Connecting Lisboans with electronic music

One local record label is exposing Lisbon’s mainstream nightlife to a distinct genre of African music and bringing people together for a night of partying.

Lisbon DJ’s use vinyl records and soundboards when making electronic dance music.

Lisbon DJs use vinyl records and soundboards when making electronic dance music.

Almost every night the narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Barrio Alto, one of Lisbon’s hottest nightlife areas, see their fair share of partygoers giggling and staggering after a few too many shots of ginjinha, Portugal’s famous sweet cherry liqueur. The streets are loud, almost chaotic. A girl in a group of four tells a story in Portuguese and her friends erupt in laughter. Across the street, a guy loudly hums off-key in a drunken attempt to sing. Even with all the noise, as you walk past each club, a hint of music ranging from techno remixes to top 40 hits escapes from each door.

The city’s mainstream nightlife, located downtown, has something for everyone, especially when it comes to music — everything from DJs to American commercial tracks. But, there’s still one thing missing: electronic dance music with an African style.

This may seem like a strange discrepancy, since there’s a large African immigrant population in Lisbon. In order to find out why electronic African music is lacking from the mainstream nightlife, it’s important to understand Lisbon’s cultural divide, one that’s deeply rooted in a history of immigration. After Portugal achieved a democracy in 1974, an influx of immigrants from African colonies, such as Angola and Cape Verde began settling in Lisbon. This increase in immigration was further amplified by the aftermath of the Angolan civil war of 1975. Around 30,000 people settled in the outskirts of the city in the neighbourhoods Amadora and Queluz, explains Stefanie Alisch, a DJ musicologist. These social housing projects were located in the city’s peripheries almost entirely isolated from the city.

This has created a distinct genre of electronic dance music, which is popular in Lisbon’s social housing projects located in the suburbs. However, with the exception of a handful of African clubs, this music has yet to be heard downtown.

Pedro Coquenão, an Angolan-Portuguese music producer in Lisbon who grew up near Amadora, sees the musical divide between the suburbs and downtown Lisbon. “You can listen to African music here and there with time, but it’s more in the suburbs that you get to see it as an obvious thing. In the centre you’ll hear all sorts of influences,” he says.

Coquenão is right. If you listen closely to the music in nightclubs downtown, you may hear snippets of DJs using kuduro, a style of up-tempo music from Angola, but they’re all very club-focused versions. You don’t hear a lot of purely African-influenced electronic dance music. 

At Lounge nightclub’s 15th anniversary party, various DJs take their turns behind the soundboard, twisting knobs with utmost confidence to showcase their talent to the crowd. A girl in jean overalls expressively moves her body to the fast-paced, hard techno music that’s playing. An older man with white hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a sweat-soaked T-shirt rapidly throws his arms in the air to the softer techno-trance track that follows. There’s plenty of diverse and experimental electronic music in downtown Lisbon, but there’s still none with an overtly African influence.

Lounge was packed with people, like this guy, ready to enjoy the music and dance.

Lounge was packed with people, like this guy, ready to enjoy the music and dance.

However, one local record label is trying to change this. Príncipe Discos is a Lisbon-based record label founded in 2011 that advertises on their Facebook page they’re  “dedicated to releasing 100 per cent real contemporary dance music coming out of this city, its suburbs, projects and slums.”

José Moura, one of Príncipe’s co-founders, sits behind the solid white counter at his workplace, Flur Records, a record shop that sells Príncipe’s releases among many others. He’s young with a light brown, clean-shaved haircut and black-rimmed glasses. He says he and three others started the label because they wanted to showcase more African-style music, not just the club-focused versions of kuduro that was being produced in Lisbon.

“We found that the most revolutionary music came from the ghettos. It didn’t obey any formats, didn’t respect any history of dance music outside of their own African roots and that was the most avant-garde dance music we were finding…in the world,” he says in impeccable English.

Príncipe’s genres range from kuduro, energetic dance music, kizomba, music with a slow and romantic rhythm, tarraxinha, a slower, seductive version of kizomba, funaná, upbeat and fast-paced, accordion-like music, and afro-house, which emphasizes rhythms with a heavy-beating drum and bass. These genres are all rooted in Angola and Cape Verde.

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Nowadays, Príncipe is well-known for their monthly parties, ‘Noite Príncipe,’ that began in 2012. The parties take place at Music Box, located in the popular nightspot Cais do Sodré, where diverse crowds of 300 to 500 people gather underneath the club’s arched ceilings to enjoy music from the label’s headliners, such as DJ Marfox and DJ Nigga Fox. Partygoers wouldn’t find this type of music in any other club downtown yet.

Not only do the parties expose African-influenced electronic dance music to the mainstream nightlife area, but they also attract people from all walks of life, including kids from the housing projects. “You see a mass of people. There are tourists, regular night birds from Lisbon, kids from college, older people, blacks, whites- whatever,” Moura adds.

“Things started growing, mainly on the Facebook of the DJs in their communities. After a year and a half more people from the suburbs were coming for the parties,” says Márcio Matos, another co-founder of Príncipe, who’s wearing black sweatpants that match the colour of his straight-cut bangs.

As Moura changes the vinyl record in his store, he points out that for a lot of people living in these housing projects, their whole lives are lived completely outside of Lisbon in these neighbourhoods. “There’s some black kids from the suburbs who probably aren’t used to seeing cute white girls that much, so of course they also feel enthusiastic about it and also feel they have a possibility coming outside of their own comfort zone and experiencing a bit more of the world, even if it’s just the centre of Lisbon,” he adds, the music echoing behind him.

Even if it’s just for one night a month, Príncipe’s parties are a step in the right direction. They bring kids from the suburbs into the mainstream mix and expose Lisboans to unique African-influenced music. The founders of Príncipe are optimistic for the future, as their parties are currently bringing Lisboans together.  While it’s only a step because at the end of the night the music stops and the kids return to their neigbourhoods, the founders of Príncipe are optimistic for the future, as their parties are currently bringing Lisboans together.

One comment to “Connecting Lisboans with electronic music”
One comment to “Connecting Lisboans with electronic music”
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