Take a look at João Barbosa aka Branko walking down a street in Lisbon and you might mistake him for a slightly Nordic-looking tourist. Yet his reality is something different – João grew up in Amadora, the biggest city on the outskirts of Lisbon.
He recalls it as a “place where people who didn’t have a lot of money and for some reason wanted to come to Lisbon would end up… and that created a unique melting pot of shared Portuguese-speaking experiences; which had both great and terrible results.” Branko lived right in the centre of it during a time of racial tensions, rising crime and the heroin epidemic – it wasn’t the easiest experience. However, João’s surroundings provided him with a wealth of schoolmates and neighbours not only from Portugal but also from Angola, Brazil and Mozambique, with whom he focused the energy around them to fuel creativity and bring people together based on common musical interests. João describes this life-affirming process with “That’s how we all started to make sense out of everything around us.” You may have encountered Branko before without knowing it – after all, the music he describes above ended up being the music of the widely adored collective Buraka Som Sistema. For many outside Portugal this was the first taste of 21st-century Lisbon. Buraka Som Sistema were active 2005 to 2016, releasing four albums between 2008 and 2014. Along with a wave of artists from under-represented countries, B.S.S rode a worldwide wave receiving mainstream success including an MTV European Music Award and extensive tours. Branko notes that Buraka Som Sistema “represented the beginning of everything I do and stand for. It allowed me to be part of a group that was about more than just sitting in a studio putting kick drums and snares together on some computer software. Buraka Som Sistema became one of the voices of a generation that had a different perspective on what it meant to be from Lisbon and we took that vision around the world and brought a whole scene with us.” He adds that B.S.S taught him to “always be about celebrating my city and its diversity.”
This is where his second solo album “Nosso” comes in. The next chapter after ‘ATLAS’, his celebrated 2015 debut solo album, ‘Nosso’ was recorded around the world and finalized in Lisbon, being Branko’s most ambitious solo project to date. After a long career of collaborative work, either with his former bandmates or one-on-one with artists such as MIA, for whom he produced for her latest album AIM and helped put her live show together, he now puts forward an intense series of spontaneous collaborations with vocalists and musicians far and wide. These include Brazilian Mallu Magalhães and Congolese-Canadian Pierre Kwenders & Colombian Catalina García, where “Nosso” sums up our modern musical world, where Modern Soul, Kuduro and beyond come together to give us new forms beyond genre and niche. Branko has found a whole community of artists to enrich his innovative and warm sound with lyrics in Portuguese, English, Spanish and French. Branko has seen the power of music to unite and on “Nosso” (“Ours” in Portuguese), he’s made a conscious effort as the producer to make this record truly universal.
Of course this all goes back to his town. “Lisbon has made me realise that there are no limits to how much you can fuse different cultures together while making music. It also made me realise that there was no way that I was ever going to make anything relevant if I made the music that everyone else was doing around the world. It made me think that I needed to apply my background and how specific it was into my music and make my path out of it.” Unlike in London or New York, it is only recently through the efforts of independent labels and artists that a fuller picture of the creative and unique scene in Portugal has been unveiled to the world.
Barbosa notes, “There is no other way for me to survive as a DJ / producer and have some sort of impact without sounding different. Ten years ago, there were no structures, no path to success here in Portugal, no “how to” guides, no labels, no tourists, no managers who cared; so it all had to be created and put in place.” Barbosa has done this in many ways – creating a record label Enchufada, home not only to his projects but to an expanding network of artists from around the world, mostly from Portuguese-speaking cultures (stay tuned for news of two new artist albums in spring and summer 2019). His aim with the label is to push “new directions and ideas and by breaking borders and thinking outside the perspective” of those who’ve come before them.
He’s also continued to put a regular stamp on his city with his monthly ongoing club night Na Surra in Lisbon – a spot that has also served as a crucial place in the development of his new album, a laboratory to test his sound. “Having our own night in Lisbon is a fundamental part of our ecosystem. It’s where we try songs, bring our favourite DJ’s and meet up with our friends to celebrate all the music happening around us once a month. It’s a huge privilege being able to do that and celebrate our city and also feed the ambition of younger artists too.”
It is perhaps simplest to view Branko as a kind of cultural agitator, active on many fronts besides being a recording and touring artist. From his early days in Buraka Som Sistema, to setting up a label that provides a platform for artists from around the world, to curating festival stages and compilations, to creating, producing and presenting his own travel show for Portuguese national television, to recording radio for his monthly residency on NTS radio – Branko is deeply involved in many facets of the creation and the ongoing establishment of new Portuguese music scenes.