Modesty Meets music

Pedro Coquenão, the man behind the revolutionary musical project known as Batida, has a passion for music that doesn’t need money or fame.

Coquenão shows off tracks from his new album in his recording studio.

Pedro Coquenão shows off tracks from his new album in his recording studio.

Solitary strands of green grass grow between the cracks in the old, oversized parking lot in Belém, a historical neighbourhood in Lisbon. As the sun begins to set, the dark grey pavement blends into the shadows of the compact garage complexes that align the lot. There’s nothing to distinguish one space from the next, except for a small numbered tag beside the door. It looks like a desolate area, but behind door number four is a world of colour and creativity. Vinyl records adorn the bright walls, homemade treasures are scattered among shelves and in the centre of the room sits an impressive sound system with mountains of mixing equipment.

Inside the complex stands Pedro Coquenão, dressed casually in jeans, a faded grey T-shirt and a hat resembling a kaleidoscope. You’d never know you’re standing before someone who’s toured across Europe and has more than 16,000 Facebook fans. While his name may be Pedro, many know him as the mastermind behind Batida, a collaborative project that encompasses musical samples of 1970s Angolan tracks mixed with modern electronic dance music, live shows with dancers, MCs, and visuals all rooted in a social commentary. He started Batida, which translates to ‘beat’, in 2006 as a radio show to promote African-influenced music. However, shortly after that he realized there wasn’t enough of the kind of music he was looking for, so he started creating his own music.

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There’s no doubt his musical inspiration comes from his African roots. After growing up in Huambo, Angola, his family moved to Lisbon to escape the Angolan civil war. The half-Angolan, half-Portuguese artist says living in these two different contexts inspires his music today.

Coquenão created an Angolan-Portuguese flag to represent both of his cultures.

It doesn’t take long before he moves over to his laptop, where the music production software is already open. Beats erupt through the large speakers in the small garage, bouncing off every wall. The steady conga drums and rhythmic clapping in his tracks instantly make you think of Africa. It’s easy to see how one of his musical goals is to find a common ground between traditional Angolan tracks of the 1970s, which encompass reverb-heavy electric guitar lines, and modern electronic music that consists of bass and computer-generated sounds.

“The relationship between old and new Angolan music is obvious to me — the links between old rhythms and modern dance music,” he explains, his eyes still fixated on his laptop and knee bobbing up and down to the rhythm.

His stepfather was a jazz bass player so naturally, bass and drums are the basic elements of his tracks. His music-making process varies: sometimes he records himself playing Angolan instruments and sometimes he picks a record and samples it. The music producer still doesn’t know how to describe his sound.

He laughs when he says someone once told him, “you’re too white to make this music” after hearing one of his tribal-sounding tracks. Whether it’s tribal, kuduro, or ‘70s guitar rhythms, music is music and for Coquenão, that’s the most important thing.

“Just make music, make good music,” he emphasizes. “I don’t care if it’s made in a very lousy computer because I grew up listening to hip-hop and punk music and what I learned from that is that you can do great sounds out of nothing.” He walks towards the cluttered shelf of homemade treasures he uses for his live shows. For a moment you forget you’re in a recording studio and it feels like you’ve been teleported to a vintage shop. Sandwiched between two African drums, a bright yellow box with red lettering ‘BATIDA’ can’t be missed. It’s only after closer inspection that you notice this regenerated music box is actually an old spray-painted oilcan. Batida’s live shows aren’t just the typical DJ booth with someone emceeing. His meticulous planning including these handcrafted items and film footage playing in the background create an experience unlike any other for audiences.

If the musical devices weren’t enough to utterly awe you, his performing costumes surely are. He grabs a blue hood embellished with bottle caps that jingles as it touches his hands. He says that his girlfriend’s mother makes many of his African style shirts for his shows. “People prefer to have big things with lots of light, and with shirts. People will want the latest Gucci thing, but for me, to have a jersey made out of that type of textiles is cool.”

The impressive collection of props he uses for his live shows.

The impressive collection of props Coquenão uses for his live shows.

From his humble garage-complex-turned-studio to his stage items made entirely from scratch, you start to see how modest the man behind Batida really is. He’s played in festivals across the continent, had a successful radio show that still continues today, and two albums. While he could be out showboating, like the time he worked with a Kenyan artist who showed up to the studio with a girl on each arm, he’s comfortable with what he has. “If I have water — and I do have tap water — and electricity to make my music…then I’m happy.”

It’s not a money thing for Coquenão; it’s a passion thing. He doesn’t make music for the cash (he actually openly admits he’s terrible at trying to sell himself and make money). He jokes that maybe if he has a child someday and has to feed him, then he’ll get there, but for now he’s content.

“I’m fortunate to live not necessarily as a middle class person with lots of money but I’m cool, I’m nice. I don’t have any big problems. I have both legs,” he says, which are still tapping to the rhythm.

The future is unknown for Coquenão, but he wants to continue making music to provoke change. The steady pounding bass that’s been playing in the background slowly starts to fade, as his latest tracks ends. He closes his laptop, turns off the lights, and grabs ahold of the metal garage door handle and firmly pulls it to the pavement. As he walks away, the complex behind him becomes yet again just like every other grey house on the block.

Check out more artists like Batida at Soundway Records.



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