also distant from the poor living conditions of thousands of African migrants and their children in the suburbs of Lisbon. The sampling of Lusofonia made in Lisbon reconnects a post-colonial condition with the somewhat open-ended, ill-defined thirdspace of a global techno-culture,73 where everything is possible, “formattable,” and where symbolic boundaries tend to fade away. Such post-colonial power dynamics are clearly represented and reproduced through the economic element of kuduro, most particularly in its progressivo version.
The changing, evanescent boundaries may also be responsible for the emergence of such narratives as the ones in Visão:74 if “sister Africa” (or “new Africa”) is still “ours,” it is certainly because (at least at face-value), in the grand digital remix of the world’s music library, digital Africa is now virtually all of us.
In their hip-hop version, the sampling of Lisbon had connected with Africa differently and distinctively. Standing at the margins of Lisbon, the underground samples of nostalgic Cape Verdean mornas and funanás75 had come to represent memory versus amnesia. Yet, could they compete with the festive samples of kuduro progressivo or the Batida project?
In Lisbon, some African samples are louder than others; all of them may be telling a story of land, nation, migration, diaspora, destiny and longing: either in memory or amnesia. A festive, danceable “new Africa” may suit “Diversity Lisbon;” yet with hip-hop, “African Lisbon” has proved to keep alive a resisting Afro-diasporic memory—an enduring legacy to and from the underground.
The practice and technique of sampling may be telling more than it seems. In times of global city-branding,76 the samples of a festive Lusofonia made in Lisbon were also meant to seduce a global audience, as kuduro progressivo has proven. Yet, they are quite remote from the real samples of underground hip-hop and kuduro at the margins of Lisbon.