Postcolonialism You Can Dance To

Lisbon, Portugal 2014 (copyright to the author)

Inez Bartram Vilar explores Portugal’s postcolonial legacy to show how it has influenced and shaped Lisbon’s unique and diverse music scene – tracing the journey from it’s heritage to its infusion into mainstream popular culture.

Though less expansive than the French or English, Portugal had a strong colonial presence in Africa. This lead up to the independence of states such as Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau shortly after the 1974 Carnation Revolution, a ‘passive’ military coup which took place in Lisbon. Former Lusophone colonies still bare strong ties to their former coloniser, by institutional means: including membership to PALOP (Portuguese-speaking African contries). However, this relationship is arguably sustained by the vast flow of people from PALOP countries and Portugal, though, more recently, the reverse pattern ensues.

Postcolonialism seeks to scrutinise, and explain, the cultural legacies of colonialism and imperialism. Today, Postcolonialism emerges in and through Portuguese popular culture and the migratory flows between Lusophone Africa and Portugal are revived through music, reshaping the ‘cultural landscapes’ of Lisbon’s periphery, and consolidating its ‘positioning in the soundworld’ (Wood et al., 2007).

Blended in the ghettos of greater Lisbon, hybrid musical genres draw inspiration from Kuduro, Kizomba, Funaná and, more recently, Afro House, styles blended with from traditional genres geographically rooted in Angola, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Mozambique. This academically coined ‘musical hybridity’ explains how music transcends geographical boundaries, in this case, between Africa and Europe: Portugal and formerly Lusophone colonies. But despite their somewhat comical/wacky/makeshift names, the ‘ghetto sounds’ – often sung in Portuguese creoles – have seeped into mainstream culture, filling the nightclubs of the Portuguese capital and beyond, and reveal the geographical imaginations of its colonial/colonizing past.

A substantial part of Lisbon’s musical quintessence exists in its outskirts, and sprigs from the district of Amadora. Comparable to East London’s Tower Hamlets, it is a multiethnic musical melting pot. In fact, Amadora has more Cape Verdians than the island itself. Some credit the emergence of musical genres in the suburb to its geographically isolation: and with poor public transport links to central Lisbon and surrounding areas, it remains somewhat culturally isolated too. In an interview with Boiler Room, Amadora-native and music producer Rastronaut explains: ‘you have to make your own music’[1].

Transcending Portuguese boundaries, Lisbon’s ghetto sound is being picked up by the likes of Vice and Boiler Room. Both feature articles which focus on Principe, a record label ‘fully dedicated to releasing 100% real contemporary dance music coming out of the city, its suburbs, projects & slums’[2]. Drawing upon stories of Amadora’s ‘bedroom producers’, and somewhat disconcertingly describing Lisbon as ‘beautiful in its decay’, both accounts romaticise the urban strife of the Portuguese suburb, engaging in a process cultural geographers call the ‘commodification of culture’. Nevertheless, both articles propel Lisbon’s new, hybrid, musical forms further into the international realm.

Buraka Som Sistema (‘Buraca’ = neighbourhood in Amadora and ‘som sistema’ = sound system) is a Portuguese musical group credited for the internationalisation of progressive kuduro, which mixes the strain of 80s Angolan dance music with house music. Whilst their name seeks to geographically locate the very place this musical concept emerged from, and to an extent, their own cultural identity, geographical imaginations of their hybrid genre reach far beyond Buraca, and whilst their music becomes progressively commercialized, the rhythmic blueprints of Angolan styles are still integral and at the core of their sound.

The group themselves epitomize postcolonial globalization. Despite being brought up in Amadora, band members are a mix of Brazillian, Portuguese, Cuban, Angolan, Mozambican and from the island of Curaçao. One of the band members, DJ Riot, comments on the explicit colonial link that exists through band members’ cultural heritage, and says: ‘It sounds wicked, but I love it – without colonialism, I would not exist’.[3]

Relevant links/record labels:





Title adapted from New York Times, 2014 (


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s