Black Sonic Sensory Perception – The Long Crescendo.

From archaeological and oral histories, it is estimated that the Kongo kingdom was founded around 1390. At the initial arrival of the Portuguese in 1483, this sophisticated and stable kingdom had probably been established for at least a century with a population estimated at around three million. In 1506 King Nzinga a Nkuwu died. Utterly disenchanted with the Portuguese, the early relationship between The Kongo kingdom and the Portuguese held promise of a genuine partnership, but eventually deteriorated through avarice and mistrust.

With the blue print of the Trans Atlantic slave trade firmly instated, all hopes for a peaceful relationship between Africa and Europe were dashed. At this point I want to imagine, what hybrid soundtracks occurred in this 15th century setting? Franciscan clerics introduced Catholicism which was met with both acceptance and opposition: it was not fervently embraced at this time existing alongside other local belief systems, some of which adopted Christian elements to create hybrids such as Kimpasi. Daily joys, expectations and disappointments were sonically expressed. But for the first time in the history of music, traditional Kongolese and European instruments co-existed in close proximity to each other.

Cross culture musical exchanges must have ensued but, due to limited documentation, plus the lack of musical manuscripts, we can only imagine what these early music amalgamations sounded like. The absence of sonic archival detail beckons me to un-mute the silence and excavate the buried decibels.

In putting context to content, Afro-Sonic Mapping is a maize of trajectories that strives to investigate African colonial narratives from their respective sonic trans-migratory evolutionary developments. Probing the Lisbon sonic circuit in 2019, I encountered a relatively small Black music scene, which is predominantly controlled by white Portuguese entrepreneurs. Black-owned music labels and radio stations are pretty much non-existent, the few African labels that do exist such as Ngola specialize in African music from the continent.

Black Pirate radio stations play a vital role in the transfer and dissemination of subversive information. Radio made it possible to reach people in the urban and rural areas of Angola during the 1970’s struggle for independence. Radio is the perfect phonic tool to infiltrate social hierarchies.

DJ Johnny Leandro, a native Angolanidade, and Lisbon resident, has been a stalwart pioneer and mentor of local Black talent and various genres of music from the trans national African Diaspora. Leandro was instrumental in introducing Hip Hop and Jazz to the local Lisbon club scene. His current B sessions are a spiritual Jazz focused weekly club night event, where he spins vinyl and is always accompanied by live musicians. (I had the honour to play flute in one such session.) DJ Johnny creates a platform for spontaneous encounters to unfold, a space for musicians to improvise in realms of unpredictability.

DJ Johnny at Rive Rouge, Lisbon

Cities with colonial pasts that house the inner urban cultures that spawn hybrid music genres, are of particular interest to the Afro-Sonic Mapping project. The mission to reinvent pure sonic dance rebellion by the extreme melding of Kizomba, Trap, Funana,  Semba, Grime, Hip Hop, Tarraxinha, Drill and Afrohouse, is the 140 Bpm mash up that Lisbon’s Modern Batida delivers. I propose, that what we can hear in the chambers of contemporary African Portuguese music is, in fact, a condensation of six centuries of dense sonic information, transposed and embedded in its creators’ DNA and collective memory.

The modulating decibels of inner-city sounds are contingent on their community’s respective histories and environments. The original Batida (the name means beats in Portuguese), appeared in the late 1980’s  and was created in the Muceque communities (shantytowns) of Luanda. The current Lisbon version is a genre of electronic dance floor music that is created in both the social housing projects on the outskirts of Lisbon, and across the bridge over the river Tagus. Like many strains of Black urban dance music, Batida is produced in basic home studios. In its early beginnings it was predominantly played at Shabeens (late night neighbourhood block parties). For the new generation of disenfranchised Black Portuguese, it’s the grating voice of both protest and inclusion, still stigmatised in Lisbon’s segregated music scene.

But to the surprise of its naysayers, Batida has met with worldwide acclaim. Many of it stars like DJ Nigga Fox are signed to Principe Discos, a record label founded in 2011 dedicated exclusively to Batida and owned by a white Portuguese Lisbon collective. (Due to the lack of local Black enterprise there is no Brainfeeder, Def Jam or Motown in Portugal.) Hailing from Quinta do Mocho, a crime ridden social housing project, is DJ Marfox, a co-founder of DJ’s do Gueto (FYI, that’s ghetto in Portuguese). Marfox is hands down, the undisputed star Pioneer and mentor of the genre, his EP ‘Eu Sei Quem So’ (I Know Who I am) was Principe Discos debut release in 2011. Nine years later, Marfox still spins at Noite Principe, the labels weekly down town Lisbon club night, which has created an inclusive culturally diverse venue where Batida can be experienced by all.

Another one of the brightest stars in the Batida galaxy is 23 yr old DJ producer Nidia Borges, whose parents hail respectively from Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. Nidia is the only internationally acclaimed woman in the male dominated Batida world. In Lisbon, Black music trends are often influenced by genres outside Portugal including the ex-colonies. A prime example is Kudouro, which was born in the Muceques of Luanda in Angola.

Radical Black music in its very essence of antiphonal improvisation, has always imbued a unique shape-shifting spatiality. It both embraces and repudiates categorizations, demarcating radical complex codes of wizardry within its own sonic boundaries. Early African instruments often employed organic elements to create buzz noise distortion, centuries in advance of Fuzz and Wah Wah pedals. Listen to Albert Ayler, Jimi Hendrix, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Miles for the sorcery I am referring to.

I often find myself contemplating music’s alchemic unpredictability in that space of the un-played  the eerie role that absence plays is key to this thought. To embrace the pulse of silence between the notes of collapsed surrender, creators play passages delivered in unheard displays of seismic burdened bliss. This is what I’m trying to audibly understand, through multiple Black radical sonic sensibilities. I want to think that we are able to augment the silence and through perceptiveness and un-listening, construct sonic architectures of these early periods, structures which will carry us into the farthest future.

The process of historiographical rewind is intensely traumatic in the visceral context of ancestral lineage to the non-winner side of Middle Passage narratives. It is both daunting and exhilarating to enter into bygone periods and experience the collapse of time – the sonic, tactile, and olfactory senses are activated through memory, imagination and multi-sensory perception. Those of us who have physically experienced these charged artefacts and architectures share a heightened, palpable awareness of their multi-generational journeys. Think of a fluid sensorial blueprint where nothing is heard but everything is said -the silence between the notes. I call it Black Sonic Sensory Perception.

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