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Music, City, Ethnicity: Exploring Selected Music Scenes in Lisbon and Beyond

The processes of cultural internationalization metropolitan spaces are increasingly visible. Likewise, the values transmitted (and reflected) by these processes (cultural diversity and openness, hybridity, transculturalism,…) are increasingly legible. World music for example has represented for the last twenty years a quasi-permanent circulation of people and sounds in a hyper-connected, open world without borders: a world that corresponds in fact to our globalized one, or at least to the “diasporic imagination” (Dunn, 2002) with which it is associated. In a world of migrants, memory and senses of place may be informed by a global and de-territorialized music which, although coming from a specific place, ends up “speaking to all” as it reaches the sphere of global culture. In this way, one may claim that if migration is the icon of the global era, World music could be its soundtrack. World music does not pretend to be the exclusive holder of the globalized world’s musical representation, although it frequently tends to be naturalized as its “official version”. There are, in any metropolis, hardly promoted music scenes which, as they make use of re-appropriated globalized sounds, communicate at the same time strong senses of place1. This article attempts to show the ways in which the processes and values associated with the internationalization of culture – which, more generally, are taking place within the context of the “new political economy and its culture” (Sennett, s.d.) –, may be explored under the light of some musical manifestations taking place in the city of Lisbon.

Occupying Space: The Grand Advertising Fresco Optimus

The Avenida da Índia, at the level of Alcântara-Mar’s train station: an abandoned port area, a transit way, an “ex-non-place”. A parenthesis, an interval where one never stops, where it is transit only – by car, tram, bus, taxi or train. A passageway which became by fate advertising space, precisely because it is transit only, intercity highway, interval. Advertising resists to place and disregards it. It stimulates the car driver’s distracted gaze as he is waiting for the green light; it masks the complete lack of interest of the place, and suggests something else. Just like a TV-ad in the middle of a movie: advertisement as an utopia for another place. Metaphor for another journey, as the driver is already transiting between two episodes of the “movie of the city”: Lisbon, the Cais do Sodré to Alcântara episode (if the driver comes from the center), or the Alcântara to Cais do Sodré episode (if he is driving towards the center).

Mural MES em Alcântara, Lisboa.Mural MES em Alcântara, Lisboa.

Publicity – “propaganda” – had already started with the grand frescos of the Carnation Revolution. Socialist realism occupied the space of the non-places, calling for brighter tomorrows: an aesthetic dislocation with a strong program and an unquestionable legitimacy. The 1980s saw these frescos transformed, vandalized or simply forgotten, abandoned to their fate. To the point that today they have almost completely disappeared from the urban landscape (except in little-known places out of the center – places themselves forgotten from urban planning). A slow, progressive transfer during two decades – 1990-2000 – from a strong political program to an organic, endogenous identity-creation made of tags and graffiti: the urban hip-hop culture marking its territory. Territories which precisely were no longer: no man’s land, non-places. Places of transit which became something else, suggesting an appropriation of the kind: “X was here”…

“Youth in search of identity territories”, as the media would say… Identity territories more than territorial identities; multi-territorial identities distributed among micro-territories, as initiatory steps into the city. Maybe this youth read the failure of the great national politics or, cynically, its ultimate success. After the identity orgy of the tags, what other fate than the skills-transfer – power control – to private companies self-proclaimed cultural agitators, copying street art and recycling it, asserting and even claiming the necessity of the mercantile reason as a natural continuator for the punk slogan “Cash From Chaos”2: the brighter tomorrow of a post-“No Future”. A controlled chaos of course: in fact, a non-chaos.

In parallel, the fate of these places of weight in the middle of the city – industrial places, port areas, transit ways, non-places – to be revitalized, rehabilitated, reinvented as to consecrate their definitive extinction as places of origin, of memory – places of the historical fate of the great struggles that once were. Reinvented memory, even: re-actualized, commodified. Formerly known as the Pedro Álvares Cabral building, the Museu do Oriente was the place during most of its long existence for the storage of codfish, the lingering of odor of which was a source of preoccupation in the initial phase of its renovation. Massive architecture of the 1940s – during the Estado Novo – classified Patrimony of the City, paradoxically returned even further back into the past in the times of the “Portuguese presence in Asia” – permanent collection of the Museum. From the Museum entrance, turning back to the river, one sees the grand mural fresco on Avenida da Índia, in this place which one day surely existed per se. The post-revolutionary realism became identity territory during the last two decades; now it is a grand advertising fresco, a reinvented space for a non-place, made to travel elsewhere in direction of the network world of wireless telecommunications. A wi-fi freedom, in the men-machine hybrids’ ideal world, they who abstract themselves from any particular place so easily – whichever place –, immersed that they are in a future world: the world of the “mental diaspora of the networks”, as Baudrillard would put it (Baudrillard, 1978); a world already happening today.

This here is the Optimus company’s grand fresco which, by lack (or excess) of imagination, just copies the street art that preceded it, signalizing here also a strong program, political-technological, based on the permanent occupation of place. At night the fresco is illuminated; banally subliminal, it remains visible, maybe suggesting or corroborating this way the banality of the need for any citizen to be permanently available, interconnected, flexible (Sennett, 2001). Companies such as Optimus intend to revolutionize the urban space, not only by wireless technology but also by artistic-aesthetic marking, advertising design, in territories which no longer were. Non-places find themselves invested with a low-cost travel mission, an accelerated journey towards other future places beyond the brighter tomorrows of the socialist propaganda or the desperate, monadic identity territories. More “simply”: the territories of a future already taking place today.

“Smile, you are being filmed”3: irony of the type “Big Brother is watching you”, with a Brazilian “jeitinho” (twist) – national value-added, which basically reveals what Walter Benjamin commented about his contemporaries’ perpetual search for newness: the lust to savor their own alienation (Benjamin, 1935). The occupation of space, no longer by the barricades turned against the established order but the established order itself, which imagines itself the organizer for another cultural revolution, by ways of the most advanced technologies. Eminently political, this occupation of space also points out a transfer of control, from the power of the State to private companies. A privatization of control which guarantees for an illusion of security. Best forgotten the revolutionary and identity interludes who could not predominate, who could not legitimately keep occupying the public space abandoned by the State. The advertising fresco-street art style to better cover up, to secure and ensure against the vandalism of the tags; the fresco protecting so much more as it copies, imitates the tags. A marketing-fresco with a chameleon identity, granted with the gift of ubiquity and the cynicism of trans-territoriality – except that this cynicism is not even noticed anymore. Copy, recycle: a bottom-up approach, so to speak, and low-cost, which in fact is nothing more than transcription, appropriation for the necessities of the mercantile cause. The commodification of public space by the private companies’ advertising panels, who imagine themselves cultural agitators and leaders, serving at least three functions: to guaranty control in lieu of the State when the State itself has withdrawn; to enliven and color the walls with no specific function in the city (useless in this sense), in a cynic strategy of recycling vandalism and permanent occupation; and finally to sell of course, to vend while stimulating the consumer’s imagination, making him travel virtually from non-places to other high-tech universes, in full liberty. “The world at your hand”…

Graffiti Lisboa.Graffiti Lisboa.There is a paradigm here: big corporations – the most modern, the most profitable –, who imagine themselves as cultural agitators and occupy (public? private?) space, intending to “create culture”, invent lifestyles, aesthetics, etc. There is a transfer, a migration of public space towards the private space of advertising, a migration of arts and aesthetics towards marketing, a commodification of identity strategies as identity politics, into the world without frontiers of an open future.

This is where music enters, to accompany the great walk towards this wireless future: it is the “Optimus Alive!” festival. The July 2009 edition had “lots of Metal”: Metallica, Slipknot, Machine Head, Lamb of God, Mastodon, Ramp, among others. Besides music, Optimus Alive! also featured stands of “Arts” (photography of concerts in Portugal), and “Science and Environment” (scholarship awards for research in the areas of biodiversity, genetics and evolution, environmental action, environment and recycle – in partnership with the City Hall of Oeiras and the Gulbenkian Institute of Science). Optimus: optimal agitation, cultural intervention, scientific, musical, and… “lots of Metal”.

Other June Festivities: Red Bull Music Academy’s “Popular Soundclash”

Another example of this paradigm: not from telecoms but energy drink. Red Bull, the great partner of sleepless nights in any big city of the world – also cultural, musical accompanist with its branch, Red Bull Music Academy.

Red Bull Music Academy does not intend to bring Metallica in Lisbon, something that Optimus already does. But it intends to consolidate and eventually create local musical-cultural initiatives, as it has already done in various parts of the world from Sidney to Cape Town, São Paulo or London. In Lisbon, Red Bull Music Academy is cultural agitator during the most emblematic festivities of the city, the Festas Populares which take place in June, with their climax, the Festa de Santo António, on the 12th of June. With Red Bull Music Academy, the day of Santo António is thus reinvented as “Popular Soundclash”.

On June 12th, Lisbon goes crazy. Grilled sardines and pimba music4 at every corner of the popular neighborhoods. The Popular Soundclash as a kind of off-Festa de Santo António: here the stands are not for grilled sardines but for turntables and sound-systems. Beyond the reinvented non-places as utopias and other promises of liberty and wireless telecommunications, the places: already invested with the weight of a quasi-mythical history. The Miradouro (viewpoint) of Santa Catarina, popularly known as “Adamastor”, is the place for the Popular Soundclash. “Adamastor” because, besides its beautiful view over the Tagus and the Bridge of the 25th of April, it hosts the homonymous statue from Camões’ Lusíadas. Symbology of the Adamastor, monster-frontier in the path of the Discoveries – domesticated monster here of course –, integrated in the design of the city and who became the undisputed master of the Miradouro. Mostly maybe, symbology for the bravery of the Other of the monster, the non-monster, human, to brave the incognito of the Oceans or the established order of the city: the Adamastor-miradouro, famous meeting point for pot-smokers and other proponents of “alternative” lifestyles. Reinvented places of history and memory as places of organized marginality: here, the Adamastor is and has been the place for the last five years for the “Off-Santo António”, that “Santo António underground” that the Popular Soundclash claims to be. Red Bull Music Academy promoting this way another practice of the city during the festivities. A practice that is necessarily legitimate and civil (it even has an area for children). Here, everyone is having fun, everybody is participating; anyone has a right to this different, open, tolerant proposal. No marchinhas nor ranchos folclóricos here (they are parading officially on the Avenue of Liberty); no Fado nor New Fado either. The “deal” here is the sound-system, the gigantic “boom-box”, ideally built from scratch by the protagonists, and a central element for the party since it is going to “give the sound”, the good vibrations of Reggae, Dancehall, Hip-Hop, Jungle, or Drum ’n’ Bass – depending on the DJ in charge. Here, the Adamastor travels to recreate the “vibe” of the Kingston, Jamaica suburbs, in the 1960s precisely, which is where the (here also quasi-mythical) reference comes from; a way of hearing music and feeling together, of having a street party. Importation of a certain idea of the popular: another popular beyond the popular of Lisbon’s June Festivities. A popular of the globalized urban cultures (Reggae, Dancehall, etc.), a popular of more or less peripheral music, a popular of a sense of place as party place –street, plaza, miradouro, neighborhood. Other ways of occupying space: from the peripheral spaces to other, more central spaces invested, maybe despite themselves, with an underground cultural mission, a formalizing mission too because at the same time it keeps claiming its social, cultural, civil utility. The Popular Soundclash organizers praising a spirit of tolerance and diversity: all races getting together – “Whites, Blacks, Mulattos, Chinese, Green, Blue, whatever…”, sharing the thrill of hearing music and having fun. The unique opportunity for a Portuguese DJ to show the world that here also “there is some good stuff”: Buraka Som Sistema’s Angolan Kuduro made in Lisbon, Sam the Kid’s “Hip-Hop tuga” (Portuguese Hip-Hop) with samples of Fado master Carlos do Carmo; the affirmation also, of the capacity of a Luso-World music to be remixed by the greatest international DJ (“Angola”, Cesaria Évora’s song, remixed by Carl Craig, from Detroit, Michigan).

This is about the spirit of the city, about its anonymity and accidental encounters, about its fluidity. Music participating to this urban magic, accompanying the rhythm of the festivities of the city, as it also resists to more conventional festive stakes. Thus also, the ways in which private companies “create” or “recreate culture” – a necessarily global culture but locally, the local being the only guaranty for legitimacy, authenticity. Red Bull the multinational, inventing itself as endogenous instigator for a street, neighborhood culture with imported music, all the more authentic when it is peripheral, marginal. Demonstrating this way good intentions (civility, appropriation of urban space by the citizen) and good practices (participation of all, tolerance, non-violence). Asserting local presence, Red Bull guarantees also local authenticity – “Adamastor’s rocking… I wanna hear some noooise!…” Just like the Portuguese company Optimus brings the global culture of Metal to Portugal definitely more mainstream a bet (Metallica’s fan-club in Portugal is “Portugallica”). A bet which, obviously, reveals a search for greater visibility, also suggesting that Optimus remains connected with the tastes of its audience, its market. “Remain connected is what matters” (and it is a minimum for a telecommunications company…).

The great urban rituals assaulted by multinationals, who realize the potential of socio-cultural agitation in order to sell more. A reason which has no longer anything to do with the political dimension of great struggles or the disorder of values. Consolidation of the relationship with the citizen-consumer, through the occupation of space (media, advertising space, urban space, neighborhoods, plazas, etc.): beyond the product itself, the socio-cultural role, mission. An imagined market share that is necessarily profitable, as it accompanies vending. The notion of customer-care has already gone past the service quality, increasingly and more visibly occupying the sphere of “cultural creation”. An elitist creation by definition (it comes from the top, from the multinationals), although it imagines itself popular, democratic. Telecoms or energy drink, the paradigm remains the same: the accompaniment. The world of arts and cultural events increasingly concerned with participation, the civil dimension: the pretense to involve the local populations in the artistic process. In “participative arts”, “performance arts”, or “civil arts”, the mere resident becomes, without really knowing why or how, “hero of the place”: magic of representation… Beyond the product, life itself: the citizen-consumer’s life foreseen, planned, included in the business plan.

A marketing symphony, the integral business plan goes well beyond the mere purchase and sale relationship. In the 1990s, Badoit, the French fizzy mineral water, declared: “Il y a une vie après le repas” (“There is a life after lunch”). Subtext: “With Badoit, there is”. Circularity, self-referenciality, self-evidence. The ultimate objective being to accompany the client beyond consumption itself. To guarantee that he will come back, and back again. “Come back”, say the shop assistants in the shopping malls of Dallas, Texas. A therapeutic accompaniment, a marketing conviviality, that indicates the end of the citizen’s freedom of choice for he just wants to let himself be tempted, seduced by the magic of commodity, the magic of objects. The seduction of objects, mediated by the shop assistants-accompanists. The ultimate mediation of the only relationship that outlives all of the others for it is the most cynical: the relationship of consumption. The citizen free of everything because he is, in fact, condemned to shopping mall vagrancy. Total, integral occupation of space. “And still with this little melody in the background, so cute, so annoying you cannot get it out of your head”. The companies’ socio-cultural role, mission: for they no longer just invent the product, they claim to invent the life that goes with it. The lifestyle no longer provided by the cultural or political leaders but by the brands: branding as a way of life. Still in the 1990s in France, the Renault car Twingo, stimulating the creative spirit (?), intended to give responsibilities to the conscious citizen-consumer: “We provide the Twingo, but you invent the life that goes with it” (“A vous d’inventer la vie qui va avec”). For the undecided, some all-inclusive suggestions came along: a clean city, a better quality of life, an environmental consciousness, etc. All stereotypes of the time, translated, re-injected, recycled in a dream for a better life. “Interesting”: the ultimate category for aesthetical appreciation, which definitely points out the advent of “everything is possible” – in arts as in life. Well, in arts: arts, commodities, TV programs, propaganda, etc… “Everything is possible”: now, Red Bull not only prompts us to imagine which life best suits the product but it produces it, inventing it culturally.

Intervenção, Lisboa.Intervenção, Lisboa.

Ethnicity in the City: Other Carnivals and Other Others (Continuing the Same)

Besides companies reinventing themselves through the practice of cultural promotion, the city also reinvents itself through the promotion, the inclusion of the Other: it is the idea of the “imagination of the center” (La Barre, 2007), an increasingly assertive attempt to include diversity as a source of cultural richness. In this process, Lusofonia eventually becomes an instrument for the promotion of Lisbon as an open, multicultural city.

The Other has never been so abundantly quoted it seems – referenced, documented, called for. The Other, not as much as a concrete person than a posture, an idea, an attitude, a point of view: the city has to have space for the Other. “Other point of view”, “Other gaze”, “Other reality”, “Other scenes”, “Other Lisbons”… The inclusive center’s narratives are filled with these types of proposals which clearly refer to the periphery, the non-center in an approach where inclusion, legitimization, rehabilitation are necessarily implied. But, in this “other gaze”, this “other point of view”, the center remains the same and the Other is an invention or reinvention of the Same. This has to do with the fact that the center entered the realm of an off-centered gaze, exercising its shifting capacities. The Other is just a pretext: gazed at, observed, represented. The off-centered gaze implies, by definition, an unstable, dynamic, conflicting, ambiguous posture which questions the right, central, official, dominant discourse. Ideally, this gaze is searching for what Machado de Assis used to call the “real country” (as opposed to the “official country”) (Assis, 1861). Now today, this off-centered gaze is being formalized. It is part of the right posture, of the ways in which each country asserts itself in the world of global culture. But then – or meanwhile –, will the Other still exist? Profusion of the call for the Other, and the Other is nowhere to be found… The Other-pretext, the Other imagined, consumed: ultimate instance of the Other’s disappearance – consequent loss of the landmark of the Same. And finally the praised Other, the homage, tribute to the Other. But the context is different already: cultural, global, aesthetical, touristic, mercantile even. Still a political context but politics themselves have already become another spectacle, a staging for the cultural, multicultural “thing”.

I believe that there are some affinities between Herbert J. Gans’ symbolic ethnicity (Gans, 1979), Max Weber’s emotional communities where the charismatic, the charismatic character is a mediator for the community (Weber, 1978; see also Maffesoli, 1996), and John Urry’s tourist gaze (Urry, 2001). In comparison with sociology’s grand analytical categories, these are “light concepts” merely pointing towards the tentative, casual, furtive and even futile dimension of social phenomena. Mostly, these are concepts that suggest a consumerist dimension, and an increased commodification of lifestyles, cultural choices, emotions, affects and identities – both individual and collective – in a context of undercover mediation. In this sense the advent of the brand communities (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001) – some sorts of identity readymades therefore disposable – appears like the logical consequence for an integral framing of the emotional communities, in a process of “commodification of difference” (Sanches, 2009).

“The culture of identity-choice, being the culture of the dominant, tends to become the dominant culture”, said Zygmunt Bauman (Bauman, 1995). Recording the now central role of new technologies in the processes of identity construction – from the blogosphere to YouTube, MySpace or FaceBook, the anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro spoke of “Identity in the age of (its) mechanical reproduction” (Castro, 2008), paraphrasing one of Walter Benjamin’s masterworks (Benjamin, 1936). Thus, beyond migration itself, beyond migrations, the generalized circulation and mediation: of people, sounds, music, images, ideas, values, ways of being, etc.

There are narratives to explain, for example, the permanence of more or less folklorized cultural forms, transplanted in places of destination; these narratives are in fact borrowed from the experience of migration, even when the experience of migration itself is no longer part of the collective memory. There is a memory of place, as place for affective reference, which cannot be reduced to the effective experience of migration. Symbolic ethnicity itself circulates, exports itself, or is imported. See for example the Rastas in Japan, or Gangsta-rap in Cape Verde. Various are the cultural forms which tend to forget what they owe to the fact of being – or having been – transplanted. The Portuguese ranchos folclóricos in migration for example, are not without effects in return in the country of origin, during festivals or cultural gatherings. Although there are, in a context of general circulation, moments or forms of cultural consolidation, sedimentation, retention of musical models (see Carvalho, 1991, about Fado in New York). “They are more Portuguese than I am”, a Portuguese would say while visiting a 2nd or 3rd generation organization in France or Luxemburg (La Barre, 1997); “More Portuguese than the Portuguese” seem to be the ones taking part in the ranchos folclóricos in migration (Carvalho, 1990). “The more Gaúchos are… the Cariocas” would exclaim a bit ironically a Gaúcho visiting a Gaúcho folklore association in Rio de Janeiro…5

Da onda magnética, intervenção urbana em Lisboa.Da onda magnética, intervenção urbana em Lisboa.Cultural transplantation implies a symbolic process of translation, re-transcription, transfiguration even, which in various cases marks a passage from the “natural order” of folklore to the “aesthetic, artistic order” of the reflexive, knowledgeable step. Thus, beyond the migrant group or community: the imagination of transplantation; beyond blood or family ties: the language of affects, the emotional communities. The “boundaries at play” of symbolic ethnicity: these are fluctuating, temporary, open, transcultural frontiers. There is a choice to belong, and subsequent hierarchies of loyalty, there are aesthetic, artistic, sensitive reasons. Beyond the biological: Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities (Anderson, 1983). All of these being valorized in today’s global world, by the way: multiculturalism in a context of generalized tourist gaze; the passage from one culture to another, from one group to another; the group which by the way only takes shape during the moment of its event or encounter; the group entering in performance, constituting and reconstituting itself – imagining itself as it is consolidating itself, and consolidating itself as it is imagining itself –, always re-actualized. To ensure the efficiency of representation, the video of the event guarantees its lasting quality in the virtual, media space. Because the image, documentation, enlarges the group’s boundaries, far beyond its own space-time limitations. Imagined, tentative, boundaries in motion: towards a temporal “somewhere” in the future, a geographical somewhere always revealing something else beyond the group itself. Magic of representation here as well. And place itself, the local, only relevant for as long as the event is taking place. The local-pretext (pretext for the encounter, event, performance), more than local-determination (of the type segregation, enclave). Circulation thus embodying urban anthropology’s key-concepts – fluidity of urban experience, contingency. Generalized circulation in the global space-time. At the same time, the smooth, safe character of the choice of belonging to a group – Portuguese, Gaúcho, whatever the group might be. The choice of belonging in an urban context is perhaps experienced as more authentic as the reference group is the most remote in space and time, and… rural.

The processes of ethnicization, of ethnicity construction or reconstruction are obviously processes of essentialization of differences. There is still an interest in preserving boundaries – or in recreating them –, but today the motivations are touristic. It is all about encouraging the exoticism of alterity. Always within the limits of negotiation, if possible, or at least “out of exclusion”: at the horizon of a promise for progressive inclusion. In the invention – or reinvention – of “Black culture” for example, in this construction of ethnicity, the joint efforts of the media, public institutions, entrepreneurs, and local organizations are converging towards an aestheticization and a touristic commodification of the Other, as Van Den Berghe observed (Van Den Berghe, 1994). The tourist project, of the ethnic tourism type, is mediation of differences (Carvalho, 2006; Costa, 2004; Marques and Costa, 2007). This way, the “other spaces”, discovered by “other gazes” and other “other points of view”, refer to the spaces of the Other; these spaces of the Other which in theory are still public spaces, inscribed most of the time in processes of revitalization, rehabilitation, legitimatization, etc.

The self-staging of the city, as space for the diversity of these “other spaces”, is increasingly documented, imagined – in various shows and performances which leads us to question the ways in which Lisbon represents itself: “Lisboa Invisível”, “Outras Lisboas”, “Lisboa Mistura”, “Lisboa World Music Festival”, “Festa da Diversidade”, etc. There are many. If the ambition of multiculturality is obvious, the sensation is often ambiguous. The staging alternates between the politically-correct respectfulness, and an unnecessary provocation. Respect and consideration for an Other living in community by definition; living in the ghetto by fate. Provocation, emphasis on a necessarily different, sublimated Other, who cannot stop being authentic, exotic, savage, primitive, etc. (in this case, is he still living in the ghetto by choice?). Here comes the romanticism of an “Invisible Lisbon”, as if it were the part maudite (accursed share) of a visible Lisbon. And it is, and at the same time it is not. The Other reduced to silence: invisible. But the music, the rhythm, the dance: so sensual, so authentic… Music plays a specific role in this process. Because it too occupies space: sound space of course, and the space of representation, for any conceivable end. Music is the instrument… And Lisbon has developed over the last decade it seems, its own definition of World music – Luso-World music –, which tends to redefine and testify the ways in which Lisbon represents itself.

Globalization implies a cultural competition which translates in new forms of (self-) representation. Ethnomusicology and the sociology of music show how local musical production carries a feeling of reinvention of tradition as well as ideas of authenticity. In return, cities and Nation-States tend to build new identities compliant with the challenges of the global market (Crane et al., 2002). The cultural products carrying values of diversity, openness, multiculturalism are becoming national equities. The interactions between music and the city, music and the Nation-State are changing. With the promotion of the place where they come from, the local music are becoming global commodities.

In terms of cultural choice, we entered the world of the “à la carte”, virtually endless possibilities; they definitely mark the advent of culture as commodity. The very determination of space and time in traditional cultural choice is being reinvented as it is transferred to the global world and in search for authenticity. In this world of à la carte cultural choices, one may make risky, underground choices, which would hardly make it in terms of market (Fado vadio in Japan for example or Noise music, not to be confused with Metal, it mainstream equivalent). Our reality is of a generalized circulation and multiple borrowings implying a permanent transplantation as well as processes of uprooting, re-rooting, dislocation, re-transcription, and reinvention.

The Other in the Dynamics of Soft Power

In these increased possibilities of à la carte choices, one may be able to read the history of Nation-States. We entered a phase of “cultural post-centralization” – cultural centralization itself was an historical moment essential to the development of the Nation-State. Anti-regionalism was the pretext and the privileged instrument to “build Nation”. See for example the progressive affirmation of Samba as the national music in Brazil, in the 1920s and 1930s, from Rio de Janeiro then capital city, with the central role of national radio. In the reverse process of cultural de-centralization, local cultures are gaining, re-conquering space within the national culture. The necessity for national integration today, yet unfinished and always at the horizon, increasingly co-exists with the needs for openness and visibility towards the outside world (through touristic promotion for example). This translates in terms of attractiveness and mostly in wishes to create or preserve a soft power (a power of attractiveness or indirect influence, by cultural or ideological means), towards the world outside. This “world outside” of the Nation-State can be defined as a space of global circulation within which Nations interact and enter in competition. Thus, we cannot ignore the role of the diasporas in the promotion and visibility of national cultural forms, always more or less sedimented, reinvented. Migrant communities are seldom sealed, “maintaining the tradition” within themselves only; on the contrary they represent a potential for visibility, facilitated by the modern means of communication. This has consequences for the migrant group in question, as it has consequences for the host and installation countries. For example, Brazilian bands settled – and mostly reconstituted – in New York (Nation Beat, Maracatu New York, Forró in the Dark; the organization Samba Nation), play a determinant role in the creation of an authentic Brazilian music made in New York.

Intervenção dos Gémeos em Lisboa.Intervenção dos Gémeos em Lisboa.

The question of the possibilities for almost endless à la carte cultural choices do not mean that all cultures are equivalent, much less so equal. As is obvious, cultural hegemonies, as economic and financial powers are hanging on. But it is important to acknowledge that this change of dynamics relocates the question in the soft power arena, the power of culture, persuasion, attractiveness. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith put it, “Globalization is not a serious concept; we have invented it to allow for the politics of economic entry into other countries.” (Madeley, 2000). Now, with generalized circulation, “new flows” tend to conceal old hegemonies. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we shifted from an expansion and appropriation logic – the colonial State would be the best example –, to a modern or post-modern, and post-colonial State logic, a soft power logic, a logic of attractiveness. The competition within the space of global circulation has much more to do with this logic of attractiveness than with a logic of expansion-appropriation (because of generalized circulation and new technologies, appropriation itself is increasingly taken for granted as a permanent right and a matter of fact). It is precisely the meaning of soft power, power of attractiveness: a potential for attractiveness which deals with seduction and desire much more than with the aggressiveness of expansionism. In this play of cultural attraction-seduction new actors may appear, and new centers too. Thus, the colonial or post-colonial map is not the most relevant to understand this multi-centered, increasingly hegemonic process.

“Re-cosmopolitanism” is the process in which countries and cities represent themselves, notably by promoting cultural, musical events which stress the values of diversity and cultural openness (Ribeiro, 2006). Re-cosmopolitanism is also the way in which cities compete, within the market of global culture6. Official cultural events promote the values of cosmopolitan life. Operated by the State at the local and national levels, they tend to project the idea of a post-national society open to circulation where tolerance and inclusiveness are keywords. Meanwhile, it is not irrelevant to conceive that this post-national imagination continues being nationally-defined to the extent that it necessarily carries specific feelings of localness (or nationhood) (Castro, 2003; Silva, 2003; Stokes, 2003). If cultural globalization is a homogenizing process as it is often described, it is more in the quasi-obligation that each city or country faces to invent, reinvent and promote its cultural specificity as local or national “brands” in order to gain attractiveness and competitiveness in the global arena, than in the outcome of a supposedly homogenized world or global culture. Paradoxically maybe, homogenization lies rather in the injunction to differentiate, to sell and promote competitive difference. In the case of a “musical Lisbon”, this translates as the promotion of a city with a unique blend of Lusophone musics besides Fado – from Brazil to Lusophone Africa.

The process of re-cosmopolitanism remains a nationally-defined and nationally-determined construction, similar to the ways in which each European country had to invent, reinvent and promote its cultural specificity in the process of European construction (La Barre, 2006). For this reason also, entities such as the EU (European Union) or the CPLP (Community of Countries of Portuguese Language) continue debating, beyond the shared official definitions and discourses, representations that are all but converging.

Even so, though, the general tendency goes in the direction of a more flexible definition of national identities. Naturally, the globalization of the economy and culture carries this post-national, multicultural trope. Changes in discourse may be noticed: discourse about the Other, and difference. The Other is no longer to be civilized; he is de facto included already – maybe only at the margins of society. The discourse on authenticity or the “global mix” (“Global mélange”) (Pieterse, 2003) can only be understood within the historical framework of the post-national, post-colonial, post-modern, “post-…” State when put in perspective with the discourse about purity and blood which characterized the old framework of the Nation-State. As a consequence, the fetishism of authenticity is also changing. In art creation for example, “pure art” is long gone, it is all about “hybrid art” now.

The discourses about purity, hybridity, authenticity can only be understood in their mutual relationships, when framed within a system of oppositions. And they tend to conceal the complex realities of power struggles, struggles for legitimacy, visibility, etc. For example, the appeal for the exotic and its consumption conceal complex phenomena of appropriation. Complex for the fact that circulation is permanent in space and time: the notion of origin has been lost in time and in space as well. Soft power itself is also a factor for circulation, and it also implies the permanence of appropriation: it is the free market of cultures without frontiers.

During the colonial era, the only justification for the colonial State lied in its action at the periphery: the colonies were at the margins of an empire governed from the center. The justification for empire lied in the promotion of its action out of the metropolis – never within the center. Now, in the post-colonial world (in the ex-colonial centers at least), the Other is “all over the place”: he is in the center. Yet, the need to promote, to valorize the Other is also part of re-cosmopolitanism. “We”, not much as yesterday’s civilization builders but as architects of today’s open world of global diversity, “by promoting the Other, are also promoting ourselves.”

Attraction and appropriation: the laws of circulation. In this process of reinvention-consumption of the exotic, the Other bears the quasi-magical virtues of reanimating, rejuvenating Europe, thanks to the “primitive truth” of its arts, dance, music, etc. We are still in this paradigm yet, also the representation of the Other remains ambiguous. Except that, meanwhile, we switched in terms of representation, from the “make visible” to the “give voice”. In the days of colonial empires, the essential concern was to justify the colossal march towards civilization through expansionism and the appropriation of the primitive, exotic Other. There lay the “make visible” of the march towards civilization. By contrast, the new values of multiculturalism, civility, good practices – and maybe also simply bad conscience – encourage a new preoccupation to “give voice” to the Other, respect the differences, the ways of being and saying, etc. In this sense there are no longer centers or peripheries but a multi-centric world-system made of ideally equal and open societies where circulation is permanent and multi-directional.

Intervenção dos Gémeos em Lisboa.Intervenção dos Gémeos em Lisboa.Music is the subtext for another context: yesterday’s colonial State – a system of domination-civilization –, or today’s open system, of the economy of trade and telecommunications which, naturally, logically valorize cultural circulation and hybridism. Also, today as yesterday, music reflects (and sometimes reinforces) the order of things (Blacking, 1973). But it can also denounce the ambitions of power in representing itself through music, arts, culture, etc.

Music bears these two dimensions. Today, World music represents openness and diversity: values that are de-territorialized and ideally correspond to the actual global world. At the same time, the trivialization of the notion of “authenticity” by the media, notably bred by the globalization itself of the “music of the world”, feeds a curiosity for properly local music, considered the more authentic when they have not (yet) reached visibility in the global culture sphere. Potentially, the so-called “music of the people”, “music-soul of the people”, “underground music”, or “music of the periphery”, come to represent a sort of “World music’s Other”. In the global era the definitions regarding authenticity are changing: “authenticity of the local” is reinvented and reasserted as “genuine” and “real” authenticity, as it could hardly be suspected to represent any Other besides itself. Based on the local, or the “non-global”, this “authenticity of the local” appears by this fact, as a form of potential resistance.

Resistance? The “Music of the Periphery”

The actual interest tends to emphasize the “music of the periphery”, marginal by definition, emerging in some cases, in various cities and peripheries of the globe (Favela Funk in Rio de Janeiro, Tecnobrega in Belém in Pará, the Metal scene in Recife; Rap underground, Kuduro in Luanda or Lisbon; Grime or Dubstep, and many others). Some musics considered peripheral are in fact extremely popular. If the media have the power to baptize music scenes and even generate the self-consciousness required to maintain cultural distinctions (at the expense of other scenes who remain unacknowledged) (Bennett and Peterson, 2004), popular success, actual popularity and “social relevance” are not necessarily reflected in the media discourse. There is a “twilight zone” that links mass success with relative invisibility in the official media (Vianna, 2003, 2006a, 2006b). The negative reception of some musical genres – their criminalization sometimes, most of the cases for purely aesthetical reasons or socio-cultural distinction, as in the case of Favela Funk in Rio de Janeiro –, tend to reinforce representations of a cultural-musical “Other”, necessarily subaltern and marginal: an Other that does not in fact share the code of established aesthetical values (or more bluntly the so-called “good taste”).

Graffiti Lisboa.Graffiti Lisboa.

In parallel, the official music industry is in crisis and increasingly outvoted, in music production and in consumption. Increasingly, the “music of the people” (i.e. the music that really are popular) manage to sustain themselves without the interference of official agents or institutions. In Brazil for example, the big and real hit-parade is becoming more and more independent from the official and legal culture industry. One has to acknowledge the vitality of the informal economy and the ways in which certain scenes considered marginal and peripheral manage to organize and sustain themselves, through their use of modern technologies in music production and distribution. This situation reflects a profound change in the relation between the mutual relations between centres and peripheries – boundaries which are, obviously, socially constructed. The media, the public and private institutions participate actively in this construction which ends up establishing hierarchical distinctions in the field of popular music, between what is considered acceptable, tolerable and “the rest” (i.e. any music that ends up being stigmatized). This power of definition, of inclusion of some scenes considered legitimate or, on the contrary, exclusion of other scenes considered barbaric is becoming obsolete, as the marginalized scenes themselves are gaining visibility because of their capacities for endogenous organization. In spite of representing a form of symbolic violence which is also a political question of democracy and citizenship, the lack of acknowledgement and the exclusion of some of the most popular scenes from the official discourse give rise to a re-definition of the boundaries of the popular and the acceptable, as well as the locally-defined identity itself. For being supposedly extreme, violent, radical, political or “non-existent” (or not corresponding to the ruling aesthetical appreciation criteria), these musics, excluded from the official discourse and sometimes criminalized (instead of being acknowledged and legitimized as contributing to cultural and musical diversity), do not, however, stop representing a sense of place, of city belonging (Fradique, 2004). The center criticizes the “lack of aesthetical quality”, but it can no longer pretend to be culturally hegemonic. Also, “real” culture today may be defined as anything taking place outside the media or the official body – in the informal.

It seems relevant to reflect upon the power of resistance of marginal music; a power that lies essentially in the fact of a music being stigmatized. This resistance translates in the creation of parallel cultural worlds invented at the margins, at the periphery (Lionnet and Shih, 2005). Is it possible that, with new technologies, culture, new music, and even business models are being invented by the periphery? This capacity of the periphery in creating and inventing scenes also questions the ways in which culture is promoted within and mostly without a center that is losing its hegemony. Questions of authenticity are no longer necessarily found in the musical styles or sonorities themselves (they may perfectly be globalized, borrowed, recycled), but they certainly continue being based on local identity: it is the “authenticity of the place” with its necessarily political musical message. The musics of the periphery have this unique, literally organic capacity to speak out (directly or indirectly) the present social issues (see for example the narratives of Favela Funk, Rap underground or Kuduro, about the conditions of life and exclusion or, in the case of Metal, the – noisy – questioning of the dominant values as values of exclusion or, at least, non-inclusion).

We need to understand how a music scene manages to survive without the system of official representation; what are the (endogenous) wishes for legitimization within the always complex relationship between the cosmopolitanism of musical appropriation, the regionalism of belonging and the stigmatization of the music culture in question. It is possible that a music scene, constituted around marginality, wishes only to continue being different increasingly differentiating itself from the official to escape the official, institutional representation, or simply not to be represented, remaining more or less deliberately so in the “pit of the representation of nothingness” (Araújo, 1999, 2007) which might even guarantee more authenticity. In this case, the re-location of the ex-hegemonic centers within the global multi-centric system of the metropolis would recreate boundaries of legitimacy/illegitimacy between the acceptable and therefore formalized, and the unacceptable and therefore excluded (or at least deliberately ignored). On one hand, the ethic of responsibility (reason) and its values of universalism and humanism, the progressive and finally indifferent inclusion of “all” in an undifferentiated and repetitive World music; on the other hand, the ethic of conviction (emotion), the “music of the periphery” with their potential of resistance through cynicism and silence, their perfect indifference to being represented by the center, also revealing, denunciating and eventually exhausting the pitfalls, the contradictions of the “repetitive society” (Attali, 1977). A resistance which, by the way, would be directly proportional to the degree of exclusion that these musics “suffer”.


“Music, City, Ethnicity: Exploring Music Scenes in Lisbon”, in Côrte-Real, Maria de São José (coord.) (2011), “Music and Migration”, Migrações, no. 7, October 2010, Observatório da Imigração, Alto Comissariado para a Imigração e Dialogo Intercultural, INET, p. 139-156.



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  • 1. A music scene can be defined as a local and inconspicuous ensemble of variable spaces and places where clusters of musicians, producers, and fans explore their common musical tastes and distinctive lifestyle choices. A music scene may be more or less independent from the multinational music market. Although most music scenes come and go with hardly a trace, a few – Kingston-Jamaica Reggae, London Punk, Bronx Hip-Hop, etc. – achieve fame and spur musical innovations. It is rather common for any city to have a Hip-Hop scene, a Techno scene, a Punk scene, an Indie scene, a Metal scene, and many other scenes, based on other types of music. Andy Bennett and Richard Peterson have suggested various levels of relevance for the analysis of music scenes: local, translocal, and virtual (Bennett and Peterson, 2004).
  • 2. See Julien Temple’s “fictional documentary” (or “mockumentary”), The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle (1980).
  • 3. In Brazil, the presence of surveillance cameras in commercial establishments is usually indicated by the sign “Sorria, você está sendo filmado”.
  • 4. Along with its Brazilian equivalent (Brega music), Pimba music (literally, “cheesy” music) can be best described as a Bolero derivation with extremely (and sometimes exaggeratedly) sentimental lyrics (see Araújo, 1999, 2007). Although usually ignored by the media, the respective genres of Pimba and Brega are highly popular in both Portugal and Brazil, especially in semi-urban areas. In Lisbon, Pimba music can be heard notably during the popular June Festivities, both onstage and in the streets.
  • 5. Gaúcho designates the people from Brazil’s Southern State of Rio Grande do Sul; Carioca designates the people from the city Rio de Janeiro.
  • 6. In a similar way, John Urry defined “tourism reflexivity” as the ways in which places – countries, Nations,… – reinvent themselves to “enter” the global order (Urry, 2001).

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