Taking poetic license with Portguese speaking hip-hop
Published in 2014’s VUzine although Leo Almeida has the byline here this article was translated with a poetic licence from Google translated Q&A.
Village Underground Lisbon launched this year and only a few months after they opened its gates, the cultural hub attracted a range of national and international creative businesses. True to Village Underground London, they’ve also hosted some gigs, screenings and club nights. Like its London “sister”, this has made the venue an inspiring place to work and play and inevitably ideas that have grown in crossover and collaboration.
One business that has benefitted from Village Underground’s cultural fertility is Sensemedia who needed a Lisbon base to put together a documentary on the burgeoning Portuguese speaking (or “Lusophone”) hip-hop scene pioneered by Brazillian rap ambassador Vinicius Terra. Director Leo Almeida explains a bit more how his mutual appreciation of hip-hop has made a film and spurred a movement.
I met Vinicius Terra at Madureira, a Brazilian neighbourhood, in 2004. He was a lone MC on stage, rolling out smart Portuguese rap whilst a DJ laid down some beats away from the spotlight. Not the most game changing set up, admittedly but there was something different about his flow. Vinicius was more than just a guy with a microphone he was potentially a man who could front a movement.
In the following decade we’ve become real friends and wanted to find different visual ways to best represent his rap. But this story is bigger than the two of us.
We came up with the idea of getting the rap word out in all the lusophone (Portuguese speaking) countries over a beer but this was an idea that came from the classroom. Vinicius Terra’s thesis was one of the first essays I had read about how urban environment was shaping the speech and verse of rappers in Brazil. I was fascinated and I believed it wasn’t just happening in Brazil but further afield in every urbanized Portuguese speaking neighbourhood throughout the world. I was fired up by the spread of my native language across the globe but more than this, I believed that the world needed to get the message.
In 2006, I started a TV show which featured live music performances by other lusophonic acts. Vinicius Terra wrote “Programa Na Rua”, the music for the opening credits of the show. Together we planned some interviews with Terra as the interviewer. More musical link-ups were made with his own tracks marrying with other talented lusophones on the rap scene.
This year I quit my job as AV director in a marketing agency to pursue this project full time. Now strapped for cash, we had to think about how we could further spread the word with next to no budget. My own plans to live in Canada and study 3D Visual Effects quickly morphed into three airplane tickets to Lisboa. When we landed in Portugal though my documentary “Versos que Atravessam” came out of the shadows and into the light.
We suddenly had the help of more creative bodies on the ground. When Daniel Medeiros, Art Director and rap fan said to me “I’m in”, we became more powerful than ever. Raphael Peres came to the crew as First Assistant, and Frederick Bernas took a flight from London with a camera in his hand luggage and a load of photography contacts on his smartphone.
Even though we were penniless we had a shared passion to do the best job on something we loved, which was priceless. Everyone in Lisbon that we’ve mentioned the film to thinks it’s a good story worth telling.
The first extended Lisbon contacts we had were Mariana and Gustavo from Village Underground. They loved the idea of a lusophony documentary a lot, and when we needed a location to shoot our interviews and performances it was natural to do it against the backdrop of VU. It became the spiritual home of the project and it felt like we were always supposed to have been there. This was our spot.
This synchronicity of life provided us with the best contacts in town. And for one crazy insatiable month, Daniel’s artistic vision led us further into some very cool and places and unique situations. Portugal fed off the Brazilian’s hip-hop artists’ happiness – and the idiosyncrasies and in-jokes from a shared language was a link that brought us together across continents. We had fun pointing out how the language had been translated with different accents and differing dialects changing the meaning when spoken, even if they look the same written down.
Sam the Kid was the first person we filmed. He walked with us in Chelas, on the streets where he started his rap game. His first a cappela hit us hard and it was the sign to keep on. Then, we met José Mariño, an important journalist that promoted the Lisbon rap when spoken in the mother tongue. Other names like General D, Dama Bete, Eva Rap Diva, Dealema, BPM, DJ Alfaiate, Mundo Segundo, Maze, and Expião shaped the documentary in a way that I never imagined. I threw my script away and start to live the spoken history. Now I talk to them not as a director, but as a friend and an intent listener.
Off the back of this documentary we’ve formed the first lusphonic rap group called BPM (Brazil and Portugal Mixed). On October 8th we travelled through Portugal playing in cities across the country. Today, (20 days later) we’re beginning to think that the handful of dates that BPM performed weren’t enough. We’ve discovered a new underground history, we’ve found a world community of Portuguese rappers and now we have a bigger “cenarium” to research.
The link between Brazil and Portugal is only one line in the Portuguese and rap diaspora. Next we’re going to look for connections in Africa and Asia. But for now, we’re heading back to Brazil with a lot of unpublished material. The most important names of Portugal’s hip-hop scene, and a history to tell. A history that begins with two friends talking of a bigger dream, that is very much a reality.
“Porquê sempre e adiante do princípio é o verbo”.