“I don’t care about music that isn’t intended to eradicate borders”, stresses João Barbosa, better known by his producer moniker Branko.
Born in the outskirts of Lisbon in 1980, Barbosa grew up just northwest of the city in Amadora, although didn’t set about turning to music until the late 90s; “My production wasn’t really that developed back then, but I guess I started to take things more seriously in 2000”, he recalls.
Largely inspired by Kuduro — a frantic, high-energy strain of dance music from Angola that lots of his school friends would listen to — Barbosa began to experiment. Boosted by the fact Kuduro was also bubbling under on the Portuguese underground, he immersed himself in Lisbon’s club scene before, in 2006, he and three friends who all met while studying in the city (Rui Pité, Andro Carvalho and Kalaf Epalanga) decided to start a new club night residency; Buraka Som Sistema. “We basically spent our time buying Kuduro tracks online and making re-edits just for the night”, explains Barbosa. Five successful club events later and Buraka was expanding at a rate of knots.
“We were listening to stuff from the UK, the US and also Angola, but creating something Lisbon born and raised”, Barbosa recalls, “so it made sense to start putting out our own EPs and albums.” Their first EP, ‘From Buraka To The World’, was released on Enchufada — the label Barbosa and Kalaf Epalanga originally formed to house Buraka records — in 2006, with releases on Greco Roman and Modular Recordings soon following. Their debut album, ‘Black Diamond’, was then released on Enchufada in 2009, a primer of sorts to the group’s decision to start performing as a live band in 2010. It was described by Pitchfork as “one of the fiercest dance records in recent memory”.
“We were getting booked for bigger shows and bigger festivals and we felt like we needed to bring more of a presence and an element of performance”, Barbosa explains, “so we decided to bring in keyboards, live drummers and stuff like that.” This decision would see the group play some of the biggest music events on the planet over the next few years, as well as writing a further two albums (‘Komba in 2012 and ‘Buraka’ in 2014) before bringing the Buraka journey to an end in early 2016.
Having still released solo music during peak Buraka years, the subsequent transition to writing music under his Branko moniker was a bold move for Barbosa. “It was about trying to make music away from Buraka without losing the energy”, he explains, “Buraka was very much Lisbon and Angola, where as my own perspective on things was wider.”
He released his first Branko material on Mad Decent sub label Jeffree’s in 2012, but after two EPs for Enchufada, the label he still runs and A&Rs to this day, it was 2015 debut album ‘Atlas’ that really solidified Branko’s musical credentials. Inspired by his DJ travels to Cape Town, New York, Amsterdam and São Paulo, the album took in a global mix of sounds that would form the base for new Branko Presents compilation, ‘Enchufada Na Zona’ — a widescreen, borderless snapshot of the club music landscape in 2017. It also featured a standout collaboration with Princess Nokia and the anthemic, ‘Let Me Go’, which boasts millions of online streams.
Roughly translated from Portuguese, ‘Na Zona’ means something like being in a specific place, occupying a zone and owning it — a fitting metaphor for Branko’s career as a DJ and producer exploring the global side of club music. A natural extension of his NTS radio show of the same name (which broadcasts live from Enchufada HQ in Lisbon), ‘Enchufada Na Zona’ features music by artists from Portugal, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa and the UK, including Lorenzo BITW, Mina and Dengue Dengue Dengue. “It’s basically the conclusion to what I’ve been doing for the past two years, only with a futuristic perspective”, he says. “Every time I had a crowd, I felt compelled to play people these songs.”
Alongside his solo work and label commitments with Enchufada, Branko has also been tapped to produce records for M.I.A — he worked on her 2016 album, ‘AIM’, and produced her latest single, ‘Goals’ — and other exploratory, club-minded artists like Santigold and Anik Khan.
Such is his profile in his native Portugal, 2017 will also see Branko front a new documentary series on Portuguese television. Exploring club culture across 8 different club hotspots — Lisbon, Cape Verde, Lima, Sao Paulo, Montreal, Mumbai, Accra and Paris — it will form the latest chapter of an already remarkable, ground-breaking career.