originally published on AZUL-Ericeira Mag | photography Ricardo Miguel Vieira
Meu Kamba, Portuguese-Croatian Rocky Marsiano (aka D-Mars) most recent record, sounds like a tropical trip stretching throughout Lusophone Africa. Cruising Cape-Verde, Mozambique and Angola, this African heritage embraced by our Portuguese folks and grandparents in the colonial era remains gracefully alive, hidden in the corners and alleys of Portugal’s metropolitan suburbs. Rescuing the drums and warm rhythms of semba, funana, mornas and coladeras, and fusing them with hip-hop and funk’s beats, D-Mars take us through a harmonious, tap-your-feet safari recalling the past and present of the Portuguese collective memory.
However, the story on this African-roots-evocative production begins unfolding in a little studio in Ericeira, a surfing ex-libris in Portugal’s West Coast. There lives journalist, DJ and music-savant Rui Miguel Abreu, who holds a juicy and versatile vinyl collection of around twenty thousand records. A personal friend of D-Mars since the 1990s, having produced radio shows and launched a label with him, Rui Miguel Abreu had more than just a finger in the ending-result of Meu Kamba: it all actually started with D-Mars challenging the collector born in Coimbra, Northern Portugal, to choose a set of records from his personal crate and handing them to the 45 year-old DJ so he would sample and produce beats from such LPs. A year after the challenge, Meu Kamba was released in a limited-edition 33-vinyl.
I chatted with Rui Miguel Abreu about the long-distance record production of Meu Kamba (D-Mars lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands) and Africa’s influence in his musical trails.
Meu Kamba comes about from a longtime friendship with D-Mars. What’s the story behind the producer’s challenge?
My complicity with D-Mars comes from far back, around 1997 or 98. By that time I started producing Hip Hop Don’t Stop on radio Marginal and I invited him to be one of the show’s backbones. That led us to launch Loop label in 2001 and since then we’ve spent long hours together swapping ideas and diggin’ crates. D lives in Amsterdam, but our friendship never vanished. And since Loop’s era that he’s been saying “we have to collaborate on a project someday”, because many were the occasions I brought records for him and pointed out samples – “listen to this break or this bass line…”. That challenge has bolstered in the last couple of years, usually whenever he came over for a barbecue. One of those times we actually took it seriously, so I thought, ‘what records shall I give him to sample’. I thought it could be a good ideia to roam through Africa, since I’ve been doing África Eléctrica show for RDP África for quite sometime and many of those tracks are very present in me. Sounds from Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, and so on.
How long does it take for such project to come to life? How’s the working dynamic on a long-distance record production?
The longest period was the one dedicated by D-Mars into convincing me to choose the records. After that, it was all pretty fluid. The dynamic was very simple: I picked around fifteen LPs and singles, he took them to Amsterdam, started producing beats and would send me the work in progress. I just had to move away my furniture and shake my head to it. I’m not a musician nor a producer, but I think I have a mild set of ears.
So you are enticed for the idea and rummage for records. You look for your endless record collection and go for Africa. But not any Africa: the Lusophone Africa. With so many choices, why this Africa?
There were two to three things that led me to it: the África Eléctrica [RDP África radio show], as I already pinpointed; an invitation by Flur [a record store in Lisboa] a couple of years ago to pick some record covers for a Record Store Day mural – all those records made me realise there was a collection worth revisiting; and the work performed by Batida or Celeste Mariposa with this African memory has also inspired me.
It must of been pretty hard to land on this idea and to find out which records to sample from such batch. After-all you have a collection of more than twenty thousand records…
My ears sort of warped because I’ve heard – and still listen to – a lot of hip-hop. I’m like the people that studied cinema and just can’t stop imagining what’s happening behind the camera as they watch a film. When I listen a record – rock, jazz, soul, funk or something else – my ear is always searching for loops, breaks and sounds to sample. And I keep a list of all the breaks I find. I’m a nerd, I know.
Can you tell the name of a few artists sampled for this record?
Uhm… I don’t know if I should… I think I heard Bonga somewhere, for example.
Do you see yourself embracing another project like this or was it a one-time only?
I’d like to repeat the experience with D-Mars someday and even with other producers. Mo Junkie has also been nagging me to throw himself to my Library’s records. So I’d say yes, this should happen again one of these days. For instance, I think it’s amazing how no one has ever really experimented the work of Zeca [Afonso]. If Danger Mouse didn’t fear Beatles’ attorneys, why wouldn’t one jump to Zeca’s collection? I’d definitely pay to listen to it.
At this very moment I’m listening to one of Meu Kamba’s tracks and all I can think about is an African city where life flows through tribal rhythms blended with modern senses. What did you want to achieve with this project?
Achieve? Absolutely nothing, except to answer the eternal question: “what will happen if I sample this sound and put some powerful drums behind?” I think D’s ideia was to make people dance to a sort of music placed in the memory of everybody that grew up in post-revolution Portugal.
The record has a Portuguese feeling that we all know so well. How was the Portuguese culture influenced along the years by the sounding migration of African culture?
History is made of dialogues and the dialogue with Africa has centuries. I spoke of Zeca because him too was influenced by Africa. So was every kid that went to school in [Lisboa’s] suburban areas in the last decades. There’s always a cassete circulating, a cachupa steaming on a friend’s table, a moment when something clicks within us and makes our foot acuse the touch of a Bonga’s classic on the stereo of a car driving past us.
Do you believe these musical and cultural spectrums are marginalised in Portugal?
I don’t see it that way. There’s a track named “Trem das Onze” that was also covered by Duo Ouro Negra that my father used to sing when I was a kid. I’ve always listened to African music since I began wandering on flee markets looking for Angolan and Cape Verdean sounds. This music has always been present. It is as marginalised and loved as anything else.
What draws you to these African rhythms and its possibilities? Is it purely based on music or also on a historical context?
When I worked in Valentim de Carvalho, between 1995 and 2001, I had the opportunity to backlog the African collection of the masters’ archive of the label. There I heard some amazing stuff, some really similar to Velvet Underground if they had been born in Luanda instead of New York. The authenticity of such music always fascinated me because it lives harboured in a specific time and reality that for that fact clanged to history. It’s not only the rhythms, but the melodies too, the fact those musicians have different approaches to instruments we know from other cultures, like the electric guitar or keyboards. There’s nothing like Angola’s music between let’s say 1966 and 1978 that I don’t want to listen. The same with Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, South Africa, Cameroon, Kenya… Africa is such a huge place.
Why was Meu Kamba exclusively released on vinyl? So people can feel that African dusty, dragged sound?
Not exclusively: there’s also a digital version. Before anything else, me and D-Mars wanted to have a vinyl record made by ourselves on our collections.
What other projects do you have planned for now?
I seriously want to bet on a series of podcasts on my blog. I hope to debut a couple of volumes in due time, and release some of them on tape if all goes well. Then there are a few ideas with D-Mars, Mo Junkie and few other people. I feel like editing some soundtracks, I spoke with some folks about it. All-in-all not winning the lottery is a rock on my plans.
You can follow Rui Miguel Abreu’s blog on 33-45.