Lisbon’s distinctive ghetto sounds took over London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts on July 28 as Just Jam’s founders Tim & Barry premiered their latest documentary Sons do Gueto. Exhibited to a sold out Cinema 1 theatre, the film portrays the emergence of Lisbon’s Lusophone-African polyrhythms that have been thumping dance floors all over the world. Featuring immersive tales from pioneers Nervoso and Marfox as well as young producers native to the city’s bairros, Sons do Gueto blends social and cultural contexts surrounding batida’s (“hard beat”) foundations with electrifying footage from Portugal’s progressive Afro-Portuguese scene.
Sons do Gueto premiere was sided by Príncipe Discos’ debut of Mambos Levis d’Outro Mundo, the genre’s outstanding Portuguese label’s first collective compilation. Composed of 23 exhilarating new tracks by the likes of Marfox, N.K., Nigga Fox, Maboku and many other Príncipe artists, the album emerges precisely 10 years after the DIY-digital release of DJs Do Guetto Vol. 1, a double-CD compilation that remains the first trace of electronic Afro-Portuguese explorations. Following the film’s projection, the crowd gathered at ICA’s reception to grab one of Mambos Levis limited copies, translating the elation surrounding batida.
Further in the evening, the audience at ICA plunged into a shady room as Just Jam’s and Warp’s event featured three of Príncipe Discos artists performing highly energetic, tropical sets. In a scenario adorned by Príncipe’s designer Márcio Matos’ handpainted artwork, Noronha hosted the inaugural performance, carrying an enthusiastic crowd united by those who only just now got acquainted with batida and the Portuguese and Angolan diaspora to whom these rhythms are familiar. Nidia Minaj’s pop-brushed samples tinged her rebellious set and confirmed the 19 year-old as one of the most inventive and irreverent producers among Príncipe’s family. Nigga Fox debuted in the UK with an intense set, navigating through kuduro stirring beats and his signature techno transmutations. The unruly dance floor was also lit by Tim & Barry’s documentary projection on a screen fit between the stage and the audience.
As the night called off, it stood out that London was yet again the place chosen to celebrate the unique and contagious Lisbon ghetto’s productions fusing tarraxo, kuduro, afrohouse and tribal reverbs. In fact, the British capital shares an important role in Príncipe’s and batida’s surge. For one, the label’s roster plays regularly in the city; and secondly, a generous group of producers has already released music through Londoner labels such as Lit City Trax and Warp. Adding up Sons do Gueto premiere and it’s undeniable the Big City’s defining role in amplifying batida’s echoing radius, making a case for the increasingly notorious interest of worldwide public in Lisbon’s singular, pulsating beats.
“Last October, my buddy Warrick Murphy and I boarded a plane for a 7-day trip to the Faroe Islands hoping to score some empty waves. The archipelago rests at the center of an invisible triangle outlined by Iceland, Scotland and Denmark and it’s rich in crazy, dramatic landscapes and light hearted people. The region is fickle; the coastline’s sketched by cliffs towering over the ocean; and its surfable spots are hidden in deep coves, widely exposed to the Northern Atlantic swells we all love.
The surf sessions weren’t memorable, but it was cool that we ended up surfing on the main island three or four times during the week. We scored a fun 3-foot punchy wedge that was situated deep in a bay. It was miraculous that the swell could even reach there. Further on we spotted a couple of waves that would be accessible with a ski and a few death slabs that weren’t quite as inviting. During our time in the Faroes, we never stumbled across a single soul paddling out. We had pretty much every break for ourselves.
When the swell wasn’t pumping, we’d chase Faroes’ breathtaking landscapes, its waterfalls and valleys awash by the afternoon’s shimmering golden light. In the evening we’d be on the lookout for the northern lights. The first night we spotted them we were camping at a famous football pitch turned campground in a small town called Eiði. Temperatures were below freezing, the moon was bright and the radar signaled a brief window of clear skies. At about 11pm I left the tent to read a book and gaze over the ocean for that faint green glow. After about an hour, I saw what seemed to be a pale green cloud stretch across the night sky. Thinking I was tripping out a little, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. A light green streak could be seen on the screen and I just started screaming like a little girl. So we took off down to the bay, climbing over rocks, to find a good point-of-view. Over the next couple hours, the lights developed and grew in intensity. At some point, the northern lights became clear to the naked eye. It was a mind-blowing experience.
The Faroese people we met along the way were warm, welcoming and intrigued as to what we were up to. Some invited us to their house for coffee and food and offered us to stay in private campgrounds. They were really amazing throughout our journey.
The whale capturing tradition is probably the most glaring cultural landmark for which the Faroese are recognised. But when you go there, talk to the people and really observe the rawness of the region, you get an understanding of their need for hunting food, which they have been doing for a long, longtime. They stick to hunting what they need and store it for the heavy winter. Still, it’s a subject that strikes a nerve on outsiders.
This type of surf trip relies massively on the roles of mystery and weather. The journey is a big factor and the amount of work and planning you put into that surf potentially makes it more rewarding. Sharing these experiences with not too many friends is also important. It’s truly fulfilling to find an unknown spot and get the right swell-wind-tide combination, much more then rocking up to your local break day after day for fun waves.
I truly believe that surfers nowadays want to get away from other surfers; they want to have a unique adventure. In a way, their photographers are pushing them to these obscure locations so they can both create more dramatic and exciting photos. I’ve been living and working in the UK for the past couple of years and I won’t be here forever so I am too trying to move away from the cliché wave locations and find something a little different. Experiences like the Faroe Islands are the ones I’ll look back on and cherish once my time in the Northern Hemisphere is done.”
In 2001, J Dilla sat in a booth at Detroit’s Studio A with one goal in mind: to make his mark on the music industry. After signing a two-album deal with major label MCA Records, Dilla’s mainstream debut was intended to take advantage of a certain momentum.
Having been a member of ’90s rap trio Slum Village, he was about to transition into becoming hip hop’s brightest beat-maker, inspiring the likes of Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots.
Things started to go wrong, however, when his most-trusted connection at the label – A&R Wendy Goldstein – left to work at Capitol Records, prompting MCA to shelve the album.
Dilla subsequently moved to Los Angeles and joined indie label Stones Throw, where he developed the most revered collaboration of his career with fellow beatmaster Madlib. But he soon began fighting an incurable blood disease and eventually passed away in 2006, aged 32.
The producer’s stature has grown ever since. Maintaining that legacy, however, has been a source of drawn-out contention and legal battles.
Now, 15 years after its inception, that vocal-led album for MCA (originally titled Pay Jay but renamed The Diary) has been re-booted by Eothen ‘Egon’ Alapatt – the man Dilla assigned the project to before he died.
Egon, who serves as creative director for Dilla’s Estate while running his own imprint Now Again, talked to Huck about the years spent years trying to resurrect a lost album by one of hip hop’s greatest pioneers.
What was it like to be the one responsible for the sonic architecture of The Diary?
With a project like this, where there are numerous different threads that have to be stitched together in one piece and numerous people that know how the threads are supposed to be arranged, a dialogue has to happen. House Shoes, J Rocc and all the collaborators that were part of the record had to be consulted and their opinions taken seriously, because its creator didn’t leave us any sort of direction other than what he organised in his files and what we knew of the demos sent to MCA. But because of all the archival work that I do with Now Again, I realised that if I spent too much time discussing the outcome with the committee, I was never gonna please anybody and the final work would be a jumbled record with alternate versions and bonus tracks and extra CDs… Dilla wouldn’t have wanted that. Even though we can all make him into our own and love and cherish what he did, there’s a certain point where we also have to respect the fact that he had a very clear idea for this project. That’s what I wanted to see through… I hope I’ve done him justice because, at the very end of this process, I knew the one person I didn’t want to piss off was him.
What was Dilla like to work with?
He was one of those people where you realise how important and special they are but also how fragile your relationship [with them] is. He’s coming from a different space. I believe he was touched by a higher power. People like that can be very fiery; you had to be on your A-game with him all the time. It could be odd to be around Dilla. You could say the wrong thing and it could lead to a very tense situation. But at the same time, he could be very generous, giving and loyal. He inspired confidence in those around him. That’s basically what he did to myself: inspired me to be confident enough to work on this project after his death.
How did the plan for releasing The Diary come about and what was the biggest challenge throughout the process?
Dilla and I had a conversation one day about The Diary, Ruff Draft and a couple other projects that he worked on when he left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles. His mother was there with us; we were at the hospital. So we decided that, at the appropriate time, we would get these tapes, look into them and figure out how to put them together – especially The Diary andRuff Draft.
Later, when he passed away and his mother Maureen felt ready, we called up Studio A where he had warehoused the tapes. Me and Dave Cooley, the mastering engineer who worked with Dilla in the last couple of years of his life, unpacked all the files and then started piecing it all together. J Rocc was a huge help in the early part of the process; House Shoes later on as well; Karriem had the electric guitar track that we couldn’t find in the multi-tracks. It was a nightmare! Then it was about asking questions and finding what made sense. In the end, the biggest challenge for me was putting into place a structure with which we could release the music. I didn’t even have an idea of how it should be done. The only thing that made sense was that I was running Stones Throw and this should be released through the label. In 2006, I didn’t have any idea that I would restart Pay Jay and put it out through that. But that’s the end result, with its trials and tribulations over the course.
Were there moments when you felt this project just wasn’t going to happen?
A couple of months before the record was put into production, I thought about just removing myself from it all together. I had a really tense conversation with Dilla’s mom because she was beefing with House Shoes [who took to social media to accuse her of profiting from Dilla’s legacy]. I think she still is. It was really, really bad. I wanted to remove myself but then I realised I couldn’t. This is something I committed to and regardless of what comes next, I’m gonna deal with this commitment.
Is ‘Ma Dukes’ happy with The Diary?
I don’t think so, honestly. She told me to shelve the record before actually going into production because of this thing with House Shoes. We haven’t really spoken since, although I tried to talk with her. I have a great deal of respect for her and for being welcomed into her son’s life. And during the time we spent at that vulnerable space at the hospital, she told me it was okay [to work on The Diary]. When I took the role of creative director [of The Estate of James Yancey], I’d just listen to whatever she said and do it. But when she told me to shelve the record, I said ‘I can’t.’ Regardless of what happened between ‘Ma Dukes’ and House Shoes, it’s water under the bridge for this project, because [the collaboration] was a decision House Shoes and Dilla made together in 2001 and that’s the Dilla that I’m trying to portray, not what happened since. It was all very difficult; it was almost heartbreaking. She suffered so much and I wanted her to be happy with everything, but I don’t know if she’s going to be happy with this. I really don’t. I hope she will, because I believe this is very close to her son’s vision for this record and I spent a tremendous amount of effort doing it… I’m going to see this thing through and ultimately this will be an asset to pay back not just his immediate heirs, but his children.
How did you feel after realising it was ready to be released?
The first thing I felt was a great sense of relief. When you finally take the leap off the cliff and you put the record out there, you know there’s nothing else you can do except wait. It may take a couple of weeks or months for people to start getting it, listening to it, experiencing it and giving their take. It may not be well received. That’s something you come to terms with when you work in the record industry and put out something you believe in, regardless of what you suffered [through] or the time and money you spent on it. It comes out, people pick it up and judge it based on this man’s legacy.
Did the fact that this was shelved by a major label, leading Dilla to Stones Throw, reshape his mindset and approach?
Of course. You know, it’s hard to take compliments if you don’t like compliments, but getting one from Dilla was the most difficult thing to achieve. But he would always say in subtle ways very nice things about the environment at Stones Throw and the way that it worked and how dedicated some of us were. That probably came from the way he was treated when he was working with major labels where he was looked as a cog in a big machine, whereas at Stones Throw he was looked as ‘it’. Him and Madlib were collectively ‘it’. We were not sitting there bowing down and praising him, we were just working with utmost respect and loyalty and feeling blessed to have Dilla with us. That internal, emotional state resonates outwards in a lot of ways.
Many of Dilla’s projects were released posthumously and they obviously went through edits without him present. That’s also the case with Donuts, for which you have the original cut. Where has this version been and how was it edited from its original assemblage?
He once gave me two CDs in the hospital with the inscription ‘Dilla Donuts’ on the cover. Normally I throw CDs out, but in that case I kept one of them and I just threw it in the closet somewhere. It wasn’t until long after he passed away that I was looking through my closet and I saw the CD. I’ve put it on and listened to it and I was like, ‘Wow, this is way different’. I remembered that Jeff [Jank, Stones Throw’s art director] did an intense amount of editing on the record because he was the only person Dilla hadn’t screamed at at Stones Throw. I’ve been screamed at by Dilla, I was definitely not gonna call him; Wolf [Peanut Butter Wolf, head of Stones Throw] was screamed at more than anybody so he was definitely not gonna call. We were all about putting the record out as Dilla wanted it. But Jeff, out of full heartiness, just figured he’d call up Dilla and say he was going to edit the record. Dilla approved it and so now we have the version that everybody heard, which is this edited version – although we still have his original vision. I do go back and listen to it now and then.
Will we ever get to listen to it too?
Maybe. Everything that comes after this is a revision and the thing about my role as creative director is that I can be let go tomorrow. It was always tenuous: I had to litigate with the first executor to keep my position and even get The Diary out, so I don’t look at anything as a given. I just hope that all of this music, if ever put out to the world, is done with the utmost respect.
What have you learned from working with Dilla?
You know what he taught me more than anything? That at a human being’s most difficult point, you still have to carry yourself with humility and as if you’re fortunate. You still have to push forward. If you’re a creative person, you have to create. I’ve been around a lot of creative people and I’ve been around a lot of musicians close to death and I still think about Dilla all the time because you have to push yourself. If I’m ever in a position like that, I hope that I can look back and be inspired by that.
Ever since I read Boogie‘s interview in HUCK’s Street Photography Issue (March 2014) I’ve became drawn to the decisive moment. I’m pretty sure I bought my first decent camera (Canon 600D) not too far along the way after immersing myself in his story, illustrated by a fraction of his distinctively edgy portfolio of black & white stills of crackheads and gangbangers. I assume at this point that, in a way, I started shooting thanks to Boogie.
Born in Serbia in 1969, Vladimir Milivojevich (Boogie’s ID name) was past his teenage years as war ravaged through his homeland, drawing a routine of all-around violence and death. Weapons were traded as cheaply as a handful of dollars and tomorrow’s uncertainties reigned throughout surviving souls. Growing up as photographer in war-torn Serbia, Boogie eventually escaped from his country to New York after he was granted a Green Card to move to the United States and thus offsetting his professional career as a photographer.
After a few gigs for brands like Nike or in fashion shows, Boogie moved to documentary photography. Strolling around the ghettos the Big Apple, he eventually came across homeless people, junkies, and gang members and began shooting their daily lives – “life as it is”. Boogie’s portfolio and reputation soared, but it was only ten years later, by 2006, that he saw his work recognised through exhibitions and book publishing. Still loyal to film photography, Boogie is nowadays an authority when it comes to document the life of disenfranchised communities.
As I’ve recently invested on a Fujifilm X-Pro1, I went looking for some knowledge and inspiration for street photography and naturally started by researching for interviews with Boogie and the video below is actually the most interesting and chat I’ve read/seen with the Serbian photographer. It was recorded back in 2008 and with Boogie in his studio was then hip-hop journalist Dante Ross, today an executive in the music business specialising in hip-hop. A super-chilled 30 minute-chat between like minded people begging for several replays.
In November last, the 22 year-old filmmaker and photographer Francisco Melim jumped on his first trip to the far Eastern lands of Asia. It was the fulfilment of a year long promise to cross Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and capture their vibrant, simple, highly-scented urban and natural living.
A skateboarder from young age and a native-of-sorts of Portuguese fishing and surfing village of Ericeira, Melim’s body of work is informed by the Atlantic’s soothing visions and the intense and fast-paced life on the streets of Lisbon and its outskirts. Influences foreseeable in the gallery he shared here on his life changing journey.
“Always knew I’d be in this position where I’m killing it Yeah, I’m bragging and I tell ’em how the fuck I’m feeling Money, money, money, money, yeah, you get the gist You’re talking ’bout loyalty but you don’t know the meaning I dare these niggas here to try me, you think you’re the shit But I’ve been like this from early from when I was teething How I’m feeling, play my shit at parties, not museums You can keep your love, it’s just money that I’m reaching for.”